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May 31, 2005
Most Notorious Political Whodunit Climax: Deep Throat Confesses

The mystery of the identity over "Deep Throat", Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's mysterious inside source for their Watergate exposs, has intrigued Americans for over thirty years. The media has played a number of games and written millions of words in analyses trying to decipher the code, including the Washington Post which published the exposs and maintains a web site dedicated to the question of its source's identity. Today, according to Vanity Fair, the guessing game is over -- as Mark Felt has confessed to being the elusive mole inside the Nixon administration:

W. Mark Felt, who retired from the FBI after rising to its second most senior position, has identified himself as the "Deep Throat" source quoted by The Washington Post to break the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation, Vanity Fair magazine said Tuesday.

"I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat," he told John D. O'Connor, the author of Vanity Fair's exclusive that appears in its July issue.

Felt, now 91 and living in Santa Rosa, Calif. reportedly gave O'Connor permission to disclose his identity.

Felt had long been considered one of the leading candidates for Deep Throat. First off, he's still alive, and Bernstein and Woodward had promised to reveal their source's identity once he (or she) died. Felt had worked for J. Edgar Hoover for decades and had risen to the top ranks of the FBI under his tutelage, but got passed over for promotion when Nixon went outside the bureau after Hoover's death for political reasons. Felt eventually got convicted of complicity in other illegal break-ins and searches against the Weather Underground, but received pardons from Ronald Reagan shortly afterwards. Felt knew where to send the Post's reporters for evidence, and he had a lot of motivation to torpedo Nixon. Felt's involvement fits in with the FBI modus operandi of the time, when Hoover and his subordinates played for keeps with the secret information they compiled.

Oddly, however, neither Woodward nor Bernstein chose to confirm Felt's confession:

Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward broke the story as Washington Post reporters, issued a statement neither denying nor confirming Felt's claim. Bernstein stated he and Woodward would be keeping their pledge to reveal the source only once that person dies.

At 91, one would expect Felt to have grown past any need for self-aggrandizement, but perhaps he wanted one last fling of publicity before he shuffles off the mortal coil. It seems strange that the two reporters would refuse to confirm a source who publicly outs himself; surely, their responsibility for his confidentiality would end there. This whodunit may not yet have reached its resolution, Felt's claims notwithstanding.

UPDATE and BUMP: The Washington Post confirms it with a statement from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The hesitation may have been an indication that Felt took them by surprise:

The Washington Post today confirmed that W. Mark Felt, a former number-two official at the FBI, was "Deep Throat," the secretive source who provided information that helped unravel the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s and contributed to the resignation of president Richard M. Nixon.

The confirmation came from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, and their former top editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee. The three spoke after Felt's family and Vanity Fair magazine identified the 91-year-old Felt, now a retiree in California, as the long-anonymous source who provided crucial guidance for some of the newspaper's groundbreaking Watergate stories. ...

In a statement today, Woodward and Bernstein said, "W. Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat' and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories that were written in The Washington Post about Watergate."

The accompanying article has people describing Felt as a "hero", while some of the commenters here are more inclined to see him as a traitor. I don't think either applies. Felt worked with the Post for his own personal motivations of revenge and frustration at being passed over. If Nixon had made him Director of the FBI, he never would have lefted a finger for Woodward or Bernstein.

On the other hand, having decided to pursue wrongdoing by the White House, Felt's complicity in similar activity against terrorist groups like the Weather Underground would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for him to have any chance of success. Becoming a whistleblower probably made it possible for the truth to get out, even if that did provide a measure of personal satisfaction (short-lived as it was) for Felt.

Like the scandal he helped expose, Felt and his role were much more complicated than a simple hero-or-traitor binary choice allows.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 31, 2005 6:00 PM

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