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  How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat | Felt's Two Lives | Special Report  
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'Deep Throat' Revealed

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Tim Noah
Slate Magazine Columnist
Tuesday, May 31, 2005; 5:00 PM

Slate magazine columnist Tim Noah was online Tuesday, May 31, at 5 p.m. ET to discuss the Vanity Fair article naming former FBI official W. Mark Felt as "Deep Throat," the figure who leaked secrets about President Richard Nixon's Watergate cover-up.

Read the latest:

Washington Post Confirms Felt Was 'Deep Throat'

A transcript follows.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: What is the state of Mr. Felt's health? Is he able to speak for himself?

Tim Noah: Mark Felt's health is shaky, and he's not entirely compos.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Do you think Woodward, Bernstein, and Bradlee will ever confirm the story while Deep Throat is still alive? Even if it is Felt?

Tim Noah: We should know soon. The word is that Woodward and/or Bernstein is/are about to make some sort of statement.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Noah, I have always considered Deep Throat to be a hero, and I will be curious to see how the country reacts to this revelation. Technically, to what extent did Mr. Felt break the law by doing what he did?

Tim Noah: I'm not entirely clear on what laws pertain, but I have been told there's a decent chance that it's illegal for an FBI investigator to leak details of a criminal investigation to the press.

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Arlington, Va.: How come The Post never had an article about this today? Neither Ben Bradlee nor Woodward would have to write it, but they couldn't get someone on staff to write up a little synopsis of the news? Or, even more importantly, get an interview with someone, or at least put that lame announcement from Bernstein on the site? I thought the coverage was pathetic. They didn't even post the wire stories until well after all the other news sites.

Tim Noah: It is kind of funny that the Washington Post would be scooped by a monthly magazine about the identity of Deep Throat. It's pretty unlikely that Bob Woodward wouldn't have known the Vanity Fair piece was in the works. Vanity Fair has an elaborate fact-checking process, and I would think a fact-checker at least attempted to contact Woodward to confirm some details in the story.

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New York, N.Y.: Has there been anyone comparable to Deep Throat since? Why didn't one emerge in the lead up to war since there were obviously many questions within the bureaucracy about the reliability of the evidence Bush et al put forth?

Tim Noah: I think you have to remember the sorts of crimes Watergate entailed. Burglaries. Illegal break-ins. Obstruction of justice. That sort of criminality is unusual, or so I would like to believe. Ironically, though, Felt himself was subsequently convicted on charges that he OK'd illegal (warrantless) break-ins into the homes of suspected members of the Weather Underground during the Vietnam War. He was pardoned by Ronald Reagan.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Do you think we'll ever know what his true motivation was, and does it matter?

Tim Noah: I think Felt's motivation was largely institutional. Nixon was trying to get control of the FBI, which for years, under director J. Edgar Hoover, had been quite independent of oversight by the White House or anyone else. It was a bit of a rogue elephant. With Hoover's death one month before the Watergate break-in, all bets were suddenly off. Nixon, meanwhile, wanted to use the FBI for political purposes, and in fact the Nixon White House did use the FBI to block the Watergate investigation until the FBI finally got fed up.

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Hamilton, Ontario: Mr. Noah: Is there a statute of limitations on leaking information of this nature, as Deep Throat did; and if so, has it run out, which could explain why Mr. Felt, who now claims to be Deep Throat, has fessed up?

Tim Noah: Excellent question, one I've been trying to get an answer to this afternoon. I don't know, but I would guess there is.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think by being coy today, Woodward and Bernstein are trying to preserve their multi-million dollar book deal?

Tim Noah: No. Believe me, they've got plenty of dough already. I think possibly they're worried about the circumstances of the revelation. Is Felt coming forth willingly, or is he being pushed into doing so by his children? The Vanity Fair story suggests it's the latter. I don't particularly blame the children for pushing Felt on this, but it does create a possible dilemma for Woodstein.

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Cabin John, Md.: Is it true that Mr. Felt's motivation was that he was passed over by Nixon for promotion to the head of the FBI when J. Edgar Hoover died? So the motivation was revenge, not patriotism or truth? If so, he still did the U.S. a great favor, but the reason was ironic.

Tim Noah: Felt was passed over, and I'm sure that displeased him. But more important, I think, was Felt's worry that the FBI was going to fall under White House control. I think Felt probably was genuinely horrified, too, at Nixon's crimes. But when I spoke to Felt a few years ago, he said in no uncertain terms that for an FBI employee to leak details of a criminal investigation to a newspaper would be a terrible betrayal. Felt was a company man.

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Millbrae, Calif.: Isn't this hearsay evidence: supposedly Mark Felt told others about the fact that he is Deep Throat, and they are telling us through the Vanity Fair article.

Do we have any direct statement from Mark Felt that he is Deep Throat?

Tim Noah: Felt is quoted in the Vanity Fair piece saying he's Deep Throat. I have no idea how Vanity Fair fact-checked this, but my late wife worked for Vanity Fair, and I can tell you they have a very thorough fact-checking department.

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Lexington, Ky.: How could somebody at the FBI have so much information about internal White House affairs?

Tim Noah: Because the FBI was investigating Watergate. It was conducting interviews with White House staffers, with former members of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, and others.

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Chicago, Ill.: What other big mysteries remain about the Watergate Scandal? I feel that the 14-minute gap on the Watergate Tape, allegedly erased "accidentally" by Nixon's secretary, would respond well to modern audio processing techniques.

Tim Noah: I read recently that somebody was working on that. It would be swell to find out what happened.

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Washington, D.C.: If the Redford/Hoffman-portrayed reporters come on the record today to state that Felt is NOT Deep Throat (or words that are construed to be to that effect), who would be your choice from the remaining candidates to be Deep Throat?

Tim Noah: My main candidate would be Fred Fielding, who was deputy White House counsel. Fielding and his boss, John Dean, had access to just about everything the FBI had. (So Felt's fears that the White House would bully the FBI were well-founded.)

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Seattle, Wash.: Sir, why are you, Tim Noah, answering Q and A questions rather than someone directly involved with the story? Do you actually have information, or are you just speculating?

Tim Noah: I am just speculating! Unfortunately, the people with direct knowledge of this affair aren't talking. At least so far. I will say, in my defense, that mine is informed speculation, and that I interviewed Felt six years ago about whether he was Deep Throat. He said he wasn't.

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Freeport, N.Y.: Thanks for taking questions. You indicate it's illegal for an FBI employee to leak information about an investigation but also assert the Nixon White House was trying to use the FBI to block investigation--wouldn't the latter mitigate the potential "illegality" of the leak?

Tim Noah: Possibly it would. I'm not a lawyer. At the very least it mitigates the leak from a moral point of view.

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washingtonpost.com:

Washington Post Confirms Felt as 'Deep Throat.'

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State College, Pa.: If Felt can still be charged with a crime, do you think Woodward and Bernstein will fess up to Deep Throat's identity or do you think they'll end up being held in contempt a la Miller and Cooper in the Plame affair?

Tim Noah: Hah! Free Woodward and Bernstein! It'd be worth it just for the T-shirts! But seriously, I'm pretty sure that Woodstein are on safe legal ground. And practically speaking, it's hard to imagine any prosecutor would want to throw a 91-year-old man (Felt) in jail.

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Polson, Mont.: If Mr. Felt is indeed "Deep Throat" I would welcome the opportunity to thank him while he lives. Shame on Woodward and Bernstein for their arrogance and ingratitude. What a slap in the face to the man they owe so much. Perhaps Woodstein needs to remember "We The People - Have The Right To Know The Truth." History is not his private cash cow. It belongs to all Americans. Honor Mr. Felt's choice to reveal himself. Or expose another lie. Don't withhold the truth.

Tim Noah: Woodward and Bernstein are behaving in an entirely honorable way, as best I can tell. I went into this earlier in the dialogue.

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Washington, D.C.: I've been told by former Watergate prosecutors that Deep Throat was likely more than one person. So what about the possibility that Mr. Felt was one of the sources, but that there are others?

Tim Noah: I don't think there was more than one Deep Throat. But Woodward and Bernstein have said many times that Deep Throat was not their only anonymous source.

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Madison, Conn.: Do you think that Hal Holbrook (the actor that played Deep Throat in the movie) was chosen because of his remarkable resemblance to Felt at the time? I once read that Woodward said if you watch the movie closely you could determine the identity of "Deep Throat."

Tim Noah: I am now told that Bob Woodward just confirmed that Mark Felt was indeed Deep Throat.

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washingtonpost.com:

Washington Post Confirms Felt as 'Deep Throat.'

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Washington, D.C.: I think it's important to remember that the final straw for Nixon was the tape where he ordered the CIA to shut down the FBI's investigation for made-up "national security" reasons. Felt's motives could have been very straightforward. His investigation was clearly being impeded, so he pushed back by leaking info to the press to keep the public pressure on so the investigation wouldn't be squashed. Not nearly as exciting as the movie version, I guess.

Tim Noah: Good point. And let's remember, Felt was no boy scout. He was subsequently prosecuted for ordering illegal (warrantless) searches of the homes of suspected members of the violent anti-Vietnam-war group, the Weather Underground. The FBI of that era wasn't opposed to illegal break-ins. It just wanted the illegal break-ins to be its own idea. Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt.

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Gambier, Ohio: What about the possibility that Deep Throat had many sources and he acted as a 'clearing house'? I happen to believe that my brother (Pentagon) and a friend (White House) were sources to Deep Throat.

Tim Noah: Everybody gets their information from somewhere. But I imagine most of Felt's information came from internal FBI memos.

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Reston, Va.: Does the "outting" of Deep Throat significantly change our current understanding of the Watergate episode and the Nixon administration?

Tim Noah: Not much, I think. But it does demonstrate that this transaction was morally more ambiguous than most people thought. Felt was working to make sure Watergate came to light, but he was also trying to stick it to the White House for messing with his beloved FBI. The WAY Nixon wanted to mess with the FBI was not admirable. But the FBI was seriously out of control in those years. And as I mentioned above, Felt was engaged in some of the FBI's illegal shenanigans.

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Washington, D.C.: In so many ways, the story behind Watergate has, itself, become -the- story. Why should I care who Deep Throat was?

Tim Noah: See above. In terms of supplying some big answers to large questions about Watergate -- no, I don't think now, and never thought before, that Deep Throat's identity would do that. It was mostly just a really fun mystery.

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Washington, D.C.: How could the daughter NOT know who Bob Woodward is AFTER he introduced himself? An educated college prof and daughter of somebody long-targeted as being Deep Throat?!?!?

Tim Noah: It was possible Woodward was just someone Felt had interviewed a lot in the past. Woodward is a demon reporter. He's interviewed lots and lots of people, over and over again.

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Washington, D.C.: Will there be a flood of people claiming they knew it was Felt all along? And before today, did you yourself think it was Felt?

Tim Noah: I did think it was Felt for a long time. Lately, though, I'd been thinking it was Fred Fielding!

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Noah, I just want to say congratulations on your detective work. Your Slate pieces have consistently argued over the years that Deep Throat was Felt. Excellent analysis!

Tim Noah: See above. I've been pretty consistently pro-Felt as Deep Throat, but not 100 percent.

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Boston, Mass.: Another long-held secret is finally revealed. Do you think that we will unveil a lot of mysteries about the Vietnam War, the identity of the man who stood before the tanks in Tiananmen Square, and the reason for the government's obsessive, brutal persecution of the Falun Gong once China's Communist Party falls and classified information is made available to the public? We learned a lot from the former USSR files. I think we may learn a lot from the PRC as well. What do you think?

Tim Noah: We can always count on new secrets coming out. We can also count on new secrets being created.

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Avoca, Pa.: Why didn't the FBI arrest anyone for the cover-up?

Tim Noah: Many people went to jail for Watergate crimes.

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Vienna, Va.: You say, "The FBI of that era wasn't opposed to illegal break-ins. It just wanted the illegal break-ins to be its own idea." I've read Felt's autobiography, and I don't think it's fair to equate what he did in tracking down people we would now call terrorists with what the Nixon White House plumbers did. Not even close.

Tim Noah: I agree that it's easier to sympathize with the Democratic National Committee than it is to sympathize with the Weather Underground. I've written pretty harshly about the Weather Underground in the past. At the same time, however, both Nixon and Felt were engaged in illegal activities.

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Portland, Ore.: Why would Felt not out himself? Why Vanity Fair?

Tim Noah: Why not? Vanity Fair's a perfectly good venue. My late wife was a writer there, and enjoyed a wide and intelligent readership.

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Washington, D.C.: What about the ultimate irony: That Felt was convicted (later pardoned) for authorizing illegal wiretaps on the Weather Underground?

Tim Noah: See above.

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Erie, Pa.: Thank you Mr. Felt! You are a true patriot! I wish we had another "Deep Throat" to source all the lies and criminal behavior of George W. (weapons of mass destruction, not!) Bush. Congratulations Woodstein for your treatment of Mr. Felt over the past three decades, and for now confirming. Where are the patriots of today? PLEASE step up to the plate!

Tim Noah: Yes, and please leak to ME. That's chatterbox@slate.com.

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Kittery, Maine: I have to admit to a bit of disappointment. It's like getting to the end of the mystery novel and finding out that the obvious guy did it. In reflecting on it, I think the only unethical thing he did was to lie about it for the past 30 years.

Tim Noah: Yeah, it's a great day for us plodders. I've long believed that with Watergate, as with the JFK assassination, it doesn't pay to think too hard. You just end up adding implausibilities.

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New York, N.Y.: How crucial was Deep Throat/Felt to the Watergate story? Do you think Woodstein would've been able to put it together without him?

Tim Noah: Yes. Sorry, Mr. Felt. It's not that I'm ungrateful. But Woodward and Bernstein had a tiger by the tail, and if it hadn't been Felt it would have been someone else. In fact, in much of their investigation, it WAS somebody else--Deep Throat was far from their only high-placed confidential source.

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Washington, D.C.: I guess Carl Bernstein's kid did let the cat out of the bag-- here's an excerpt from an earlier Slate article: Daley's story, which was picked up by the Associated Press and MSNBC, broke the news that a 19-year-old from Port Chester, N.Y., named Chase Culeman-Beckman claims to have been told by Carl Bernstein's son Jacob that Deep Throat was ... Mark Felt. Culeman-Beckman says that 11 years ago he attended Hampton Day School Camp in Bridgehampton, Long Island, with Carl Bernstein's sons, Jacob and Max, and that Jacob was the one who told him. According to Daley, Culeman-Beckman "said the young Bernstein told him the information came straight from his dad," who of course is one of the three people known to be party to the secret. (The other two are Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee.)"

Tim Noah: At the time, Bernstein said his son's conviction that Felt was Deep Throat came not from him but from Bernstein's ex-wife, Nora Ephron, who had guessed, but did not know, that it was Felt. I believe him.

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Vienna, Va.: I was a youngster during Watergate, but it was huge at the time. Today I told a friend in her 30s that Deep Throat's identity has been revealed, and she said, "Does anyone even care who Deep Throat is or was (besides Deep Throat himself)?" What do you think? Outside the Beltway, does anyone care?

Tim Noah: Many do. It's a fun mystery.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Is it possible that Mr. Felt believes he is Deep Throat because he leaked information but, in fact, he is not?

Tim Noah: No, because Woodward has now affirmed that Deep Throat was indeed Felt.

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Washington, D.C.: Your Slate pieces have called Felt the man most likely to be Deep Throat. Any doubts now?

Tim Noah: No! And with that, I must now attend to a deadline of my own! Thanks, everybody, for participating.

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