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The outing of Deep Throat

by Patrick J. Buchanan
http://www.humanevents.com/
April 10, 2012

As the 40th anniversary of Watergate impends, we are to be bathed again in the great myth and morality play about the finest hour in all of American journalism.

The myth?

That two heroic young reporters at The Washington Post, guided by a secret source, a man of conscience they dubbed "Deep Throat," cracked the case and broke the scandal wide open, where the FBI, U.S. prosecutors and more experienced journalists floundered and failed.

Through their tireless investigative reporting, they compelled the agencies of government to treat Watergate as the unprecedented constitutional crisis it was. No Pulitzer Prize was ever more deserved than the one awarded the Post in 1973.

These young journalists saved our republic!

However, the myth, fabricated in "All the President's Men" and affirmed by the 1976 film of the same name, with Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, has a Hellfire missile coming its way.

"Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat" is an exhaustive study of the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein and the leaking by the FBI's Mark Felt, whose identity as Deep Throat was revealed in 2005.

"Leak" author Max Holland zeroes in on the last great unanswered question of Watergate: Why did Felt, an FBI No. 2 on the short list to succeed J. Edgar Hoover, risk reputation and career to leak secrets to the Post?

Woodward and Bernstein paint Deep Throat, writes Holland, as a "selfless high-ranking official intent on exposing the lawlessness of the Nixon White House." But this is self-serving nonsense.

The truth was right in front of Woodward. His refusal to see it made him a willing or witless collaborator in the ruin of the reputation and career of an honorable pubic servant, Patrick Gray.

Felt was consumed by anger and ambition. When Hoover died, a month before the break-in, Felt, who had toadied to Hoover, saw himself as Hoover's successor. But President Nixon went outside the bureau to name Gray from the Department of Justice acting director.

Concealing his rage and resentment, Felt wormed himself into Gray's confidence, and then set out to destroy Gray.

Felt's method: Leak discoveries of the Watergate investigation to a cub reporter at the Post, which everybody in Washington read, rather than to veteran journalists known to be FBI outlets.

This would cover Felt's tracks.

Published in the Post, the leaks of what the FBI was uncovering would enrage Nixon and make Gray appear an incompetent unable to conduct a professional investigation. This would make it unlikely that Nixon would ever send Gray's name to the Senate for confirmation as permanent director.

And if Gray, an outsider, fell because he couldn't keep the FBI from leaking, Nixon might turn to Felt, the ranking insider who could button up the bureau like Hoover did.

By ingratiating himself with Gray as he set out to discredit and destroy him, Felt expected that when Gray was passed over by Nixon, he would recommend to Nixon that he appoint his loyal deputy, Felt, as director.

Even if cynical and vicious, the scheme was clever.

Until Nixon found out Felt was the leaker in late 1972, he was considering Felt for the top job. Felt's machinations and deceptions at the apex of the FBI make Nixon's White House appear in retrospect to have been a cloistered convent of Carmelite nuns.

More revolting than the ruin of Gray's reputation was what Felt did to the good name of the bureau he professed to love. By leaking what agents were learning about Watergate, he was discrediting the FBI.

Inside the government, he made the FBI look like an agency of bumblers who could not keep secrets. Outside the government, the FBI looked like a three-toed sloth, while a fleet-footed and fearless Washington Post was unearthing the truth.

The FBI appeared beaten at every turn by the brilliant Post, when it was the FBI's homework Felt was stealing and the Post was cribbing.

Woodward and Bernstein were glorified stenographers.

And though Deep Throat was portrayed as a man sickened by the wiretaps and break-ins by the White House, Felt himself, writes Holland, "authorized illegal surreptitious entries into the homes of people associated with the Weather Underground."

In 1979, Felt was prosecuted and convicted and then pardoned by Reagan.

In "The Secret Man," Woodward calls Felt "a truth-teller." That's quite a tribute to an FBI man who lied to Pat Gray, lied to all of his FBI colleagues and lied to every journalist who asked him for 30 years whether he was Deep Throat.

If Felt was a hero, why did he not come forward to tell the country what he had done and why?

Because he was no hero.

Mark Felt was a snake. He used the Post to destroy his rivals and advance his ambitions, and the Post didn't care what his motives were because Felt was assisting them in destroying their old enemy.

Yes, indeed, the finest hour in American journalism.

- Patrick J. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, The Death of the West, The Great Betrayal, A Republic, Not an Empire,Where the Right Went Wrong, and most recently Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?


A Conspiracy So Immense

Did "Deep Throat" disclose Watergate secrets as part of an orchestrated attempt to unseat the head of the FBI?


By RICHARD J. TOFEL
The Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com/home-page
March 6, 2012

Mark Felt as Salt Lake FBI chief in January 1958.

When we think of J. Edgar Hoover in his heyday, it is as a powerful figure of the 1950s and early 1960s. Clint Eastwood's recent biopic, for instance, leaves the impression that Hoover died shortly after Richard Nixon became president in 1969. In fact, Hoover's fatal heart attack did not come until May 1972, when Nixon had been president for more than three years and Hoover was approaching a half-century as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

More to the point, Hoover's death came just a few weeks before burglars, acting on behalf of Nixon's re-election committee, were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington. Max Holland's "Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat" strongly implies that if Hoover had lived just another three or four months, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein would have been denied their key source—whom they labeled Deep Throat in "All the President's Men" (1974)—and the received history of the Watergate scandal might have been quite different.

Mr. Holland's book is fascinating reading, both when it is convincing and when it is not. His thesis, laid out early on, is that Mark Felt, the bureau's No. 2 man, was motivated to surreptitiously help the Washington Post reporters not by patriotism or a distaste for Nixonian lawlessness—as has been assumed—but by personal ambition. (Felt's identity as Deep Throat was not confirmed until 2005, three years before his death at age 95.) Felt was a leading contender in what Mr. Holland terms the "War of the FBI Succession." Mr. Holland argues even more provocatively that Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein's "investigation" was merely following behind the FBI's. The bureau, he says, was on its way to exposing the Watergate scandal even if the reporters had not pursued all the president's men.

Mr. Holland's argument about Felt's careerist motives is strong, if almost entirely circumstantial. It is true that, if Felt had wanted merely to curtail Nixon and protect the country, there were darker secrets about Nixon and his White House that he could have shared with the press but did not—for instance, the wiretapping of Henry Kissinger and various reporters. The author also rejects the familiar claim that Felt helped Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein in the hope that, by their making scandalous details public, Nixon would be unable to bottle up the FBI's investigation. Mr. Holland establishes that there was no need to protect the FBI from White House tampering because L. Patrick Gray, the FBI's acting director after Hoover's death, did not have sufficient influence over his agents to stymie their efforts and quickly stopped trying to do so.

Certainly Felt did want to succeed Hoover and considered Gray unqualified for the job. Felt may well have thought that, by leaking details that were clearly coming from FBI sources, he would make Gray appear to be an ineffectual boss whose leadership, if he were nominated and confirmed as permanent head of the agency, would undermine the FBI's reputation for integrity and reliability. But even if Felt was reasoning in such a way, there is no direct evidence that, as Mr. Holland believes, Felt took his leaks to Mr. Woodward as part of an elaborate conspiracy to unseat Gray, an operation that Felt supposedly orchestrated with sympathetic FBI colleagues. Mr. Holland describes why such a plot aligns with what we know, but he offers very little proof that it actually happened.

Less persuasive still is Mr. Holland's argument that historians have overrated the importance of Deep Throat and of Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein. Mr. Holland reminds us of the Watergate stories broken by Sandy Smith of Time magazine, who receives too little credit for his work. And he shows that, like many reporters, the Post's duo found themselves following in the footsteps of official investigators who had subpoena power and official badges, two tools that journalists lack.

But Mr. Holland's assertion that "the main effect of Deep Throat's leaks was merely to accelerate the scandal by perhaps six months or a year" goes much too far. What Mr. Holland misses is the politics of the astonishing situation that the country faced in the second half of 1972, as a popular president, secretly breaking the law and corrupting the institutions of government, sailed to overwhelming re-election.

It was the doggedness of the press, especially of Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein, that brought the investigative findings quickly to light and made possible a transformation of the political climate in early 1973. As damaging story followed damaging story, Nixon's political adversaries felt emboldened to advance their cause, even in the face of their own electoral defeat.

That transformation was aided, to be sure, by the revelations at Gray's confirmation hearings in March 1973. Mr. Holland suggests that the Gray hearings—not the televised Senate Watergate special-committee hearings later—were the pivotal event in Nixon's undoing. It was Gray's suggestion at his hearings that White House counsel John Dean had lied to prosecutors, after all, that played a large part in flipping Mr. Dean from manager of the cover-up to cooperating witness.

But without the work of Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein the scandal might have died away. The Gray hearings would almost certainly have been smoother, leaving Mr. Dean unprodded to switch sides. The full story of the break-in would likely have come out, but the larger cover-up would have likely stayed in place, and Nixon would have served out his second term. In "Leak," Mr. Holland gives us an important new perspective on Mark Felt's motives, but in the end his effort to demonstrate a bureaucratic conspiracy and diminish the role of the Watergate press is less than persuasive. Like Felt's effort to become FBI director, Mr. Holland's reach exceeds his grasp.

Mr. Tofel is general manager of ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization.

A version of this article appeared March 6, 2012, on page A17 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Conspiracy So Immense.



Bernstein, Woodward Swat Down ‘Leak’ Questioning Deep Throat’s Motive               

Did W. Mark Felt leak on Watergate out of patriotism—or personal ambition? A new book by Max Holland claims only the latter. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein tell Lloyd Grove why the author is dead wrong.

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The legend of Deep Throat—which was a central drama of All the President’s Men, both the bestselling book and the Oscar-winning movie—has achieved sacred-text status in journalism circles; it is the inspiring saga of plucky reporters and their confidential source who risked all to save the republic. Robert Redford, who played Bob Woodward in the 1976 film, is planning to direct a documentary that will cover the affair, lest anyone forget The Washington Post’s crowning moment of glory.



The mystery of Deep Throat, however, has been less enduring. It was ostensibly solved seven years ago, when former FBI official W. Mark Felt revealed it was he who leaked to Woodward in that underground parking garage and helped him and Carl Bernstein unravel the Watergate scandal.

But, nearly 40 years after the fateful June 17 break-in at the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office complex, Felt’s motive for aiding the Washington Post duo remains debatable, if not shady.

Woodward and Bernstein, not surprisingly, have argued that Felt, the FBI’s second-in-command at the time of the break-in and an acolyte of the late J. Edgar Hoover, acted out of patriotism—“with remarkable personal courage” when “the nation had become endangered by [Richard Nixon’s] lawless presidency,” as Bernstein eulogized the G-man a month after his death at age 95 in December 2008. “Mark’s great decision in all of this was his refusal to be silenced,” Woodward declared at the same memorial service. “Action is character.”

Now comes a new book, Leak, in which independent journalist Max Holland—drawing on his fresh interviews with Watergate prosecutors and FBI investigators as well as government files, private diaries, the Nixon White House tapes, and other records—claims that Felt was motivated principally by his desire to become Hoover’s rightful heir and calculated his leaks to torpedo Nixon’s handpicked FBI director, L. Patrick Gray III, along with other rivals for the top job.

Far from being a selfless patriot, Felt, in Holland’s portrayal, was a preening, duplicitous Washington player who tried to use Woodward and Bernstein, as well as other journalists to whom he passed (sometimes false) information, to further his egocentric personal ambition. Nixon’s downfall, Holland contends, was the last thing on Felt’s mind; indeed, given its potential negative impact on his chances to rise, it was probably the last thing he wanted.

deep-throat-max-holland-grove-teaser

In reaction to Leak, various Watergate participants and aficionados are lining up on one side or the other on the question of Deep Throat’s motives. Felt’s lawyer, John D. O’Connor, who wrote the July 2005 Vanity Fair piece that outed his client, then suffering from dementia, as America’s best-known secret whistleblower, clings to the Felt-as-hero theory. “The book is well-researched and well-written,” he says, “and dead wrong.”

But John W. Dean III—who repeatedly tangled with Felt while supervising the Watergate coverup as Nixon’s White House counsel, and later became the star witness against the president and his top aides (having pleaded guilty himself to obstruction of justice)—applauds Holland’s book. “Max has got it right—he nailed it,” says Dean, one of the experts Holland asked to read Leak in manuscript form. “Felt was a piece of work.”

If only Nixon had not bypassed Felt in favor of Gray at the FBI, Dean argues, Deep Throat would not have leaked, and Nixon’s presidency would have survived.

Woodward and Bernstein are predictably offended by Holland’s book—especially its claim that their Pulitzer Prize–winning Watergate reporting, albeit praiseworthy and impressive, essentially followed what government investigators were already uncovering about the unfolding scandal. Until last week, they publicly held their fire. But after the two were asked to respond to the assertions in Leak during a Watergate-themed panel April 3 at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention, all bets are off. Now they are blasting the book and vehemently defending not only Deep Throat’s legacy, but their own.

“I think we live in an age of too much revisionism that oversimplifies and twists complicated events, and this is a classic example,” says Bernstein, who likens Holland to a “bad scientist” who credits only data that fit his theory and ignores data that contradict it. “This book is part of a debunking industry—a huge enterprise in the cultural landscape, not just about Watergate, but all kinds of revisionist notions that mischaracterize the complexities of real events and history.”

Woodward, who granted Holland an interview for Leak and has been poring over its 59 pages of footnotes, dismisses many of its conclusions as “conjecture or speculation” unsupported by hard facts. Woodward points out that The Secret Man, his own 2005 chronicle of his relationship with Felt, repeatedly acknowledged that Deep Throat’s motives were mixed and not altogether altruistic.


“There’s not anything that Max Holland writes [regarding Felt’s motives] that I don’t talk about in The Secret Man,” Woodward says. “In fact, I raise all those questions about what his motives were”—including Felt’s thwarted ambition to be FBI director. “They are laid out pretty clearly.” Woodward adds that Felt—whom he first met by chance outside the White House Situation Room in 1969, when Woodward was a 27-year-old Navy lieutenant transporting classified documents—“was troubled. I knew him. I just think this idea that there’s one motive behind somebody’s action doesn’t match up with reality.”

Woodward and Bernstein are most alarmed by Holland’s claims about the scope of their Watergate reporting. “The most interesting thing he says is that we were just following what the prosecutors had found, and that is factually wrong,” Woodward says, noting that at the 1973 trial of the first seven Watergate defendants, federal prosecutors identified former G-man Gordon Liddy as “the mastermind” of the operation. On the contrary, Woodward says, their Washington Post reporting uncovered a massive, long-running political espionage and sabotage campaign that went far beyond the mere wiretapping of the Democrats and was run directly out of the Nixon White House. “This guy Max Holland doesn’t understand Watergate,” he says.

Holland retorts: “I wasn’t writing about Watergate,” but instead focusing on a single key actor amid a complex moment in history. “Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting deserves every kudo it has ever gotten. But let’s appreciate it for what it was and not pretend it was something it wasn’t … I talked to everybody at the FBI, the prosecutors, the journalists—I talked to everybody who’s still alive. Don’t they have a side of the story? Watergate isn’t the exclusive history of Bob Woodward. He doesn’t own it. There are other points of view.”

Holland argues that lead prosecutor Earl J. Silbert’s contemporaneous diary makes clear that the trial of Liddy, former CIA agents Howard Hunt and James McCord, and “the Cubans” was always envisioned as a prelude to the prosecution of higher-ups. One of the defendants was bound to crack and spill the beans—and McCord did just that, writing his famous letter to federal judge John J. Sirica that blew the coverup wide open.

Felt, says Woodward, “was troubled. I knew him. I just think this idea that there’s one motive behind somebody’s action doesn’t match up with reality.”

In the end, Holland’s theory of Deep Throat’s motive is hardly novel, though it is the most definitive presentation to date. Felt, whose career ended abruptly in 1973 when acting FBI director William Ruckelshaus, Gray’s successor, quietly forced his retirement over a suspected leak to The New York Times, acknowledged that he’d wanted the top job but dismissed the notion that he was angry about not getting it. Of course, he also lied consistently about being Deep Throat whenever his name inevitably came up in the seemingly endless parlor game. As Felt claimed to the Los Angeles Times in November 1974, after Washingtonian magazine published an article speculating that he was the celebrated source: “I did not leak any information to Woodward or Bernstein. I’m not Deep Throat.”

Woodward, for one, says he pitied Felt because he couldn’t show his real self to the world at large and had to submerge his true identity in a carefully constructed façade.

“The bottom line,” Woodward says, “is that there is no such thing as a perfect source.”

 

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