The 17 June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington’s Watergate office building triggered what universally has been described as the biggest political scandal in U.S. history. Still it is doubtful the majority of Americans could name the principal players. Or, for that matter, the president who in consequence of his participation had been forced to resign his office. Then again, a survey conducted in 2011 revealed that a shocking number of United States citizens could not name their vice president, so there.
Suffice it to say that for several months after the Watergate break-in Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and their colleagues on the local news staff of the Washington Post were alone on the story, ignored by the rest of the media and most of America—and under heavy fire from the Nixon administration and its supporters.
Not until it was several months old—eleven days before Nixon’s landslide reelection, to be precise—did the legendary Walter Cronkite devote an unprecedented fifteen minutes of his CBS Evening News broadcast to the story, prominently featuring gems from the Washington Post. Cronkite described “the Watergate affair” as a “high-level campaign of political sabotage and espionage apparently unparalleled in American history.”
In the wake of the Watergate hearings Nixon became in 1974 the first and only United States president to demit office before completing his term. As for Woodward and Bernstein, they were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their bestseller All the President’s Men (made into an Oscar-winning film starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman).
This being the 40th anniversary of Watergate, the networks have been featuring recollections of Richard Nixon, often featuring the two muckrakers who famously had brought down his presidency—reminding me in the process of my own travails as a working journalist in Saint Lucia these last 25 years. If I may be permitted the large arrogance of saying so myself, some of the pieces of which I am most proud were written in the period, among them several about the then nascent drug trade, poor citizens blatantly and cruelly denied their constitutional rights, endorsed police brutality and a truckload of so-called “human interest stories.”
I also recalled with some personal satisfaction, as I took in the Watergate programs, my articles about the environment, produced at a time when the then lucrative banana industry took precedence over all else and Robert Devaux was the only Saint Lucian who obviously gave a damn about the government-funded rampant use of proscribed pesticides, that is to say, proscribed everywhere else but in Saint Lucia, regardless of their irreversible consequences to human, avian and marine life.
Nevertheless, I would readily acknowledge that on this Rock of Sages what I am best known for are my stories of egregious abuse of office—which may well have made me more enemies than friends, if only among our presumed omnipotents and their supporters. Suddenly it sounds so unbelievably naïve, but there was a time when I truly believed the message of John 3:16: Then will you know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Yes, I believed with all my heart that there could be nothing more important or nobler than bringing the truth to light. Alas, it didn’t take long before I discovered another irreducible truth: when their existence depends on corruption and deceit even the most trusted among us will do whatever it takes to kill the truth.
Perhaps I should at this juncture remind younger readers that a decade or so before the STAR was born, I was the editor of, if you can believe it, the island’s conservative Voice. That was circa 1972-73, the season of Watergate that coincided with the advent of the New Journalism propagated by such as Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Jimmy Breslin, Garry Wills and Hunter S. Thompson.
The shared fantasy of journalists everywhere was to be the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein. Easier said than done, of course. Especially in Saint Lucia, where reading has never been the most popular pastime and John Compton was in his circumstances relatively more powerful than any American president—close to numinous. Small wonder, then, that with every issue of the suddenly “titillating” Voice (to borrow one of George Odlum’s favorite pejoratives) my image as an “American sensationalist” became more entrenched.
Curiously, I was at once considered “anti-government”—meaning I could not be counted among the blindly faithful to John Compton—and an enemy of the opposition Labour Party. And all because I often took to task parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide.
I am at this point reminded of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham. (She passed away in 2011.) Recalling Watergate, this is what she wrote in her 1997 memoir Personal History: “The investigation of such a web of crime, money and mischief was made much harder, given the unveiled threats and harassment by a president and his administration. Sometimes I wondered if we could survive four more years of this kind of strain.”
In 1972 Republican businessmen had challenged the licenses of two TV stations owned by the Washington Post Company, causing the company’s stock price to drop by more than fifty percent.
In my own case, I was in one way or another threatened from within and without. Especially unforgettable is the episode involving two government ministers who had blamed me for embarrassing them out of office. When in the aftermath my boss summoned me to his office, I fully expected a commendation. Instead, he informed me in no uncertain terms that my “investigative journalism” was cramping his lifestyle. He said he could not recall the last time he had been invited to a government cocktail party and either I tempered my contributions to the twice-weekly paper or he would be left no other choice but to let me go.
I resigned soon afterwards, anyway, having accepted the specially created job of personal assistant to Premier John Compton—in whose imagined best interests my publisher had been ready to give me the boot. Suffice it to say that having created the Vanguard and assisted in the 1974 reelection of John Compton, I returned to California—for reasons that had more to do with his party than with the then premier. That story is detailed in It’ll Be Alright in the Morning and in Lapses & Infelicities.
The STAR as known today hit local newsstands in 1987. Barely four years later, with elections imminent and with my image as a staunch supporter of Julian Hunte’s St. Lucia Labour Party stronger than ever, the day’s prime minister set out to rid himself of the “cancer” that was the STAR newspaper. On August 2, 1991—and with the opposition Labour Party MPs in silent attendance—John Compton delivered at a specially convened meeting of parliament the unforgettable following statement: “I wish to draw the attention of this honorable House to a matter that is causing a number of people in this community some grave concern.
As you know, the twin curses of our modern age are drugs and pornography. You know the steps that government is taking to try to control and eradicate the first evil. Now the second evil has just shown its head and the intention is for this government to act resolutely and promptly in order that this evil should not spread.
“Information available to the government provides us with incontrovertible evidence that certain people associated with a certain section of the media have for some time now been directly engaged in activities which can only be described as representing the corruption of public morals. These persons have not only used themselves as subjects for the production of pornographic materials but have also drawn many of our young people into a pornographic ring with the objective of producing pornographic material for profit.
It is especially alarming that some of these persons who have drawn others into this iniquitous ring are young girls of school age and young women who have not yet reached the age of maturity. It is indeed ironic that the persons who have engaged in these activities are associated with a section of our media that has sought to represent itself as the only champions of moral values and social justice in our society . . .”
Again, I remind you, full details of the episode—designed to put an end the STAR before elections—are to be found in Lapses & Infelicities. So, too, is the story of the same moralizing prime minister’s affair with a 15-year-old schoolgirl and several of her closest relatives. That the STAR and its owners survived to tell the tale says much for the support given us by right-thinking citizens—and the fact that in the end truth always prevails.
I should say also that my purpose in bringing to light the details of Compton’s love affair with a young Comprehensive School student had less to do with its prurient elements than with the fact that in several ways the prime minister had abused his office to accommodate the altogether illegal affair. For one, there were his visa applications written on the prime minister’s official letterhead, filled with fictive claims about his “niece.” Then there was the party in his honor, hosted by Texas dignitaries and attended by accommodating government of Saint Lucia personnel and the prime minister’s “daughter.” There were
also his billets doux on notepaper bearing Saint Lucia’s court of arms, and quite possibly typed up by the prime minister’s secretary—hardly what taxpayers paid her to do.
With much regret, I must point out that the recalled episodes—as with Watergate, initially—went uncovered by the local media, even after they had been published in the UK, the United States, Canada, Singapore and elsewhere. Ah, you say, that was then; we’ve come a long way in 25 years. To which I say, oh, really?
As Andre Paul, the host of What Makes Me Mad, has often reminded the nation, only one local newspaper had the courage to oppose the press-gagging Section 361—until it was repealed. The same paper, on its own,
had repeatedly reported on the hidden details of Rochamel, long before the issue came before the Ramsahoye Commission of Inquiry.
And now we have Grynberg, a secret transaction recently come to light, involving millions of acres of the Saint Lucia seabed. Even though the Saint Lucia government has now been sued by the Denver, Colorado oilman Jack Grynberg for breach of contract, the prime minister still has not seen fit to address the issue, neither in parliament nor anywhere else. Despite his several press interviews on matters relating to the island’s dismal economy, not one local media house—or for that matter the official opposition, has seen the need to broach with him the US$200 million suit!
There’s more cause for regret: even as I write, local reporters are carefully silent about last week’s near fatal shooting incident involving a well known trigger-happy hotshot. A man has been hospitalized, his alleged shooter reportedly taken in by the police for questioning and released without charge, according to earlier information reaching me overseas. But now the word is that the alleged shooter appeared in court on Monday morning—with the press denied access. Whatever happened to the once treasured “seen to be done” aspect of our justice system? Hopefully, someone will have the courage to complain about the apparent preferential treatment.
Then there is the matter of the 2011 police shooting in Vieux Fort that left five people unaccountably dead. So far, no inquests. Worse, no media campaign perchance to force the authorities to obey the law that demands inquests following unnatural deaths. Like Pilate, the DPP has washed her hands of responsibility. She recently announced that all related documents have been passed on to the police. No surprise that the police have since refused to comment—while the press, like the proverbial monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Forty years after Watergate, we would all do well to remember Thomas Jefferson’s famous caution: “Where governments fear the people, there is liberty. Where the people fear governments, there is tyranny!”