Deep Throat Revealed: Ben Bradlee
Thursday, June 2, 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. 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.
Ben Bradlee , vice president at large and former executive editor of The Washington Post, was online Thursday, June 2, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss Felt and his work with Woodward and Bernstein to uncover the Watergate Scandal.
Bradlee served as executive editor of The Washington Post for 23 years, through the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, and became vice president at large in 1991.
washingtonpost.com: Ben Bradlee will begin his discussion in just a few minutes, a slight delay. Please stay with us.
washingtonpost.com: Ben, thank you for joining us online today.
The unmasking of Deep Throat is a moment you've known was coming for 30 years. Clearly, the way Mark Felt's identity was revealed was not what you, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein expected, but how does it feel to finally have the epilogue of the Watergate story finally written?
Ben Bradlee: It feels good. And it's good for history that this story is becoming really complete and over now.
Escanaba, Mich.: Is it true that you were against the investigation into who was involved at the White House?
Ben Bradlee: It certainly is not true. As the story progressed the clues all pointed higher up and finally into the White House itself and of course ultimately to the president himself. What newspaperman could be against that?
Silver Spring, Md.: Mr Bradlee:
When you first learned that Mark Felt was "Deep Throat," were you concerned about his motivations, and what did you do to assure yourself that he was not pursuing a personal agenda? I ask, of course, because Felt was then known to have been disappointed in his ambitions for the FBI top job in the wake of Hoover's death in 1972. Were you worried that he might be trying to embarrass L. Patrick Gray, the outsider who got the nod over Felt, the long-time Hoover loyalist?
Ben Bradlee: Everybody who talks to a newspaper has a motive. That's just a given. And good reporters always -- repeat always -- probe to find out what that motive is. In Felt's case it seemed obvious that he was concerned about abuses of power coming from people who worked for the president. Including his highest advisers, including the attorney general of the United States and that seemed a totally decent motive.
Fairfield, Conn.: What is your reaction to the strong criticisms leveled at Mark Felt by Pat Buchanan and Charles Colson?
Ben Bradlee: I am really baffled by Colson and Gordon Liddy lecturing the world about public morality. Both of them went to jail after being convicted of misbehavior surrounding the Watergate cover-up. They were threatening and they paid a price for it. And as far as I'm concerned they have no standing in the morality debate.
Buchanan is a little different because he hasn't done time, but I'm not ready to be part of his indignation.
washingtonpost.com: You're one of the legendary editors in the news business. Turn that critical eye on John O'Connor's Vanity Fair article. Any edits?
Ben Bradlee: I haven't perused it with an editor's eye. But I thought the story was fascinating and he was obviously authoritative and I would like to have seen it in The Washington Post, but we had this little problem. Woodward and Bernstein and I had given our word that we wouldn't tell a soul and we hadn't been freed from that restriction by Felt himself. We finally concluded that after Felt had talked publicly about the whole deal we were freed.
Sarasota, Fla.: Bob Woodward and the Post have benefited financially from the cooperation of Mark Felt. Do they have a moral obligation to help him financially?
Ben Bradlee: Woodward benefits financially from books that he writes. On his own time. The Post benefits from every news source -- whether it's a football team or a five-alarm fire or a president. We can't go out of the news business -- ever.
Your interview with Koppel was really neat. You came off as a tough SOB.
Thanks for everything. I am going to go into journalism because of All the President's Men.
Say, can I look you up for a job in two years?
Ben Bradlee: If I'm still around, of course.
Pine Bluff, Ark.: Mr. Bradlee: At a time in which circulation among all major newspapers appears to be declining, do you fear that publishers and managers (and perhaps editors) are increasingly prone to giving readers what it is believed they want as opposed to the journalism they need? Would editors today give "a third-rate burglary" as much attention as they do Laci Peterson or Michael Jackson?
Ben Bradlee: I do worry about how newspapers respond to falling circulation figures. I'm not sure that the answer is for newspapers to try to cater to whatever seems to be the fad of the day. I think probably Michael Jackson is being overcovered. I am so sick of that trial I don't read it anymore. I think that editors -- and that's plural -- should have the widest interests and follow their own judgments about what to cover.
Downtown D.C.: Mr. Bradlee,
Did you and Woodstein ever discuss how you would go about divulging Deep Throat's identity after he died?
Ben Bradlee: Two or three months ago Woodward and I talked about a story to appear in The Post the day after Deep Throat died. There would obviously be a news story -- not by Woodward or Bernstein -- that described the impact that Watergate had on American society and the fallout on American politics. I felt that the paper should get a first-person singular story out of Woodward with special emphasis on his relationship with Deep Throat and that he needed to bring the current executive editor, Len Downie, into the loop and he did that. A later version of that story is in the paper today.
Pottsville, Pa.: What have you done since leaving the Post? Have you thought of doing a book of your own about the events of Watergate?
Ben Bradlee: I am at The Post almost every day. Someone described me as a "stop on the tour." But I am available to editors and reporters for whatever good they think I can do for the paper. When Katharine Graham was still alive, she and I were available to reporters and organizations and things haven't changed that much in that department since she died.
I have other gigs. I'm on the board of directors of a company that owns newspapers in Ireland, South Africa, London, New Zealand and various other countries and that gets me out of Washington pretty regularly.
I am also involved in historic St. Mary's City, a museum centered on the third-oldest settlement in America, 90 miles south of Washington. And I'm on the board of trustees of St. Mary's College, an excellent small liberal arts college next to the museum.
Rockville, Md.: How confident are you that Felt is truly competent to understand what is going on? And does that matter to you?
Ben Bradlee: Bob Woodward has been in touch with Felt off and on for 30 years. Mostly off, but recently mostly on. I have no doubt that Felt is telling the truth and that's good enough for me.
Columbia, Md.: Mr. Bradlee,
As I understand it, you knew Deep Throat was an FBI official, but you never asked about his identity.
If this is correct, I have to ask -- given what was at stake, how did you decide to display such an extraordinary amount of trust in two very young reporters, who did not enjoy anything near the prominence they enjoy today? How could you be sure?
Thank you for your service, both militarily and at the Post.
Ben Bradlee: I didn't know Deep Throat personally. I never met him. I did know -- generically -- where he worked. That was the Justice Department, which of course included the FBI. I did not know he was the number two person in the FBI. But the important thing about Deep Throat from day one was that he was telling the truth. Everything he told us was true and in that sense that was all I needed.
After Nixon resigned I felt that some people were threatening the bonafides of our reporting and I thought that I had to know Deep Throat's identity. Woodward and I went for a walk down to McPhereson Square and I asked him for Deep Throat's name and he gave it to me. Took about three minutes.
Woodward and Bernstein were, in fact, very young and green but they were right. I was under some pressure to put one of the many talented veterans on the story but how could you take the story away from people who were doing such a good job? I couldn't answer that then and I can't now.
Las Vegas, Nev.: I watched your Nightline interview with great interest. In explaining how you were all but convinced Nixon was lying, you said, "That national security red flag is -- I've heard it before and I'm just sick of it."
In saying,"I'm just sick of it," it sounded for all the world as though you were about to draw a parallel between Nixon's lies and rationalizations and others you're hearing in 2005.
Your thoughts on this? Thank you.
Ben Bradlee: It's very hard to stand up to the government which is saying that publication will threaten national security. People don't seem to realize that reporters and editors know something about national security and care deeply about it. I spent almost four years on a destroyer in the Pacific ocean during World War II and it makes my blood boil when some guy who maybe ran an insurance company in the Midwest becomes an assistant secretary of this or that and tells me about national security.
It is my experience that most claims of national security are part of a campaign to avoid telling the truth. Remember that Nixon's first comment about Watergate claimed that he was going to be unable to answer questions about Watergate because Watergate involved "matters of national security." That was baloney and Nixon knew it, but the charge convinced some people otherwise. Too bad.
Washington, D.C.: What do you think your pal, the late Mrs. Graham, would think about this week's reveal?
Ben Bradlee: She would've had one wonderful time. She loved the business and she loved to come into the city room for a "fix" two or three times a day when we really had a tiger by the tail of a story.
San Francisco, Calif.: How much pressure were you really under at the time? Was it movie hype when Robards said the story could sink the paper? Weren't you comfortable knowing the info was coming from the senior FBI guy heading the investigation?
Ben Bradlee: I didn't need Jason Robards to tell me that if we were wrong the damage to the paper would be incalculable. I didn't know exactly who the information was coming from but I gained confidence week by week when his information proved to be accurate. There were almost 400 Watergate stories and I think we gained confidence as these stories proved to be on the button.
Alexandria, Va.: How much concern did Woodward and Bernstein, as well as yourself and others on the paper who were known to be involved in the whole story, have for their personal safety?
Ben Bradlee: On one occasion Deep Throat told Woodward that our lives "were in danger." Given his track record you had to take that seriously but I don't think any of us really believed him on that occasion.
We paid special attention to things like tax returns and we concentrated on being good citizens.
Washington, D.C.: How do you think the revelation that Deep Throat was a leader of the FBI will impact leaks and unidentified sources in the future? Do you think we will see a further decline in governmental sources who are willing to go off the record in an attempt to have the truth told to the public?
Ben Bradlee: There will always be leaks -- in Washington, everywhere. I can remember a congressman reaching into his desk drawer and bringing out a scissors to cut off the "secret" classification on a government document and then give me the document. His motive was perfectly obvious and as far as I could see did not threaten national security. He simply wanted to convince people of the rightness of his view. In this case, his motive was obvious and no harm was done.
Cambridge, Mass.: Is there a Deep Throat out there today, ready to save the nation once again?
Ben Bradlee: I hope so.
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