Follow the Money: The Marketing of Deep Throat
Thursday, June 2, 2005
On Tuesday, an old man emerged from the shadows to solve a mystery that had long intrigued political experts, journalists and just plain Americans. Yesterday, as he was chauffeured away from his house in Santa Rosa, Calif., he rolled down his car window and jovially told reporters that he now plans to "write a book or something and get all the money I can."
Welcome, Deep Throat, to the modern media marketing machine.
No one knows yet what W. Mark Felt -- aka Deep Throat, The Washington Post's long-secret Watergate source -- has to say, or how well he can say it, given that he's 91 years old and suffering from both physical and mental deterioration. But everyone, it seems, wants to know more about his story.
Major publishing houses -- HarperCollins, Random House and Little, Brown among them -- fielded calls from David Kuhn, a media agent representing Felt's family and his attorney, in New York yesterday. They may have listened with skepticism, or excitement, or a mixture of both, but many signed up for meetings later this week. Court TV executives listened to multiple pitches from producers interested in making Deep Throat/Watergate made-for-television movies. Alice Mayhew, editor on Bob Woodward's multiple best-selling books for Simon & Schuster, came down to Washington from New York to pay a personal visit to her client -- and read Woodward's previously undisclosed manuscript about the relationship he had with his famous source.
BlackBerrys buzzed from Los Angeles to Washington to New York.
"Whenever you have a celebrity book -- and in a way this is a celebrity book, although perhaps a celebrity book with a 202 area code -- there is often a lack of material on the page," said Geoff Shandler, editor in chief at Little, Brown. "You're buying into the concept as much as anything."
The landslide started with the advance release Tuesday of an article slated for the July edition of Vanity Fair, in which Felt acknowledges that he was Deep Throat. In the article, written by family attorney John D. O'Connor, family members acknowledge that a factor in going public now, rather than after Felt's death (which was long the understanding between Felt and Woodward), was financial gain.
The sweeps started fast.
Kuhn, a former magazine editor who now has his own agency, Kuhn Projects, was making calls less than 24 hours after the story broke. Though Kuhn had no comment on the family's plans, meetings involving him, O'Connor and several publishers are scheduled for late this week and early next. The family is also reportedly interested in television and film projects.
One publishing house that did not get a call from Kuhn is Simon & Schuster, publisher of the previous 12 bestsellers by Woodward. Woodward confirmed yesterday that he and Carl Bernstein plan to tell their story, but the how and when, he said, has not yet been settled. Nevertheless, the industry was abuzz about what the book will say and how soon it will hit the shelves.
"Bob Woodward owns the story," said Jonathan Karp, a senior editor at Random House, a competitor of Simon & Schuster. "I'll be on line the first day it's on sale at Barnes & Noble. I'll even pay the full retail price."
Several editors expressed some significant reservations about the viability of a Felt book on several fronts, but that doesn't mean they're passing on a meeting.