One of modern political history’s biggest mysteries was solved today as the identity of Deep Throat was revealed. Vanity Fair reported, and Woodward and Bernstein confirmed, that former FBI second-in-command W. Mark Felt was the anonymous source for their Watergate investigations. Felt denied being Throat on numerous occasions over the past 30 years, mostly because he felt conflicted about his own role in the affair. He finally came out to his family three years ago, who then convinced the now 91-year-old to make the story public. Prior to Felt’s familial confession, only he, Woodward, Bernstein, and former Post editor Ben Bradlee knew his true identity.
I recall a couple years ago some minor hubbub in the historical profession about this project, put together by some journalism students at the University of Illinois. With meticulous research, they fingered White House Deputy Council Fred Fielding as Deep Throat. Their research was off—way off in fact, as they didn’t even have Mark Felt in their top 7. Their web site does, however, demonstrate that a good number of people had fingered Felt in the past, including former Deputy White House Counsel H.R. Haldeman.
The involvement of anonymous sources in political journalism is always a mindfield. For every Deep Throat rebelling against a corrupt administration, there is are scores of political lackeys doing someone else’s dirty work like in the Valerie Plame affair, or political hatchetmen spreading outright lies, not to mention sources that are just plain wrong (the recent Newsweek Koran-flushing story comes to mind). Journalists need to balance making headlines (and careers) with getting the story complete and correct, something they do a lot less successully than they are willing to admit.
One must also remember that Felt himself does not have entirely clean hands. He was passed over for promotion to FBI chief when J. Edgar Hoover passed away, which suggests that his actions may have been those of a disgruntled employee as much as they were of a frustrated lawman being kept on a leash by corrupt political superiors. He was also convicted of conspiracy for authorizing FBI agents to break into the houses of Weather Underground members without warrants to read their mail, ostensibly to discover the targets of that domestic terrorist group’s attacks. He was fined, but later pardoned by President Reagan.
Ironically, the learning of Deep Throat’s name introduces more mysteries than it solves. What were Felt’s motivations for leaking information? What did he really feel about the Nixon Administration (especially after Nixon appointed an administration insider to head the bureau instead of Felt)? Why did he keep his identity secret for thirty years, even to the point of lying about his involvement to family and media? Hopefully more information beyond the O’Conner article in Vanity Fair is forthcoming. Bob Woodward is scheduled to publish his own reflections on the Deep Throat affair in the Thursday edition of the Post.