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Trusting Bob Woodward

[Wow. Just looked at the home page. We definitely need more coverage of Deep Throat. We need to turn this story into an entire Deep Throat industry, complete with spin-off books like The Deep Throat Diet, and The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Deep Throats.]

Now, a serious question: Did Bob Woodward cultivate Deep Throat, or did Deep Throat cultivate Woodward? We'll learn more when the Woodward opus appears tonight on our website and then in tomorrow's print edition. Consider this: You have a senior FBI official meeting in a garage with a Washington Post Metro reporter, helping him shape coverage of a scandal that brings down a presidency. Naturally we wonder how Woodward landed such a great source, but I wonder, too, how Mark Felt realized that this young guy from The Post, this total unknown, was something special. Because Woodward was, and is. He didn't become the journalist he is by accident or dumb luck.

Odd, when you think about it, that at the core of the Deep Throat story was that precious thing called trust. Distrust has become the coin of the realm in America today. The political parties distrust one another, Bush doesn't trust Congress, the Republicans don't trust the federal judges, the Democrats don't trust themselves, and no one trusts journalists. But somehow, for 33 years, Woodward and Bernstein and Bradlee kept an amazing secret. Mark Felt trusted Woodward; Woodward trusted his partner (and, later, his wife Elsa), and they trusted their editor, Bradlee. They told no one. Even Felt broke down (with urging from his family) before the journalists did.

Woodward is the most successful journalist of our time, and not because he's some kind of genius at the keyboard. The man can report, and he can keep a secret. Woodward-bashers have argued for years that his Watergate source was a composite. Yesterday's revelation puts that absurdity to rest. Woodward is Woodward because he can be trusted.

Now, glancing through the coverage:

Pat Buchanan calls Mark Felt a traitor. Actually, that would be a better description of most of the people who worked in the White House. They betrayed their country by running a criminal entreprise. Richard Nixon betrayed his oath to uphold the Constitution. At the core of Watergate was not a burglary, but a pattern of dirty tricks and corrupt actions that emerged from a general contempt of political opponents. There was a cancer on the presidency. Felt's actions were honorable: He helped Woodward find the source of the metastasis.

Paul Farhi in the Style section explains how Vanity Fair scooped The Post with the D.T. revelation. The Felt family wanted to make some money off the story. To my reading, they manipulated an old man (who had a stroke a few years ago). They also didn't do right by Woodward [I originally wrote "betrayed," but that's Pat Buchanan language]. The secret belonged to Felt and Woodward: The Felt family members slipped out the back door with it and went to Vanity Fair. The magazine says it didn't pay for the story, but there's got to be a check waiting to be signed somewhere.

The New York Times today ran a big story about The Post getting scooped, but the story lacked some of the context provided by Farhi. Let's note that, until The Post confirmed the identity, this was a rather incomplete scoop. Vanity Fair had the family of an ailing 91-year-old man saying he was Deep Throat. Until we heard from Woodward and Bernstein, there was still a big question mark attached to Felt. I admit I'm being a homer here, but the paper that got scooped, historically, was The New York Times, which in 1972 watched the tail lights of The Post as it drove off with the Watergate story.

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 1, 2005; 9:44 AM ET
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Next: Mark Felt Admits He Is Batman


Of course the Post didn't get scooped. I didn't believe this story until Woodward said it was so. Authority matters here, not early assertions.

Nonetheless, we can expect lots of jealous "Post scooped" chatter. Ironically, that chatter reminds me a lot of the "lame duck" story regarding President Bush that is coming out at the same time. Maybe all the froth indicates wishful thinking? Or maybe it's just another sign of the lack of trust - and presence of bile - in modern times that Joel puts his finger on.

Posted by: Tim Kane | June 1, 2005 9:55 AM | Report abuse

It's just amazing to me that DT remained anonymous for over 30 years. Incredible story - a lot of potential personal income was sacrificed in order to keep a secret. Although I don't believe that Felt should be labeled a hero, men and women who volunteer to serve on the battlefield for our country are true heroes.

Posted by: American Gothic | June 1, 2005 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Slow news day, huh? Where are the stories of finding body parts in chili and custard, or seeing the face of the Virgin Mary in a cheese sandwich? Those really, really old Post guys are grinning like a jacka** eating briars because they kept a secret for 30+ years.

Could Felt have done this deed if Hoover had been alive? I don't think so -- Hoover would have drawn and quartered Felt for betraying the principals of the Bureau. No leaking, not now, not ever, NEVER!

Would we be as interested if Woodward had named him Secret Informant instead of Deep Throat?

Posted by: WASP | June 1, 2005 10:52 AM | Report abuse

would have been interesting to see how Hoover would have handled Watergate... agreed, things would have been much different, sans DT under JEH.

Posted by: Buckeye | June 1, 2005 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Gol' darn it, Joel. If you ever tire of the humor thing, you could make a decent run at intelligent analysis of important current affairs.

Posted by: Bilbo | June 1, 2005 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"Odd, when you think about it, that at the core of the Deep Throat story was that precious thing called trust. Distrust has become the coin of the realm in America today."

I like that; it's so true.

Posted by: Tom fan | June 1, 2005 11:14 AM | Report abuse

The tragedy of Richard Nixon was that he didn't have to cheat to win re-election in 1972, but he cheated anyway. He ordered criminal acts to spy on adversaries and then committed more criminality to cover up.
As to whether DT is a hero and a patriot or a traitor, I'd have to say that his was a heroic act. Imagine the effect if Watergate had not been revealed until years later. All those who knew and said nothing would have been shamed forever. Every institution of government would have been suspect. Our democracy, such as it is, is based on the people's faith in law. The courts are fair. All the votes are counted. The fix is not in. We know that this is not literally true all of the time, but we must have faith that it is true most of the time or the fabric of society begins to unravel.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | June 1, 2005 11:18 AM | Report abuse

What Bilbo said. Best analysis I've read.

Posted by: Nancy | June 1, 2005 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I watched the Watergate hearings as a child, but I didn't read the Post back then and probably didn't get the "Deep Throat" reference. So it went by all these years unquestioned. But now that I think about it, it is really stupid. I'm not seeing the connection between confidential sources and pornography. Will somebody tell me why that moniker was chosen? Thank you.

Posted by: kbertocci | June 1, 2005 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The phrase is a play on the term "deep background," which refers to confidential sources. It may be stale now, but at the time "Deep Throat" was a catchy phrase, uttered by people who wanted to be perceived as open-minded, under-30 types. Woodward was young, back then.

Posted by: some fact, some opinion | June 1, 2005 1:52 PM | Report abuse

A couple of comments about the Paul Fahri story:

First, it is interesting to contrast what Fahri wrote with what Richard Cohen wrote in his column. Cohen wrote of Felt that "He did not rush out to write a book or appear on 'Larry King Live' or sell his story to the movies, which he could have done." Cohen portrays Felt as a hero. But Fahri notes that Felt did write a book (where he denied being DT) and later he did try to make money on the subject. I'm not saying that he's a bad guy, but it is unlikely that there will be much perspective now. We're going to have to wait.

Second, Fahri mentions a section of Ronald Kessler's book about a meeting between Woodward and Felt in 1999. Woodward went to Santa Rosa "parking his limousine several blocks away in an apparent effort not to be seen and thus raise questions about his relationship with Felt."

Woodward was trying to look inconspicuous, and yet he was traveling by LIMOUSINE?!!

Posted by: DDAY | June 1, 2005 1:55 PM | Report abuse

The story just broke, and they already have the documentary, as well as a documentary on the documentary (?).

Posted by: jw | June 1, 2005 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Woodward's limousine was painted in "camouflage" colors, however. To blend in.

Posted by: Achenbach | June 1, 2005 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I would blog some more, but there's such a traffic jam on the home page with all the Deep Throat stuff. I only post new material when I can count on 30,000 pages views minimum. Thus I will keep my lacerating insights private for now.

Posted by: Achenbach | June 1, 2005 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Why the harping on Felt's age. He's 91, yes, but Ben Bradlee will be 84 this year, and no one calls him feeble.

Posted by: RL | June 1, 2005 3:08 PM | Report abuse

There have been 6 online chats about this so far, including one yesterday. Isn't that a bit much?

On the other hand, I was really hoping this would kick Michael Jackson out of the headlines but that hasn't happened. Oh well.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2005 3:11 PM | Report abuse

It's a miracle anyone has time to write for the print edition, what with all this chatting, blogging, Teeveeing. But fyi, DVD's chat was loaded with info, and Downie revealed in his that he knew D.T.'s identity a couple of months ago, from Woodward.

Posted by: Achenbach | June 1, 2005 3:18 PM | Report abuse

How does someone get a limo, even a camouflaged limo, into a parking garage to meet a source?

Posted by: DDAY | June 1, 2005 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Huh? See your own post of 1:55.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2005 4:09 PM | Report abuse

"Huh? See your own post of 1:55."

The latter post was a reference to how Woodward supposedly met DT back in the 1970s. I wonder if he was still driving the same limo back then?

Posted by: DDAY | June 1, 2005 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Of course Mark Felt knew that Woodward was something special--he looked just like Robert Redford!

Posted by: TBG | June 1, 2005 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Cathartic de-mystification of the persona Deep Throat? Not entirely. Compelling window into the fear and loathing in America that shrouded the Vietnam era? Somewhat. Vindication for Mark Felt? Probably, but only time will tell. Vindication for the Post. Yes, entirely.

I think it is benevolent and supremely populist in the best way that the Post has been chatting/blogging with readers about this strory. Which cannot be said in general of the jealous newspaper in New York that started giving anonymous sources a bad name in the first place. Redford's Jason Blair to Robards' Howell Raines.

Closing thought: I'm feeling a pang of loss that Hunter S. Thompson is not around to write one more riff on the Nixon years. The probability that Thompson and Nixon are sharing drinks right now in the afterlife seems to beg the Heaven/Hell question, doesn't it?

Joel's said it before, but incorrect thinking is indeed more fun.

Posted by: peter | June 1, 2005 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Felt's daughter, O'Connor and Vanity Fair: It all smells funny. I wish Felt took the secret to his grave. He's 91, and had a stroke. He can't really discuss what he was thinking 30 years ago or now.

And we have everybody (Buchanan, GGordon) weighing in on whether he's a hero. The disclosure raises questions that can't be anwered.

Posted by: hh | June 1, 2005 5:54 PM | Report abuse

"And we have everybody (Buchanan, GGordon) weighing in on whether he's a hero."

Watch the repeat of last night's "The Daily Show," which will be repeated tonight at 7PM and 11:30. Stewart rightly skewered Buchanan, Liddy and also Bob Novak. In particular, he noted that G. Gordon Liddy calling Felt unethical is rich, because Liddy went to JAIL because of Felt, so he might be a little bit biased.

As for Buchanan, he revels in throwing hand grenades and is not always serious. But both he and Novak have long reputations as smear artists. We're suddenly supposed to consider what they say as legit?

"Felt's daughter, O'Connor and Vanity Fair: It all smells funny."

Nah. You can piece it together quite easily--Woodward showed up in 1999 to interview Felt. At some point Felt's daughter asked what was going on and Felt confessed to the family that he was Deep Throat. At that point the daughter and the lawyer friend determined that there was some money to be made by selling his story. So they took it to Vanity Fair and wanted cash.

Now I wouldn't read too much into that. On the one hand it makes the revelation seem less noble, because he kept the secret all those years and didn't sell out, but now his daughter is trying to make some money off of it. But on the other hand, Woodward had already made, and will continue to make in the future, large gobs of cash off of this association. He was clearly intending to write about Felt after the man died. So the question then becomes why should Felt (and his family) be the only ones who don't get any money out of this?

Posted by: DDAY | June 2, 2005 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Buchanan and Novak are throwbacks to the old anti-semitic Catholic church, the one which was close to Fascism here and all over Europe.

Posted by: norman | June 2, 2005 2:24 PM | Report abuse

DDAY: "Woodward had already made, and will continue in the future, large gobs ..."

I agree, but Woodward made money because he's a great reporter and writer. Woodward contributed to Watergate through his hard work. As Bradlee said in his discussion: "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."

I could be wrong, but it seems that Felt's family are making this decision while his mind is not clear. If Felt wanted to profit from being Deep Throat, he would have done it 10 years ago.

Posted by: hh | June 2, 2005 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Not saying Buchanan and GGordon are legit. Just don't want to hear their opinion on the subject, even if they have right to voice their opinion.

Posted by: hh | June 2, 2005 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Woodward states that there were "other sources" for his story on Watergate besides Mark Felt. He owes it to the public to reveal the names of those other sources, rumored to be inside the Nixon White House. Otherwise, can we trust Bob Woodward? Or did those "other sources" make an "until death" agreement too?

There was a huge difference in watching the Watergate hearings on TV and reading the proceedings in the Washington Post. Even then, the media editorialized rather than reporting what actually occurred.

Posted by: louisa | June 4, 2005 8:56 AM | Report abuse

The above comment was not based on lack of knowledge about journalists protecting their "sources," but on the media's misuse of their constitutional right to do so. Journalists (one woman at the Post) have won awards based on stories that were absolutely false. Then there's the NY Times fiasco with Jayson whats-his-name, and Dan Rather's scoop, and the list goes on and on. Whatever happened to just getting the facts straight?

Posted by: louisa | June 4, 2005 9:12 AM | Report abuse

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