cover image Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI

Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI

Kathryn S. Olmsted. University of North Carolina Press, $49.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-8078-2254-8

Conventional wisdom would have it that, in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, the nation's press was emboldened to enter a new phase of investigative zeal. Olmsted, a lecturer in history at U.C.- Davis, provides an absorbing contrarian account of the extent to which, with a few singular exceptions, the press retreated from such zeal, in part intimidated by the discovery of their own potential power. Thus, four months after Nixon's resignation, when New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh launched a series charging that the CIA, ""forbidden by law from operating in the U.S.,"" had engaged in massive domestic spying, his reports were greeted with skepticism and tentativeness in follow-ups by fellow journalists. (Hersh's vindication came from CIA Director William Colby's Senate testimony, in which he disputed only the characterization of wrongdoing as ""massive."") Olmsted charts how Hersh's story, along with a cautious but competitive exploration of FBI abuses by the Washington Post, resulted in two congressional investigations that also had the potential to break the code of deference previously accorded to organizations responsible for national security by both Congress and the press. Particularly compelling is the author's account of how colleagues excoriated reporter Daniel Schorr when he went to the Village Voice with the confidential results of one of the investigations, after having been silenced by his own employers, CBS. This is a fascinating study of how, just months after Watergate, both press and Congress quietly retreated to the same silk-gloved handling of the CIA and FBI in the name of national security. (Mar.)