The parking garage in suburban Virginia where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward occasionally met with his stealthy Watergate source “Deep Throat” is to be torn down to permit construction of two commercial and residential towers.
While they’re at it, local authorities ought to scrap the inaccurate historical marker that went up near the garage a few years ago.
The garage is in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. Woodward met there on six occasions in 1972 and 1973 with his source, who in 2005 identified himself as W. Mark Felt, formerly the FBI’s second-ranking official.
Woodward’s meetings with “Deep Throat” are commemorated by a marker that declares:
“Felt provided Woodward information that exposed the Nixon administration’s obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation.”
In its article yesterday about the garage’s planned demolition, the Post used phrasing almost identical to that of the marker, stating that Felt “provided Woodward with information that exposed the Nixon administration’s obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation.”
Both the marker and the newspaper are incorrect in saying so.
Had Felt shared obstruction-of-justice evidence with Woodward in 1972 or 1973 (and had the Post published such information), the uproar would have been so intense that Nixon surely would have had to resign the presidency long before he did in August 1974.
But it was not until late summer 1974 — months after Felt’s retirement — when unequivocal evidence emerged about Nixon’s attempt to block FBI’s investigation into Watergate.
That came about when Nixon complied with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling and surrendered audiotape recordings he had secretly made of conversations at the White House.
The recording of Nixon’s meeting with his top aide, H.R. Haldemann, on June 23, 1972, revealed that the president had sought to deflect or derail the FBI investigation into the burglary six days earlier at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington. The burglary was Watergate’s seminal crime.
The recording of Nixon’s conversation with Haldemann was called the “Smoking Gun” and it was that tape — not information Felt passed on to Woodward — that exposed Nixon’s guilty role in Watergate and forced his resignation. As I noted in my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, had Nixon not recorded his conversations, he likely would have survived the Watergate scandal and served out his term.
In any case, the historical marker is inaccurate and ought to be scrapped. And the Post’s article yesterday ought to be corrected.
So what sort of information did “Deep Throat” pass on to Woodward?
All the President’s Men, the book in which Woodward and co-author Carl Bernstein introduced the secret source, says Woodward’s conversations with “Deep Throat” were intended “only to confirm information that had been obtained elsewhere and to add some perspective.”
All the President’s Men also says “Deep Throat” tended to be cautious in what he shared with Woodward:
“He always told rather less than he knew.”
More from Media Myth Alert:
- ‘Deep Throat’ garage marker errs about Watergate source disclosures
- The Nixon tapes: A pivotal Watergate story that WaPo missed
- Woodward, Bernstein toppled Nixon? Think again
- NYCity new mayor gushes over Bernstein, Woodward and their putative contributions to Watergate
- Inflating the exploits of WaPo’s Watergate reporters
- Who, or what, brought down Nixon
- The journos who saved us
- Watergate and its hardy myths
- Good call: WaPo building no landmark
- Arrogance: WaPo won’t correct dubious claim about Nixon ‘secret plan’ for Vietnam
- WaPo, Bezos, and owning up to errors ‘quickly and completely’
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ wins SPJ award for Research about Journalism