With last month's startling disclosure of the identity of Deep Throat, the books have closed on a particular era of American history. It was an era in which people trusted the media, and the media unapologetically used secret sources to ferret out crime, and being a reporter for The Washington Post was a glamorous occupation that permitted a person to fight injustice, punish wrongdoers and have indiscriminate sex with adoring strangers.
I was lamenting the loss of this era recently with an old friend, a deep Washington insider. I cannot tell you his name. You probably wouldn't recognize it anyway, though you would certainly recognize the names of people who know his name and have used his services. They are America's power elite: presidents, attorneys general, secretaries of state and CIA directors. He is the most connected person I know.
We'd met by prearrangement in an underground parking garage not far from the White House. The following conversation occurred, verbatim.
Me: My wife said to say hello, assuming you know my wife. She asked how your kids are, assuming you have kids.
Secret Source: Say hello back. The kids are fine.
Me: I want you to know that I took the Metro, then a bus, and then a cab to get here, doubling back twice on my own path. I'm sure I was not followed. I knew that would be important to you.
Secret Source: Why would that be important to me?
Me: For the same reason it was important to you that we meet in this parking garage.
Secret Source: That was your idea. I would have preferred that you come to my office for coffee.
Secret Source: I'm getting concrete dust on my pants here.
Me: Anyway, it occurs to me that you might know about some enormous scandals that could bring down this government, assuming anyone were courageous enough to leak them to the press.
Secret Source: There are skeletons in all sorts of closets, yes.
Me: I want you to know that I will never reveal your identity to anyone, even if I have to go to prison.
Secret Source: I don't care if you reveal my identity. I am not going to tell you anything.
Me: If I write a book, I will give you a nickname. I will call you The Hummer.
Secret Source: Hmmm.
Me: So don't worry about the consequences of leaking anything.
Secret Source: Actually, I had to deal with a serious leak myself this morning. That is why I was late.
Me: Really? That's good! What sort of leak?
Secret Source: From a toilet in my house. It leaked from the second floor to the first floor, through the recessed lighting in the kitchen.
Secret Source: You can write that I am going to pay some plumbers off to fix the problem. That is the truth.
Me: Well, look. Will you at least summarize what your job entails these days? The secret stuff.
Secret Source: Sure. There are people who want high-level jobs in government. They need to talk to other people before they go into those jobs, both to make sure that they get the job, and that once they get in, they know what to do and what not to do. I help them with that.
Me: I don't understand.
Secret Source: I know. There are also people who want things from the U.S. government, and I help them, too. Also, some people don't want the U.S. government to do bad things to them, and I help them, too. That's the toughest part of my job.
Me: Do you charge money for this?
Secret Source: Oh, yes.
Me: You're being very vague.
Secret Source: Well, specifically, this afternoon I am going to visit the CIA.
Me: Really? What are you going to do there?
Secret Source: I am going to talk to some people.
Secret Source: I am not permitted by law to tell you or anyone else what I am doing there.
Me: Okay. Well, if I have to get back to you, what procedure can we use to arrange another meeting? What secret system can we devise to arrange another encounter? How do I initiate contact?
Secret Source: 202-756-3300.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.