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Follow the money?

中国日报网 2014-07-11 10:24


Reader question:

Please explain “follow the money trail”, as in this: “Follow the money trail” and you’ll understand politics.

My comments:

In other words, if you follow where all the money goes and to whom, you’ll find the root of all problems in politics today.

Money is the lifeblood of politics. In western democracies, for example, no-one can get elected to public office without spending a lot of money, either their own or that of their backers to contributors.

And money, as they say, is the root of all evil.

Too much of it is, at any rate. In fact, perhaps just a little more than enough will do the trick. A little more than you can spend properly should suffice to put you into trouble.

Take that woman, for example, who was recently arrested for gambling in Macau. She’s said to have lost more than two hundred million of yuan at the casinos.

Two hundred million of yuan is not a little, to be sure but you get the idea.

And, staying relevant to our topic, if someone traces where all her money have come and gone all these past few years, they’ll find out a lot.

They’ll find out a lot, to say the very least.

Anyways, to say that you can understand politics by following the money trail is to suggest that money is central to political life today – it is the chief propeller of much, if not all the political wheeling and dealing happening today.

For example, if the American governor of a state helps award a shale gas contract to an oil firm, it is perhaps worth the while of a newspaper reporter to find out if there’s a lot of money involved in the process – money, that is, to facilitate the process. And, if the reporter finds out, for example, that the oil firm had previously contributed generously to the mayor’s campaign in his running for the mayoral office, and that the mayor’s daughter got her tuition fees paid for by someone other than her parents, you’ll get the idea of what it means to follow the money trail.

Follow the money trail, or simply follow the money is an American idiom. Like many other American idioms, this is simple and easy to understand. This one, in fact, can almost be taken at face value in its entirety. Follow the money is probably inspired by police officers who believe they can usually get to the bottom of a crime by following the money trail – where the money comes and goes, and who stands to benefit the most from committing the crime currently under investigation.

If for example, an aged woman is killed in her own bedroom and her young husband stands to gain the most from her death because he’s recently been made the chief beneficiary in her will, rest assured the police will ask the young widower a lot of questions.

“Follow the money”, incidentally, is made popular by “All the President’s Men”, a 1976 film about the investigations by two Washington Post journalists who eventually uncovered what is now known as the Watergate scandal. In the film, one of the reporters were indeed advised to “follow the money” while in real life, there is no evidence that any of them ever got such advice from anyone.

Anyhow, media examples:

1. Perhaps the most famous piece of advice Deep Throat gave Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate investigation was to “follow the money” to find out who was behind the Watergate break-in.

So, it’s not entirely surprising that pundits are asking what role money may have played in the identification of Mark Felt -- and in the financial consequences of yesterday’s disclosure for Woodward.

Boston Globe columnist Eileen McNamara questions the motives of the Felt family in confirming to Vanity Fair's John D. O'Conner that Felt was Deep Throat. She also criticizes Felt’s role in approving illegal break-ins as part of the FBI's investigation of the Weather Underground. “Felt’s commitment to the Bill of Rights in 1973 was as selective as his family’s motives in 2005 are self-serving,” writes McNamara.

In O’Conner’s Vanity Fair piece, Felt’s daughter Joan recalls discussing money with her father. “Bob Woodward’s gonna get all the glory for this, but we could make at least enough money to pay some bills, like the debt I’ve run up for the kids’ education,” Joan recalls saying. “Let’s do it for the family.”

Newsday columnist Ellis Henican notes somewhat gleefully that Bob Woodward’s income will probably suffer because of his decision not to reveal his source's name. “...a big pile of money just went flying from the legendary reporter's bank account,” Henican writes. “No one wants to buy a book from the second guys to tell you who Deep Throat is.”

- Deep Throat revealed, WashingtonPost.com, June 30, 2008.

2. The implementation of President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan will be transparent and vigilantly monitored to ensure the administration can effectively “follow the money,” Vice President Joseph Biden told CBS’ The Early Show Wednesday.

“This is a matter of discipline and getting it right,” Biden said. “That’s what we intend to do.”

Biden said all information relating to the implementation of the package’s dollars would be put “transparently on a Web site” – although he stumbled when asked to name the Web site – which is recovery.gov.

Anchor Maggie Rodriguez told the vice president that a businesswoman who watched Mr. Obama's speech last night wanted to know exactly how the stimulus package is going to help small businesses.

Biden cited improvements in transportation, energy and cost of operations – and even suggested that the viewer call his office so he could “guide her as to what pieces of this package would be directly helpful to her.”

When Mr. Obama explained Tuesday night why he chose Biden to oversee the implementation of his stimulus plan, the president said, “Nobody messes with Joe.”

Biden said he has been busy getting a team together to orchestrate the unprecedented oversight effort.

“I called for a Cabinet meeting where I’ll preside over it so we know exactly what each Cabinet member is doing, what resources available, how they will distribute those sources, how they will follow the money,” Biden said. “I am meeting with governors and mayors. I’m meeting with private industry and private business. We want to make sure we don’t do what the last administration did when it tried to help the banks.”

- Biden Vows To “Follow The Money”, CBSNews.com, February 25, 2009.

3. “Follow the money” – a phrase that’s now part of our national lexicon — was supposedly whispered to reporter Bob Woodward by Deep Throat as a way to cut through the lies and deceptions and find the truth about the Watergate scandal. The so-called third-rate burglary that happened 40 years ago this weekend ended the presidency of Richard Nixon. But did Mark Felt, the former associate director of the FBI who admitted to being Deep Throat in 2005, ever really say “follow the money”?

He did not.

A few years ago, the great NPR news analyst Dan Schorr asked me to find the phrase in Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book All the President's Men. Being a good librarian, I used the index to check all the references to Deep Throat; I didn’t find the phrase. Not wanting to disappoint Dan, I looked through the whole book, page by page. Phrase not found. Then I did a newspaper database search for articles that had “follow the money” near “all the president’s men,” but all the results were about the movie version, not the book.

Dan called Woodward and William Goldman, who had written the screenplay. They were baffled, but eventually admitted that the phrase wasn’t in the book, so one of them must have made it up. Each man gave credit to the other.

- Follow The Money: On The Trail Of Watergate Lore, by Kee Malesky, NPR.org, June 16, 2012.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Behind the eight ball again?

Reading the riot act?

Keep his power dry?

Finest hour?

Running up the white flag?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



Running up the white flag?


Finest hour?


Raw end of the deal?


Keep his power dry?


Reading the riot act?


Behind the eight ball again?

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