Woodwork

“On the evening of Oct. 25, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice called President Bush’s personal secretary, Ashley Estes, and asked whether it was all right with the president if she came and saw him for a few minutes in the White House residence. Rice, along with Vice President Cheney and a handful of senior advisers, could see Bush on the spur of the moment.

“What’s up?” Bush asked when Rice joined him a few minutes later in the Treaty Room. It was the end of a normal working day for the president, about 6:30 p.m. Bush had just finished his daily physical fitness routine and was still in his exercise clothes. He was not dripping sweat but had cooled down — perhaps the right time for such a conversation, if there ever was”

And so Bob Woodward sets the stage for detailing a pivotal moment in the current crisis in an excerpt from his latest tome Bush at War published in “The Washington Post”, the newspaper that brought him world-wide attention for his alleged “revelation ” of the “Watergate” scandal and its resulting “cover-up.” The best account of those heady times isn’t to be found in All the President’s Men – the book confected by Woodward and his writing partner Carl Bernstein, or Alan J. Pakula’s film version of same starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (actors bearing not the slightest resemblance to either Woodward or Bernstein.) Rather one should look to Dick, Andrew Fleming’s unjustly neglected satire of Nixon and “Watergate.” Being a satire, Dick is in some sense “broad” in style — and for that very reason it’s a work in which Woodward is portrayed with refreshing realism.

As for his current duties as an “investigative journalist,” Woodward finds himsef facing a largely indifferent public. Offering an “inside” look at the Bush administration, Woodward is obliged to confect a narrative from the press releases Karl Rove has vouchsafed to him, along with a few more carefully-staged “interviews” than the rest of the “mainstream” media has been allowed. Needless to say, Woodward knows what the job requires. As Roland Barthes wrote forty-five years ago in Mythologies: “The mythologist is excluded from this history in the name of which he professes to act. The havoc which he wrecks in the language of the community is absolute for him, it fills his assignment to the brim.”

And thus we find the image of a “dripping with sweat” yet “not cooled down” Dubbya, having a “work-out” like any number of everyday Americans, yet going forth to wrestle with weighty decisions few such Americans can imagine. It also (quite accidentally no doubt) inokes the line “Too hot not to cool down” from Cole Porter’s “It Was Just One of Those Things.” But that’s inevitable metaphorical cul-de-sac for a propagandist seeking the right balance of “hot” and “cool” for his client. And as usual in such ideologically-enriched work we teeter on the edge of fiction.

“Her sultry eyes never lost their dreaminess as policeman described the dead body slumped over the wheel of her Nash sedan — the matter hair around the wound, the blood that dripped in pools — and her revolver and ‘fifth’ of gin lying on the floor. her sensuous mouth ket its soft curves as they told of finding her in her apartment — 4809 Forestville avenue — with blood on coat, blood on her dress of green velvet and silver cloth, and blood on the silver slippers.”

That’s an excerpt from article entitled “Mrs. Gartner Has ‘Class’ As She Faces Jury” published on June 4, 1924 in the “Chicago Tribune.” It’s author is Maurine Watkins who turned her coverage of that city’s murder trials into a play called Chicago that was later candy-appled into a movie, Roxie Hart, but finally rescued by Bob Fosse as a Broadway musical called Chicago. A film version of that musical, with a screenplay by Bill Condon is set for release this Christmas.

While Chicago was a big hit for Watkins (The Front Page was for all intents and purposes a rip-off of her work) she never managed to duplicate its success in her subsequent efforts, difting into obscurity before passing away in 1969.

Watkins would doubtless have been amused by Richard Nixon — even more so by Monica Lewinsky. As for George W. Bush and the coming war one can only say her desriptive powers on the subject of blood would be useful and much appreciated by literary stylists.

The mythologists of the “mainstream” media, however, would not be amused at all.

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