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June 1, 2005
The One That Got Away

Todd Foster of the News-Virginian writes today that he had the Deep Throat story three years ago, and would have published the explosive secret three years ago in People Magazine. However, several factors led People to decline the scoop -- mostly the family's demand for money, as well as the mental incapacity of Felt himself:

I've been waiting three years for what happened Tuesday: That W. Mark Felt would be named "Deep Throat."

Actually, he was outed as Deep Throat by relatives and an attorney who began pitching me the story in June 2002, when I was a regular contributor to People magazine. ...

Ultimately the story died because of money. The Felt family and their attorney wanted a lot of money, and People magazine - with my blessing - backed away in what would have been a case of "checkbook journalism." Reputable news organizations don't pay a penny for news. This also was during the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal at The New York Times. The ethical meters at news organizations were tuned to full alert, or should have been.

That wasn't the only reason Foster backed off of the Deep Throat exclusive that he had carefully cultivated. After People decided to walk away, Foster shopped the concept to HarperCollins as a book project. That would allow the family to take part in the proceeds without compromising journalistic standards or Foster's sense of ethics. He hired a co-writer to help out with the legwork and had high hopes of making the biggest splash in national politics and journalism in recent memory.

However, once he and his partner actually worked with Mark Felt, they quickly found out that he no longer had the capacity to make that decision himself. Foster describes some of their experiences with Felt, and how his story changed repeatedly due to his dementia:

Jess made three trips to Santa Rosa in late 2003 and sent me transcripts from his taped interviews with Deep Throat and the Felt family.

Ultimately, Jess advised me that we could not in good conscience go through with this book. The contract with the book publisher stated that our information had to be bulletproof, that we had to be able to prove Felt was Deep Throat.

It could not be done then and it cannot be done now, unless Woodward himself can produce documentation.

Even Felt himself claimed during several sections of the taped interviews that Woodward made up the source Deep Throat.

"I just thought he was making it up," the then 90-year-old Felt told my partner. ...

The problem with Felt is that three summers before, he had suffered a stroke and briefly was sent to recuperate in a convalescent home. ... On Nov. 8, 2003, Felt told my writing partner when asked if he wanted to come forward: "You can tell them that I am Deep -- that I was Deep Throat. The only thing is that Deep Throat is a little different than you probably have in mind. Deep Throat was not anybody real inside that was furnishing information. It was somebody confirming information."

Then Felt described his motive for coming clean then: "I guess I want some money for my family."

Earlier in that same interview, Felt said he didn't remember anything about Deep Throat, even saying at one point: "Well, I wasn't a Deep Throat."

Of Woodward, he said: "I don't think I ever provided information to him."

Later, Felt said: "I thought Deep Throat was another source entirely."

It was only after prodding and coaching from his daughter and the family's attorney, John O'Connor of San Francisco, that Felt even gave his lukewarm admission.

This puts an entirely different spin on Felt's admission and the hesitation of Woodward and Bernstein to confirm it. If Foster's report is correct, then Mark Felt has no capacity to make that decision for himself -- and it looks like his family engineered the admission for some financial gain. Given that Vanity Fair eventually broke the story, one has to wonder what they paid the Felt family for the exclusive.

It also becomes more understandable why the two Post reporters initially stated that they would wait until the source died to confirm the identity. Woodward had visited Felt several times over the past few years and must have known of Felt's incapacity. No doubt when he heard that Felt had announced his identity as Deep Throat, he and Bernstein must have questioned the veracity of the news, as Felt sounds incapable of making that decision, and probably the two must have known that it was out of character for a man who felt as conflicted as he reportedly did over his role.

Foster's article suggests that this revelation is nothing more than perhaps the last tawdry event in a tawdry scandal, where eventually no one was a hero and Felt's admonition to "follow the money" applied to everyone involved. (via Romanesko)

UPDATE: MS-NBC reports that Vanity Fair denies paying the Felt family for the story ... but it looks like they'll collect their money nonetheless:

The family of W. Mark Felt, the former FBI deputy director whose alter ego as Deep Throat has been revealed, appears ready to cash in on his newfound fame.

And if money is what they want, Felts family stands to reap a huge financial windfall, according to literary agents, who estimated Wednesday that a book deal could be worth up to $1 million.

That is assuming he has a compelling story to tell, said Glen Hartley, president of Writers Representatives LLC, based out of New York. A book could easily be valued in the six figures.

As news broke that Felt was indeed the secret source who guided two young Washington Post reporters as they uncovered the Watergate scandal, Felts family offered to sell family photographs the first in an apparent flood of money-making opportunities.

Yeah, well, down the hatch.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 1, 2005 5:43 PM

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» The One That Got Away from Ed
Ed Morrissey has a very interesting look at Mark Felt's admission that he's Deep Throat--Felt tried to sell his story to People magazine three years ago, but People refused to pay him, and his family, for the scoop. But Vanity... [Read More]

Tracked on June 1, 2005 8:40 PM

» Is Felt the “Hero” or “Villain”? from The Wild Duck
Did Nixon’s Failure to Perpetuate the FBI Power Kluge Lead to His Own Demise? ... [Read More]

Tracked on June 1, 2005 10:24 PM

» Deep Throat from JamulBlog
By now you've probably heard the "sensational" news about the Watergate source code-named "Deep Throat" finally being revealed, as the then number two man at the FBI, former Director W. Mark Felt. The MSM is all over this story, trying as hard as... [Read More]

Tracked on June 2, 2005 7:34 AM

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