Deep Throat Revealed
Wednesday, June 1, 2005; 11:00 AM
The Washington Post Tuesday 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.
Washington Post staff writer David Von Drehle was online Wednesday, June 1, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss Felt's role in the Watergate story.
David Von Drehle: Good morning and thanks for joining me. I'll do my best to answer your questions but for many of the details we'll have to wait for Bob Woodward's story in tomorrow's paper.
Lots of interest in this one, so let's get started!
Washington, D.C.: 1. At what point did Woodward and Bernstein publicly refer to their source as "Deep Throat"? 2. In the transcript of the Nixon tapes, many references are made that Felt was a 'leaker'. Haldeman even says on 10/19/1972 "He knows everything that's to be known in the FBI. He has access to absolutely everything." Why wasn't he the front runner for the mystery identity?
David Von Drehle: "Deep Throat" was a nickname coined by then Managing Editor Howard Simons--a play on the "deep background" rules governing his guidance to Woodward. This became public when Bernstein and Woodward published "All the Persident's Men" in 1974.
As for Felt as a suspect--I think he HAS been among the leading suspects among the most knowledgeable Watergate experts.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Did Mark Felt try to approach the White House to stop the cover-up before he went to The Washington Post?
Did he also talk to the New York Times?
David Von Drehle: What Mark Felt understood, from the very beginning, was that the Nixon administration was desperate to keep a lid on this. They began using acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray to thwart and mislead the investigation. To take his complaints to the White House would have been like taking suspicions about mob activity to John Gotti.
He had very few options for pushing the investigation, but one was his relationship with a relentless young reporter at The Post, Bob Woodward. I don't think he had that sort of relationship with anyone at The Times.
Washington, D.C.: John Dean, among others, remains skeptical. He says Felt couldn't have known some of the closely held things that Throat is reported to have told Woodward, such as a "problem" White House tape. Also, Woodward and Bernstein paint Throat as a heavy smoker, whereas Felt quit smoking around 1943, according to reports. Was this a deliberate smokescreen (pardon the pun) by Woodward to throw people off the track of Deep Throat?
David Von Drehle: John Dean has enjoyed his hunt for Deep Throat, but doesn't have a very good track record at getting the right answer. You have to remember that Felt was a senior FBI agent for decades, one of the top law enforcement officers in Washington. He knew lots of people in Washington,including people in the White House. He wasn't just reading FBI files.
As for the smoking--Bob Woodward told me they made nothing up and printed nothing untrue. Certainly Felt would not be the first ex-smoker in history to take up the habit again while dealing with withering pressure.
Maryland : Did Woodward and Bernstein intentionally mislead any Post staffers about Deep Throat's identity? Anybody over there mad at them?
David Von Drehle: I can't find evidence they misled anyone. They just said, over and over for three decades: "We aren't telling."
Brooklyn, N.Y.: What do you make of the reaction of the right wing -- such as Pat Buchanan -- calling Mr. Felt a "traitor?" At least Chuck Colson was a bit more nuanced in allowing that he should have blown the whistle, too.
David Von Drehle: Pat Buchanan calling Felt a traitor is darkly hilarious. I had the good fortune to cover his 1992 campaign, when I learned from the twinkle in his eye that he is not serious much of the time.
Washington, D.C., Next Door to Woodward's Old Apt.: What should we make of Woodward's near-admission yesterday that Deep Throat is, indeed, basically a composite? It could not have been Felt alone.
Woodward lived in a building near 17th and P Street NW during Watergate. His story, that he would signal Throat by putting a flag in his balcony flowerpot, is false -- the balcony isn't visible from the street. I used to live directly across the back alley from Woodward's apartment, I've checked it from every angle (even borrowing a friend's car to check from the street at 20 mph once), and it doesn't work. Same thing with the Throat-signal-to-Woodward -- marking a page in the morning paper which was in front of Woodward's door. The building has had a doorman since 1968, with the papers always having been delivered in a stack so that subscribers could just take one off the top.
Note also that (1) Throat apparently ignored the Philip M. Bailley/Alfred Baldwin "follow the money" concept for several months while Woodstein went down the wrong road and said nothing; (2) some of the FBI info Throat provided was outright wrong.
Mark Felt performed an extraordinary service in the interest of truth. It's time for Woodward and Bernstein to do the same. Deep Throat was a composite character; Felt was the key element, but not the only one.
David Von Drehle: Either this is Adrian Havill or you've been reading his book!
Bob told me something that should be obvious: Mark Felt was a human being. Human beings have complicated motives, and are fallible. Sometimes he wasn't helpful. Sometimes he said things he thought were true, but were not quite right. He made mistakes. But he was honest.
Personally, I don't find the descriptions of today's duPont Circle powerful evidence of anything.
Washington, D.C.: DVD: Aren't most media sources pretty much vain people who think they've been passed over and attempt to get even in the media? I mean, it's hard to look at his picture on page A8 of this morning's paper and think this isn't a man possessed of a great vanity. Maybe the miracle is he stayed anonymous so long and the ultimate insult is that with his name disclosed, few people have ever heard of him or even remember.
David Von Drehle: Media sources are people, and people are flawed.
All except opinion columnists, talking heads, and Internet opinionators, who are, of course, perfect.
Atlanta, Ga.: So, Woodward and Bernstein at the time of the Watergate stories were local ("Metro") reporters and not national correspondents for the Post?
David Von Drehle: Yes. Two young Metro reporters who had to overcome the initial feelings of the National desk that this was not a big story.
Fullerton, Calif.: In a documentary by CBS on Watergate, Mike Wallace said that Nixon said Felt was Deep Throat. It appears Nixon had it figured out years ago. Comment please.
David Von Drehle: No one knew Washington intrigue better than Richard Nixon.
Powell, Ohio: Now that we know who Deep Throat was, who are the leading candidates for the other anonymous sources cited by Woodward and Bernstein?
David Von Drehle: This is a great question. I talked with Bob and Carl about this yesterday--why Deep Throat became such an iconographic figure, while the other anonymous sources mentioned in the book faded to obscurity. It has to have a lot to do with the powerful portrayal of those parking garage meetings between Felt and Woodward (or more precisely, Hal Holbrook and Robert Redford) in the film version of "All the Persident's Men."
Tampa, Fla.: In the book "All The President's Men", Throat is described as a heavy smoker, yet I've also read published reports that Felt gave up smoking 30 years before Watergate! Which is it? Are there other false information about Throat in the book? Will Woodstein be addressing this soon?
David Von Drehle: You've got my answer on the smoking, which I predict will ring a bell with any and all ex-smokers out there.
As for the Woodstein account--look for tomorrow's Post.
Arlington, Va.: Would Bradlee have published the stories without Felt?
David Von Drehle: This is a key point in the story of The Post's Watergate coverage. Both Woodward and Bradlee talked to me yesterday about this aspect of Felt's role. You have to picture the huge risk The Post was taking, pushing the edges of the Watergate story, describing a much broader conspiracy than anyone suspected--and doing much of it on the authority of two young Metro reporters.
It WAS crucial for Bradlee to know that Woodward's "friend"--Deep Throat--was a very senior official in the FBI, as close to the director's office as possible. He didn't learn specifically that it was Felt until after Nixon's resignation. But the fact that The Post was getting such high-level guidance was the source of Bradlee's "comfort"--Woodward's word--in pursuing the story under heavy fire.
Anonymous: Pat Buchanan said, 'Watergate Was A Coup D'Etat' by the Political elite ... was it?
David Von Drehle: Ludicrous. Buchanan should read the diaries of H.R. Haldeman, who spent more time with Nixon in a month than Buchanan spent with him in a lifetime.
Haldeman's portrait of Nixon is devastating,and leaves no doubt who was to blame for Watergate.
Washington, D.C.: What was John Mitchell's relationship to Felt? Didn't Martha Mitchell also leak information to Woodward?
David Von Drehle: Woodward tells a very funny story in "All the Persident's Men" of his visit to New York in hopes of getting some info from the voluble Martha Mitchell. Bottom line: No, she didn't provide much useful material.
Cleveland, Ohio: Is the lawyer, O'Connor, who wrote the Vanity Fair article a Democrat or Republican?
Does it matter?
David Von Drehle: I don't see how it matters.
Crofton, Md.: As a trusted Nixon appointee, is there any evidence that Mark Felts ever approached anyone in the Nixon administration with his concerns?
David Von Drehle: Felt was not a Nixon appointee. He had 35 years of service to the FBI before Nixon reached the White House.
As I said earlier, going to the White House with complaints about Watergate would have been like asking the fox to fix the busted lock on the henhouse.
Columbia, Md.: I've read "All the President's Men" but I can't recall. Is Felt mentioned anywhere in the book as himself, as W. Mark Felt, not Deep Throat?
David Von Drehle: No.
Canonsburg, Pa.: How did the Washington Post get information after Felt left the FBI (i.e tape erasures, etc.) unless there was or were other significant inside sources? Felt wasn't privy of some of this information, am I correct?
David Von Drehle: Even after his retirement, Felt remained one of the best-connected men in Washington and routinely learned sensitive information from his longtime friends, colleagues and sources.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Mark Felt was one of the ones who was long suspected of being Bob Woodward's secret source. If keeping his identity was so important, why did Felt agree to allow Woodward to write so much about about their meetings in the book "All The President's Men?"
David Von Drehle: Describing the meetings and the relationship for publication after Nixon's resignation did not violate their agreement. Bob asked Felt if he would allow his name to appear in the book, but Felt said no. Indeed, he kept it a secret even from his family until recent years.
Ashburn, Va.: David, more of a personal question to you. What has the last 24 hours been like at The Post? Did you get chills seeing Bob and Carl sitting at the desk together again? What can we expect to hear from Bob in his article tomorrow??
David Von Drehle: Thanks. It was an extraordinary day and I felt lucky it watch it unfold.
A couple of people have asked about my small walk-on role here, so let me say that our editor, Len Downie, asked me earlier this year to begin refreshing my memory of the book, the movie, subsequent Watergate and Deep Throat investigations, so that I would be ready to write a news story when Deep Throat died.
I wasn't told who he was, and I didn't WANT to know. I could just picture someone guessing the right answer, and me being blamed for blabbing!
Anyway, Bob Woodward said there was no reason to believe the source would die anytime soon, so I was going about my business in my usual lackadaisical way. Then the Vanity Fair story was made public.
Len was out of the building at a corporate retreat. Bob and Carl and Ben all needed to read the story and digest it. The four of them finally had a chance to confer in the middle of yesterday afternoon. They concluded that the family and Felt's attorney has unilaterally decided to reveal the secret and for The Post to stonewall could have the effect of misleading the public.
So I got busy typing.
Reston, Va.: Okay, you're cracking me up with your responses ...
David Von Drehle: Pat, is that you?
Northwest D.C.: How was the decision made as to who would write the main story in this morning's paper?
David Von Drehle: As for this, I can't say. I sure feel lucky though. I can still remember the color and model of the car driven by my best friend's dad in 1976 when he drove us to the mall in Aurora, Colorado to see "All the President's Men."
(Two-tone gold-brown Chrysler Cordoba. It was the 70s!)
If you had told that 15-year-old that someday he would write the story in The Washington Post identifying Deep Throat, you would have gotten a dumbfounded stare. A day like this reminds me how very lucky I am in my work and my life.
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Do you or anybody else know the location of the famous parking garage where Felt met with W and B?
Does it still exist?
David Von Drehle: Bob told me we'll learn this very soon ...
David Von Drehle: Oh, and let me add--Carl never met with Felt in the garage. He had his own important sources. Deep Throat was Bob's alone.
Herndon, Va.: David, I've read that the Felt family is seeking some financial windfall from this revelation. Given that the man is in ill health and went through a stroke, do you truly believe this information was brought out in the most professional manner? Why should the Post be "scooped" on the story when Felt clearly had a strong relationship with Bob.
David Von Drehle: Joan Felt, the daughter, says in the Vanity Fair piece that if there is money to be made on this revelation, they feel the Felt family should get some of it.
I'm not going to second-guess that. After all, I get paid for writing and hope to continue to.
But obviously Mark Felt was not motivated by a desire for money in this saga.
Arlington, Va.: Why didn't the Woodward/Bernstein story on Deep Throat run today? Hasn't this piece essentially been 'in the vault' for years?
David Von Drehle: No,it isn't. Bob had written the draft of a book and I believe plans were being made to shape a much shorter piece of that. But that work had not been done yet.
Given the fact that The Post did not decide until late that we would confirm the story, I think it was wise to take a day, rather than a few hours, to shape the best piece possible. This is an extraordinary story and Bob is right to want to tell it as well as he can.
I guess you could say we should have been more ready, but this is pretty typical of the daily newspaper business. Long-range planning is not our forte!
Silver Spring, Md.: So, all remaining questions will be answered tomorrow? Is there another book in this for someone?
David Von Drehle: I bet there will be more than one!
Washington, D.C.: Seems a bit unethical for the Post to triumphantly "confirm" Deep Throat's identity. Its employees (albeit a selective few) have known the identity for 30 years. Now that the story is broken by another person in another publication, The Washington Post sweeps in to create a media event.
David Von Drehle: You have a weird sense of ethics.
My mom taught me that when you make a promise, you should keep it. The Post kept its promise to Mark Felt to preserve this secret. We did so until he, his lawyer and his family changed the nature of the promise, at which point The Post immediately provided to our readers the available facts.
Washington, D.C.: I think it was Pat Buchanan - or another Nixon loyalist on the Today show this morning, who said that Felt should have resigned and announced his knowledge of corruption and cover up instead of leaking to The Post.
Aside from the fact that seems to be an enormous sacrifice to require of a whistleblower, do you think that course of action would have resulted in the same outcome?
David Von Drehle: Right. He should have gone public so that Pat Buchanan and other Nixon smear artists could go out and denounce him, assassinate his character, parade his hippie daughter through the press, etc.
I'm telling you people, Pat's pulling your legs!
Inside the Beltway: Well, I'm disappointed that the mystery is finally solved... so I'm holding out hope that this is all a big conspiracy to throw us off track from the REAL Deep Throat (Rehnquist, Kissinger, Diane Sawyer, etc.)
David Von Drehle: Wouldn't Diane Sawyer have been the greatest.
Washington, D.C.: Could Mr. Felt now be charged with possessing or passing out classified information?
David Von Drehle: I don't know the law on this. After Watergate a wave of reforms were passed to provide legal protections for people who expose corruption, but the state of the law in 1972-3 is beyond my ken.
New Hope, Pa.: Is the lying and denying for three decades-- the denial by W. Mark Felt -- worth the downfall of one president? Where was Mr. Felt during The Clinton era?
David Von Drehle: The first question is for each citizen do decide for himself or herself, I suppose.
During the Clinton years, Mark Felt was a retiree in his 80s living with his daughter in California.
Annapolis: Did you decide to become a reporter after seeing the movie?
David Von Drehle: I guess I did. A lot of us did.
That, plus the fact that I was a rotten English lit. graduate student with lots of debts and no marketable skills beyond typing up stories.
Washington, D.C.: What was Katharine Graham's role or perspective on the Watergate revelations, as they were happening, and later? Was she reluctant to let the paper go out on such a limb, or once convinced of the soundness of the sources, willing to let her editors and reporters use their judgment?
David Von Drehle: Mrs.G's role in this thing is simply unbelievable. She had such trust in Ben Bradlee and his newsroom that she never even asked who The Post's sources were, according to Ben. Remember, this was at a time when the Nixon administration was threatening to revoke her television licenses--a source of enormous revenue to her company.
That woman had the guts of an Army Ranger on D-Day. You should read her memoir, "Personal History," if you haven't already.
Manassas, Va.: Do you think the Post was "scooped?" I think not and am sick of the national media portraying it this way. I think Vanity Fair's role is quite sketchy in fact. It's not like the magazine had some team of reporters competing against a team of Post reporters to suss out the truth. To me, the real "scoop" is getting Woodward's confirmation, which The Post obviously got. What do you make of it?
David Von Drehle: If I say The Post was "scooped," I'm going to make a headline on a media news bulletin board somewhere.
So I won't.
But I promise you there is not an editor in America who would not have wanted that Vanity Fair story.
And this, too, is important: The Post promised Mark Felt that this institution would keep his identity secret until he died. He ain't dead yet. So we were handcuffed--honorably and ethically--in pursuing this particular scoop.
Los Angeles, Calif.: Any chance Bob Woodward will host an online chat to discuss Deep Throat?
David Von Drehle: I hope so! I'd love to read it.
David Von Drehle: THIS JUST IN ... from Liz Kelly of Live Online:
"The offer is out to Bob, btw."
New York, N.Y.: Joan Felt and the rest of the family seem kind of sleazy -- it's clear from the Vanity Fair piece that her father didn't want to come out, and their main interest is money and accolades. And didn't they shop the story around? It's kind of appalling reading about a 91-year-old man with dementia being pushed like that to do something he didn't really want. I know today's zeitgest is all about confession (I say this as a Gen Xer) but some people don't want to let everyone everything. It seems Woodward and Felt are the only ones in that story who could keep a secret -- everyone else told "just one person."
David Von Drehle: Interesting view, thanks.
Washington, D.C.: I've heard a lot of talk about how The Post is now a sounding board for the government and that "reporters like W and B" do not exist anymore. What is your opinion?
David Von Drehle: Baloney. Spend more time reading the paper and less time reading slanted blogs and propaganda Web sites and the extent of The Post's investigative journalism will be clear.
Teaneck, N.J.: I understand that over the years a number of people have stepped forward and claimed to be DT. Can you give the list? (With Woodstein's confirmation, I'm not doubting Mark Felt; I'm just curious about the identity of some of the deluded publicity hounds who are out there. Or are they now all confined to the Napoleon wing of St. Elizabeth's?)
David Von Drehle: Don't no of anyone who claimed the title before--certainly there were many suspects over the years.
Gotta go now--thanks for a great chat, and for reading.
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