W. Joseph Campbell

Six years on: Identity of Watergate’s ‘Deep Throat’ revealed

In Anniversaries, Cinematic treatments, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on May 29, 2011 at 6:22 am

It’s been six years since W. Mark Felt,  once a senior FBI official, was revealed to have been “Deep Throat” of the Watergate era, the most famous source in modern American journalism.

Alias 'Deep Throat'

Felt’s “Deep Throat” identity had remained a secret — and was a topic of often-intense speculation — for more than 30 years.

On May 31, 2005, Vanity Fair disclosed that Felt had been the Washington Post’s elusive and enigmatic source as the Watergate scandal unfolded in 1972-73.

The disclosure was made with the consent of Felt — who then was 91 and in declining physical and mental health — and his daughter, Joan.

The Vanity Fair report meant that the Post effectively had been scooped on its own story.

“The identity of Deep Throat is modern journalism’s greatest unsolved mystery,” Vanity Fair crowed in its article lifting Felt’s secret. “It has been said that he may be the most famous anonymous person in U.S. history.”

As I note in Getting It Wrong, my media-mythbusting book that came out last year, the prolonged guessing game about the identity of “Deep Throat” help solidify the notion that the Post and its lead Watergate reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were central to uncovering the scandal and forcing President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

I point out that speculation “about the identity of the ‘Deep Throat’ source provided periodic and powerful reminders about the Post and its Watergate coverage, serving to keep Woodward and Bernstein in the public eye far longer than they otherwise would have been.”

I further note:

“They and the mysterious ‘Deep Throat’ source became central figures” in what the Philadelphia Inquirer once called “the parlor game that would not die. … With each passing year, as ‘Deep Throat’s’ cloak of anonymity remained securely in place, his perceived role in Watergate gained gravitas.”

“And so,” I write, “… did the roles of Woodward and Bernstein.”

Although Alexander Haig, John Dean, and Henry Kissinger were among the suspects mentioned in the “Deep Throat” guessing game, Felt’s name always placed high on the roster of likely candidates.

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, speculation about the identity of “Deep Throat” began in earnest in June 1974, with a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal, and continued periodically over the next 31 years.

The Journal article appeared soon after publication of All the President’s Men, Woodward and Bernstein’s best-selling book about Watergate in which they introduced the furtive source they called “Deep Throat.”

The Journal article described Felt as the top suspect.

Felt, though, repeatedly and adamantly denied having been “Deep Throat.” He was quoted as saying in the Journal article in 1974:

“I’m just not that kind of person.”

He told the Hartford Courant newspaper in 1999 that he “would have been more effective” had he indeed been Woodward’s secretive source, adding:

“Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?”

That’s a revealing point that goes to the heart of what I call the heroic-journalist myth of Watergate: Disclosures by “Deep Throat” didn’t bring down Nixon’s corrupt presidency; nor did the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein.

(Bernstein, by the way, never spoke with Felt during the Watergate scandal; Felt was Woodward’s exclusive source. Bernstein finally met Felt in November 2008, shortly before the former G-man’s death.)

On the day six years ago when Felt was confirmed to have been “Deep Throat,” his family issued a statement calling him “a great American hero who went well above and beyond the call of duty at much risk to himself to save his country from a horrible injustice. We all sincerely hope the country will see him this way as well.”

Felt, though, hardly was such a noble character.

In his senior position at the FBI, he had authorized illegal burglaries as part of FBI investigations into leftists associated with the radical Weather Underground in the early 1970s.

Felt was convicted in 1980 on felony charges related to the break-ins, but pardoned by President Ronald Reagan.

Interestingly, his “Deep Throat” alter ego may best be known for a line Felt never spoke: “Follow the money.”

As I’ve discussed at Media Myth Alert, Felt never offered such guidance to Woodward. He never advised the reporter to “follow the money.”

The line doesn’t appear in the book All the President’s Men. But it was written into the script of the cinematic adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein’s book.

Follow the money” was spoken by Hal Holbrook, who delivered a bravado performance as “Deep Throat” in the movie.

Holbrook delivered his “follow the money” lines with such quiet insistence and knowing authority that it sounded for all the world as if it really had been guidance crucial to rolling up Watergate.

WJC

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