W. Joseph Campbell

Joe McGinniss, ‘Deep Throat,’ and anonymous sources

In Debunking, Washington Post, Watergate myth on October 11, 2011 at 1:02 am

Joe McGinniss, author of a scathing biography about Sarah Palin, yesterday defended using anonymous sources in the book, asserting in a commentary in USA Today that “without Deep Throat, there wouldn’t have been any Watergate hearings, and Richard Nixon would never have resigned.”

'The Rogue,' by McGinniss

Deep Throat” was the anonymous, high-level source who conferred periodically in 1972 and 1973 with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post as the Watergate scandal unfolded.

As memorable as “Deep Throat” may be, his contributions to Watergate’s outcome were hardly as sweeping or decisive as McGinniss claimed.

As Woodward and his reporting colleague Carl Bernstein wrote in the book about their Watergate reporting, All the President’s Men, the principal role of “Deep Throat” was to “confirm information that had been obtained elsewhere and to add some perspective.”

Not only that, but “Deep Throat” and his conversations with Woodward were scarcely pivotal in the U.S. Senate’s decision to empanel a select committee and convene hearings in 1973 about the Watergate scandal.

In The Whole Truth, his memoir about the hearings, Sam Ervin Jr., the Democratic senator who chaired the select committee, saluted a lengthy roster of people who contributed to unwinding Watergate.

The roster included several journalists and news publications. But Ervin made no mention of Woodward’s shadowy “Deep Throat” source, who had been introduced in some detail in 1974, with publication of All the President’s Men.

“One shudders to think,” Ervin wrote in his memoir, “that the Watergate conspirators might have been effectively concealed … had it not been for the courage and penetrating understanding of [U.S. District] Judge [John] Sirica, the thoroughness of the investigative reporting of Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh, Clark Mollenhoff, and other representatives of a free press, the devotion to their First Amendment responsibilities of the Washington Post, The New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek, and other publications, the labors of the Senate Select Committee, and the dedication and diligence of Special Prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski and their associates.”

No mention of “Deep Throat,” though.

The shadowy source was self-revealed in 2005 to have been W. Mark Felt Jr., formerly second in command at the FBI. Felt left the agency in 1973 — many months before Watergate reached its denouement in August 1974 with the resignation of Nixon.

All the President’s Men, and the like-titled 1976 movie version, touched off a years-long guessing about the identity of “Deep Throat” — speculation that surely inflated his importance in popular understanding about how Watergate was rolled up.

As I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the speculation about “Deep Throat” brought “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.

“They and the mysterious ‘Deep Throat’ source became central figures” in what the Philadelphia Inquirer once called “the parlor game that would not die.”

It’s important to keep in mind, too, that Felt hardly was a heroic figure, even though “Deep Throat” is portrayed that way in the cinematic version of All the President’s Men.

Felt in his senior position at the FBI authorized illegal burglaries in the early 1970s as part of the agency’s investigations into leftists linked to the radical Weather Underground.

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

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post

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