Irony: Identity of idealist was revealed for money
Finally, we know.
After years of speculation, countless interviews, and a considerable number of people have profited from speculative books, the identity of Deep Throat, the anonymous source who helped The Washington Post bring down Richard Nixon's presidency, was revealed this week.
Mark Felt was the No. 2 man at the FBI when he fed reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the information that the break-in at the Watergate Hotel was more than just a run-of-the mill, small-time burglary. Woodward had promised not to reveal the identity of Deep Throat until his death. But the man's now in his 90s and his family admitted they hoped to profit from his making the revelation now.
The "outing" of America's most famous anonymous source sparked a series of debates on television news programs. Was Mark Felt a hero or a traitor? Law and order types characterized him as the former; those still loyal to the Nixon White House, including political commentator Pat Buchanan, felt he was a traitor. Still others said Nixon did nothing more serious than his predecessors had done, but he got caught.
It's an interesting debate. Should an employee of a federal law enforcement agency be loyal to the law or to the administration that hired him?
In his notes, Woodward referred to Mark Felt by his initials, "M.F," and said it stood for "My friend." If he and his partner had referred to him as "my friend," in their editorial copy instead of painting him as a chain-smoking man with a bass voice, nicknaming him "Deep Throat," which just happened to be the title of a popular porn flick, would we care one-third of a century later? Probably not quite as much.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews had as his guest Thursday night Lesley Stahl, the star CBS reporter who was a cub reporter in Washington, D.C., in the early 70s and dated Bob Woodward while the Watergate saga was unfolding.
No matter which side of the debate you take – Felt the hero or Felt the villain – you have to admit that Watergate changed the public's expectations of the news. I recall interviewing Alabama's Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley the first time she ran for statewide office. Baxley, who got her start in the Houston County Courthouse in Dothan said she resented Watergate because nobody respected government – be it the courthouse or the statehouse or the White House – after it.
In the end, the identity of the man who quietly told Woodward to "follow the money," was revealed because his daughter wanted money. Somehow, I don't think the man who had such high ideals in the summer of 1972 would have agreed to that if he still had all of his faculties about him.
Michele Gerlach may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 251.867.4876.