Emmett Tyrrell
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One of my favorite controversialists is back, Bob Woodward, with his sidekick Carl Bernstein. Sunday in "The Washington Post," they wrote that Richard Nixon was more hideous than we have heretofore known. The 37th president conducted five wars while in office, according to the boys, and those do not even include his minor fracases, the Cold War against the Soviet Union and the Vietnam War.

I say Woodward is a controversialist. You might recall his controversial "interview" with CIA Director Bill Casey conducted on Bill's deathbed when no one was watching. It made it into Woodward's book "Veil," saving its author from the embarrassment of admitting that Bill had kept Woodward utterly in the dark about Iran-Contra and so much else during their more conventional interviews earlier. This time, Woodward somehow circumvented Bill's CIA guards, his doctors and nurses, his wife and daughter -- one of whom was in the hospital room at all times -- to get his incomparable interview. Moreover, Bill had completely lost the power of speech, his face being a mask of terrible deformity, as his friend Bert Jolis reported within days of the so-called interview. Woodward overcame every hurdle to extract from the dying man a confession of involvement in Iran-Contra about which Woodward knew nothing while writing the book. Possibly, he had disguised himself in Bill's hospital room as a cockroach.

So Woodward has returned, and on the very same weekend when I was huffing and puffing my way past page 353 of Robert A. Caro's new 714-page treatment of Lyndon Baines Johnson, "The Passage of Power." Despite the pious tosh that you hear from the enthusiasts of dying Liberalism, the book is a shabbily written monstrosity, but not without its usefulness.

To begin with, Caro's sentences judder along as though they were translated -- badly translated -- from the original German. His endnotes are so chaotic as to be useless to casual readers or even to scholars. Many of them are from secondary sources. For instance, Caro speaks of Camelot as though John F. Kennedy's White House was always called Camelot. Actually, the administration did not receive the appellation until after the president's assassination. Then a distraught Jacqueline Kennedy arranged an interview with the journalist Theodore White and therein conjured up Camelot for future generations. If readers are unaware of this, they can be excused, for Caro includes no citation. What exactly he thinks is unknown. Later he cites "detente" so vaguely that he might be referring to a policy of the New Frontier, though it was a policy of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon -- again he gives us no endnote. I really do not know what Caro knows either about Camelot or detente.
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Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
 
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