W. Joseph Campbell

‘Deep Throat’ garage marker errs about Watergate source disclosures

In Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on August 18, 2011 at 10:16 am

An historical marker went up the other day outside the parking garage in Arlington, Virginia, where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward periodically met during the Watergate scandal with a stealthy, high-level source code-named “Deep Throat.”

It’s a handsome marker, artfully scalloped at the top.

Felt: Cagey source

But it errs in describing the information Woodward received from “Deep Throat,” who in 2005 revealed himself as W. Mark Felt, formerly the FBI’s second in command.

The marker, which is titled “Watergate Investigation,” says:

“Felt provided Woodward information that exposed the Nixon administration’s obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation.”

Not so.

Such evidence would have been so damaging and explosive that it surely would have forced Nixon to resign the presidency well before he did, in August 1974.

Felt didn’t have that sort of information — or (less likely) didn’t share it with Woodward.

As described in Woodward’s book about Felt, The Secret Man, the FBI official provided or confirmed a good deal of piecemeal evidence about the scandal as it unfolded.

And he could be cagey and evasive in doing so.

Here, for example, is a passage from Secret Man, in which Woodward discussed efforts he and his Post colleague Carl Bernstein had made to identify Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldemann, as one of five people controlling a secret slush fund:

“I told Felt that we were going to publish a story next week saying that Haldemann was the fifth and final person to control the secret fund.

“‘You’ve got to do it on your own,’ Felt said.

“I said I expected him to warn me if we were wrong.

“Felt said he would.

“So he was essentially confirming Haldemann?

“‘I’m not,’ he said. ‘You’ve got to do it on your own.’

“It was a distinction that didn’t make sense to me. I was tired of this dancing around.

“‘You cannot use me as a source [on that story],’ Felt said. ‘I won’t be a source on a Haldemann story.””

And so it went.

(All the President’s Men, Woodward and Bernstein’s book about their Watergate reporting, says Woodward’s conversations with “Deep Throat” were intended “only to confirm information that had been gathered elsewhere and to add some perspective.”)

Woodward met Felt at the garage six times from October 1972 to November 1973, the marker notes. The last meeting at the garage was a few months after Felt had been passed over for the FBI directorship and retired.

Not until late summer 1974 — months after Felt left the FBI — did unequivocal evidence emerge about Nixon’s attempt to thwart the agency’s investigation into Watergate.

That came when Nixon complied with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling and surrendered audiotape recordings he had secretly made of conversations at the White House.

A recording of Nixon’s meeting with Haldemann on June 23, 1972, revealed that the president had sought to deflect or derail the FBI investigation into the burglary six days before at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington.

The recording was called the “Smoking Gun” tape — and that tape, not information Felt gave Woodward, exposed Nixon’s guilt and forced his resignation.

The tape offered stunning and incontrovertible evidence that Nixon “had participated in an obstruction of justice almost from the outset” of the scandal, Stanley I. Kutler, the leading historian of the scandal, wrote in The Wars of Watergate.

As I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, had Nixon not recorded his conversations, he likely would have survived the Watergate scandal and served out his second term.

The marker outside the “Deep Throat” garage contains another, smaller error, too.

It says it was “erected in 2008 by Arlington County, Virginia.” But the online news site arlnow .com pointed out that the marker went up late last week — “after a three year delay.”

WJC

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