AUSTIN -- Thousands of pages of notes, memos, transcripts and other materials collectively known as the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers open to the public today at the University of Texas, minus the most fascinating detailconnected to the demise of the Nixon administration: the identity of Deep Throat.
The name of the executive branch source -- as well as dozens of other confidential sources -- will remain secret until their deaths, as promised to them by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting for The Washington Post led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974.
“We would have thought many of these people would be dead by now, but people just live longer,” Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Post, said at a media briefing on the papers, archived at the university’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. “It’s amazing how long people live today.”
But what is in the collection reveals publicly for the first time that even Nixon’s closest aides and senior Republicans on Capitol Hill shared “doubts, worries and suspicions” about Nixon. They were concerned, Woodward said, both about the president’s involvement in the criminal Watergate coverup and his fragile psychological state toward the end of his presidency.
As Republican senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona so succinctly said about Nixon, according to the newly available documents: “I began to think that he was off his head” and “lying all the way through.”
Goldwater died in 1998 at the age of 89.
The collection was culled from 75 file-drawer-size boxes accumulated during Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting and writing for The Post, for the book and movie versions of “All the President’s Men” and for the book “The Final Days.” The University of Texas paid Woodward and Bernstein $5 million for the collection last year.
The collection includes a meticulous record from the beginning to the end of the Watergate scandal. The documents range from Woodward’s hand-scribbled notes from the preliminary court hearing for the five men arrested June 17, 1972, after a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex to 42 pages of typed notes gleaned from eight extensive interviews with one of Nixon’s principal Watergate lawyers, J. Fred Buzhardt.
According to a synopsis of the Buzhardt interviews that is included, the lawyer said that 10 months before the president resigned, “I concluded . . . that Nixon would not make it.” He described in detail to the reporters how Nixon resisted disclosing to him and other lawyers the contents of the secret Oval Office tape recordings that eventually led to his downfall. Instead, Nixon ordered them to leak stories about how Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson reportedly resisted disclosing their own tape recordings. “I was given screaming instructions to leak it,” Buzhardt said about purported Kennedy tapes.
Buzhardt said he eventually understood why. After the Supreme Court ruled on July 24, 1974, that Nixon had to turn over the tapes to the Watergate prosecutor and Buzhardt heard the June 23, 1972, recording, he said he “at once . . . realized it was over.” In that recording, six days after the break-in, Nixon plotted with aides to use the CIA to divert the investigation and cover up White House involvement.
Buzhardt died in 1978 at the age of 54.
Ransom Center Director Tom Staley called the archive “an unparalled, behind-the-scenes perspective into the nature of investigative journalism, the American political process and the Nixon presidency.”
University President Larry R. Faulkner said that consolidating the files of Woodward and Bernstein while they are still alive is important and will provide a “rich tool” for researchers for years to come.
“There are few people who would debate that this was one of those important chapters in the history of American journalism and the history of American politics,” Faulkner said.
The identities of some sources remain with Woodward and Bernstein, including that of the famous Deep Throat, the Nixon administration official whose deep-background information was crucial to The Post’s pursuit of the story. Bernstein said the materials pertaining to those sources are housed in a Washington vault and will not be released to the Ransom Center until the deaths of the sources.
Attempts to uncover the closely guarded identity of Deep Throat, known only to Woodward, Bernstein and former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, have been the subject of books and college journalism class projects for years. One book, “In Search of Deep Throat,” published in 2000 by former Nixon aide Leonard Garment, speculated that White House colleague John Sears was Deep Throat. Sears and Woodward denied it.
In 1999, Bill Gaines, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois and a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, began a class project to solve the mystery. Four years later, he and his students concluded that Nixon White House deputy counsel Fred Fielding was Deep Throat. Fielding also has denied it.
Undeterred, Gaines is still on the case. He and three of his students left Champaign, Ill., at 7 a.m. yesterday so they could be the first in line when the Ransom Center opens the Watergate archive at 9 a.m. today.
They will spend two days copying material and looking for what’s there and not there.
Highlights of the collection can be viewed at www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/online. An online finding aid at www.hrc.utexas.edu/research/fa/woodstein.hp.html provides a description of the papers.