W. Joseph Campbell

‘Deep Throat’ didn’t say ‘follow the money’; nor was he vital in Watergate

In Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on October 13, 2011 at 12:55 am

It is quite impressive how Watergate’s most famous made-up line — “follow the money” — is so often cited by so many news outlets.

Felt: Not so vital

Canada’s Calgary Herald was the latest to indulge in the myth that “follow the money” was guidance offered by the high-level anonymous source code-named “Deep Throat.” The advice supposedly was offered to Bob Woodward, a Washington Post reporter covering Watergate.

The Herald invoked the made-up line in an article the other day about U.S. charitable organizations making donations to Canadian environmental groups.

“Most of us don’t think much about where organizational funding comes from when we witness well-orchestrated protests against, say, fish farming,” the Herald article said, adding:

“But, as the Watergate-era Deep Throat source once counselled, follow the money.”

“Deep Throat” — who was self-revealed in 2005 to have been W. Mark Felt Jr., formerly the second-ranking official at the FBI — never spoke the line.

It was written into the screenplay of All the President’s Men, the cinematic version of the book by the same title that Woodward and Post colleague Carl Bernstein wrote about their Watergate reporting.

Follow the money” was uttered by Hal Holbrook, the actor who turned in an outstanding performance playing “Deep Throat” in the movie. He delivered the line with such assurance that it really did seem to offer a way through the labyrinth of the Watergate scandal.

Woodward

But even if Woodward had been advised to “follow the money,” the guidance neither would have unraveled Watergate nor led him to Nixon.

What forced Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 was not the misuse of campaign funds but, rather, his attempt to obstruct justice by covering up the signal crime of the Watergate scandal, the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972.

Although the movie version of All the President’s Men portrays “Deep Throat” as crucial to Watergate’s outcome, his contributions weren’t so vital in real life, as the scandal slowly unfolded.

That assessment was offered the other day by Barry Sussman, who was the Watergate editor for the Washington Post. In an online essay at Huffington Post, Sussman wrote that “Deep Throat/Mark Felt was more myth than reality as a useful Watergate source.”

Sussman’s essay linked to a commentary he wrote in 2005, after the identity of “Deep Throat” was revealed — more than 30 years after Woodward and Bernstein had written about him in All the President’s Men, an immediate best-seller when it appeared in 1974.

“Deep Throat was nice to have around, but that’s about it,” Sussman wrote. “His role as a key Watergate source for the Post is a myth, created by a movie and sustained by hype for almost 30 years.”

That’s very intriguing, especially from someone as close to the Post’s Watergate reporting as Sussman was.

He’s now editor of the Nieman Watchdog Project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

He closed his 2005 commentary by asserting:

“Watergate for many years has been hailed as a victory for the American system, and for the press. It wasn’t. It was a very narrow miss. Woodward and Bernstein did fine work in helping lay out the scandal as it took place. But they have been riding the myth and hype of Deep Throat/Mark Felt for a very long time.”

It deserves emphasizing that Watergate’s dominant narrative notwithstanding, the reporting by Woodward and Bernstein did not, as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, take down Nixon’s corrupt presidency.

Unraveling Watergate, as I point out in Getting It Wrong, required “the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.

“Even then,” I add, “Nixon likely would have served out his term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House.

“Only when compelled by the Supreme Court did Nixon surrender those recordings,” which captured him obstructing justice.

Sussman’s right: Watergate was a very narrow miss.

WJC

Recent and related:

  1. [...] ‘Deep Throat’ didn’t say ‘follow the money’; nor was he vital in Water… [...]

  2. [...] ‘Deep Throat’ didn’t say ‘follow the money’; nor was he vital in Water… [...]

  3. [...] ‘Deep Throat’ didn’t say ‘follow the money’; nor was he vital in Water… [...]

  4. [...] Sussman acknowledges he didn’t know that Felt was supposedly “Deep Throat” before 2005. He also notes that Felt, who died in 2008, often denied having been “Deep Throat.” [...]

  5. [...] “Deep Throat” never advised Woodward to “follow the money.” [...]

  6. [...] ‘Deep Throat’ didn’t say ‘follow the money,’ nor was he vital in Water… [...]

  7. […] When ‘Deep Throat’ tells the Bob Woodward character in the movie, ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976), ‘Follow the money’, he was stating the obvious.  The hands it touches reveal the story.  Money is the means to […]

  8. […] of the best quotes of the ‘70s was uttered by Deep Throat in All The President’s Men as he encouraged struggling investigative reporters Woodward and […]

  9. […] of the best quotes of the ‘70s was uttered by Deep Throat in All The President’s Men as he encouraged struggling investigative reporters Woodward and […]

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,777 other followers

%d bloggers like this: