By William Gaines and Max Holland
June 17, 2007 will mark the 35th anniversary of a “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate office complex that burgeoned into the downfall of Richard Nixon. If past were prologue, the anniversary would surely have sparked off a whole new round of speculation about the identity of the fabled secret source known as “Deep Throat.”
But two years ago, the “source to end all sources” was unmasked after three decades of more or less successful anonymity. Deep Throat turned out to be W. Mark Felt, the number two man in the FBI hierarchy at the time of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters. And with the guessing game over, the 35th looms as the first major anniversary where the thrill is gone. The Watergate scandal is now relegated to history, where it firmly belongs. Perspective can finally displace a national fixation.
Some recently available documents, as well as older ones, when taken together, paint a far different portrait than the one Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have long propagated about Deep Throat’s role in the investigation that brought them accolades, fame, and fortune. Mark Felt was far from being just one of many sources, and an ambivalent, reluctant confirmer of information. At critical junctures, he provided vital guidance, knowledge, and leads. He sharpened and expanded upon information reported to him by Woodward. On occasion, Felt would even supply raw information, known only to the FBI, which could be popped into The Washington Post virtually unchanged. All of these contributions were instrumental to Post's leading coverage of the Watergate break-in. It’s fair to say that but for Deep Throat, in 1972 the Post would have been just another groping member of the press pack rather than its crucial, and mostly solo, leader.
A revised look at Deep Throat also raises some long-neglected questions regarding Woodward and Bernstein’s protection of the most fabled confidential source in journalism history. When a newspaper reporter negotiates an understanding with a source, does that agreement extend to only the newspaper medium? If the reporter wants a change of terms, is he or she honor-bound to obtain the source’s express permission? Or are silence and the absence of protest sufficient? And finally, what is the effect of the passage of time? Does it give license to a reporter to re-interpret an understanding unilaterally? At several pivotal moments, Woodward amended the terms of the “deep background” agreement to suit his, Bernstein’s, or the Post’s best interests, but not necessarily Felt’s.
The Making of Two Myths
During the 31 years Washington’s favorite parlor game lasted, Woodward and Bernstein stoutly maintained that for all the sound and fury, Woodward’s über-secret source was far less important than everyone believed. Deep Throat’s contributions were famously described in 1974, when All the President’s Men was published and revealed the existence of the source dubbed Deep Throat for the very first time. In the book it was claimed that Woodward’s discussions with Deep Throat were “only to confirm information that had been obtained elsewhere and to add some perspective.”
That formulation or some variant of it would be repeated endlessly for the next three decades, despite the fact that any careful parsing of the text would have revealed many internal inconsistencies. As recently as 2005, Woodward would tell a C-SPAN interviewer that Deep Throat “was one of many sources. He provided a context and explained that Watergate was much larger and much more abusive. Others hinted at that but didn’t quite have the concept of the scope and magnitude.”
The hyperbolic counter-myth about Felt’s role seemingly had its origins in the taut film version of All the President’s Men, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, and written by William Goldman. Actor Hal Holbrook’s menacing portrayal of Mark Felt dramatized the secret source all out of proportion to his actual significance. Deep Throat became a mythic figure, to the point where the popular mis-impression was that Woodward and Bernstein had only one source. Or as one critical Post editor put it, it was as if Woodward “did little more than show up with a bread basket that Deep Throat filled with goodies.” That Felt had been dubbed with a “sexy moniker,” borrowed from a pornographic 1972 movie that was the first crossover X-rated film, didn’t hurt the myth-making either.
But while the popular fable about Deep Throat was obviously wrong-headed, the account offered up by Woodward and Bernstein also needs revision.
New insight into the role Deep Throat played can be derived from keeping in mind his identity, while juxtaposing the original Washington Post articles with archival documents. The latter include the FBI’s investigative files and reports on the Watergate scandal, totaling some 16,000 pages, as well as documents from Woodward and Bernstein’s own papers, which were sold in 2003 for $5 million to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Of critical importance are two separate drafts of the manuscript that eventually became All the President’s Men. One is on deposit with the rest of the “Woodstein” collection at the Ransom Center. The other, an even earlier version of the manuscript, was sent anonymously in 2002 to William Gaines, a co-author of this essay.
Felt’s contemporaneous and unhindered access to the most sensitive information gathered by the FBI meant that his guidance and encouragement was immensely more important than what could be contributed by any other single source courted by Woodward and Bernstein. Although it remained the reporters’ responsibility to do the hard work, Felt could steer them in the right direction so that they would not waste any time barking up the wrong tree. On some occasions, Felt could provide detailed information directly drawn from the FBI’s investigation. It may even have been part of the deal between Felt and Woodward that information imparted by Deep Throat could not be used until and unless the reporters succeeded in attributing it to other sources. That would put somewhat of a different spin on Deep Throat’s allegedly most valuable advice to Woodward: “keep digging.”
For any reporter, gathering facts that one knows exist, or knowing enough to ask the right questions, or asking questions that one already knows the answers to, are far different propositions than groping around in the dark for information, uncertain where it might lead. It has been said that Woodward and Bernstein “believed in what they were doing” at a time when other reporters at equally prestigious media outlets exhibited little interest in the story. Well, there was a good reason for that.
A concrete example of Felt’s assistance that illustrates some of the true complexity of the relationship concerns the Woodward and Bernstein story that appeared in The Washington Post on October 6, 1972. The article was part of a remarkable string of Post scoops, a run that began in mid-September and lasted for some six weeks. All concerned fund-raising at the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP). This particular front-page story exposed one of the money-laundering schemes overseen by Maurice Stans, the CRP finance chairman. Woodward and Bernstein, for the first time, established precisely how $89,000 of a $100,000 corporate donation had wound its way from Houston to Mexico City the previous April, before landing in the bank account of Bernard L. Barker, one of the five Watergate burglars. Some of the deposited funds had been found in the burglars’ pockets and their hotel room after they were apprehended, in the form of 44 crisp new $100 bills.
The Post's October 6 article cited “FBI sources,” “government law enforcement sources,” and FBI “findings” for the bulk of the information about the contribution from the Houston-based Gulf Resources and Chemical Corporation, whose president, Robert Allen, was Nixon’s chief Texas fund-raiser. And although Woodward obtained corroboration from Richard Haynes, an attorney for Gulf Resources, the critical facts that formed the basis for the story were first drawn from Deep Throat. He had provided a step-by-step description of the donation-laundering just a day or two before to Woodward, during one of their clandestine garage meetings. Certain facets of the transaction were publicly known, via articles in The New York Times written by Walter Rugaber, and reports from the General Accounting Office and the House Banking Committee. But no one had gotten all the details down and made them public until Woodward and Bernstein did so on October 6.
It was a very complex financial transaction, and the Post's account included names of companies and corporate officers, dollar amounts, and dates that were seemingly drawn straight from the FBI’s investigative files. Specifically,
- Felt’s first two money-laundering steps constituted the article’s first FBI finding (that Gulf Resources had transferred $100,000 to its defunct Mexican subsidiary in April).
- Felt’s next two steps were the basis for article’s second FBI finding (that the Mexican subsidiary then passed the $100,000 to a lawyer named Manuel Ogarrio as an inflated payment for “legal services” rendered).
- Felt’s steps five and six formed the basis for the article’s third specific finding (that Ogarrio converted the funds to four cashier’s checks and $11,000 in cash, all of which was sent back to Texas before being rushed to Washington, where the checks were deposited in Barker’s bank account before being funneled to the CRP burglars).
- Lastly, Felt’s summary finding—that the laundered funds “didn’t finance the Watergate operation directly”— was repeated almost exactly in the article, but this observation was attributed to “one knowledgeable Republican source” rather that Deep Throat, in keeping with Woodward’s ostensible pledge never to quote Felt, even as an anonymous source, or attribute information to him.
The contrast between how this episode was described in an early draft of All the President’s Men, and how it was finally presented in the actual book, is instructive too. The October 6 article and how it came about were elided completely from the published narrative, although the story represented, in the words of the authors, “the first detailed example of the Stans fund[-]raising operation.” Later, it would even be called one of the seven “watershed articles” written by Woodward and Bernstein between August and October.
Insofar as they revealed anything about the money-laundering angle at all in All the President’s Men, Woodward and Bernstein referred only to an earlier story on the subject they had written on August 27. That story lacked all the details that made the October 6 story so powerful; indeed, this earlier article marked one of the few times the Post was in a position of playing catch-up. The Times’s Walter Rugaber had already published four stories on the matter, three of which had been featured on the front page.
What makes the October 6 article doubly illuminating is that Mark Felt made a point of mentioning the Mexican money-laundering in his original 1979 memoir. In The FBI Pyramid from the Inside, Felt wrote,
The first concrete indication I had of [acting FBI director L. Patrick] Gray’s role in holding back information came when we began to trace the source of the money that had been in the possession of the Watergate “burglars.” Agents discovered that Bernard Barker had deposited four checks totaling $89,000 in his Miami account. The checks were drawn on the Banco Internacional of Mexico City by Manuel Ogarrio, an attorney. The next step, obviously, was to interview Ogarrio. But Gray flatly ordered me to call this proposed interview off because it “might upset” a CIA operation in Mexico.
Felt’s inclusion of this anecdote suggests the episode was of considerable significance to him, perhaps even the moment when insult (the administration’s effort to exert more control over Felt’s beloved FBI) was added to injury (the by-passing of Felt after J. Edgar Hoover’s death, and infliction of a malleable novice, L. Patrick Gray, on the Bureau). The fact that he singled it out also dovetails with the revelation that Felt provided hard-to-get details about the money-laundering to Woodward and Bernstein, and that this same information was then paraphrased in their October 6 article. The Nixon administration’s rank interference with an FBI probe was such a large bone in Felt’s throat that he was willing to do the otherwise unthinkable and leak raw data to his young acquaintance at The Washington Post — all the while calculating, of course, that this pushing of the envelope could not be traced back to him.
A New Paradigm
Taking the October 6 article as a clue, we can begin re-thinking Deep Throat’s role. Other examples help illuminate the relationship, too. Ultimately, the picture that emerges is neither the misleading public myth, nor the almost-as-misleading Woodward and Bernstein variant. One is tempted to say that the truth lies somewhere between the two.
It is true, of course, that Felt was only one of many sources, but in impact, he was far and away the first among equals. His critical guidance began at the outset of the Post's Watergate coverage. On June 19, two days after the break-in, when Woodward was struggling to figure out whether E. Howard Hunt was actually involved with burglars, or just tangentially known to them, Woodward called Felt, not once, but twice. The young reporter only went ahead with an article linking Hunt to the bungled illegal entry after receiving Felt’s assurance that it would not be unfair. The same story conveyed the infamous and soon-to-be inoperative remark from White House press secretary Ron Ziegler that Watergate was “a third-rate burglary.”
The terms under which Felt agreed to help Woodward were spelled out not long after this first assist. Woodward was supposed to contact Deep Throat only about important stories, as Felt refused to be a routine source. Felt’s identity or his position were never to be disclosed to anyone. Woodward also agreed that Felt would never be quoted, even as an anonymous source. The journalistic term of art for their arrangement was “deep background,” which can signify a complicated variety of things. In this instance, it meant Felt’s information could be used, but could not be attributed to its true source, nor was that source ever supposed to be quoted or identified in the newspaper.
Notwithstanding this arrangement, there is every reason to believe Woodward spoke somewhat openly about “my friend at the FBI” or “my source at the FBI” within the first three months after the break-in, although Woodward disputes this. Post editors involved in the Watergate coverage called the secret source “Bob’s friend” until early in the fall of 1972, when Felt earned his own special codename. He was playing an irreplaceable role in giving the Post the information and confidence it needed to ride out the Nixon administration’s repeated and heated objections — Watergate’s infamous “non-denial denials.”
As the political and institutional stakes grew higher, Felt naturally insisted on more precautions. The allegation that the FBI was leaking was leveled the first week after the break-in, and never let up. Whereas at first Felt would talk to Woodward over the telephone, by August he had changed his mind and insisted on clandestine meetings at an underground parking garage, (although Woodward still ignored the “no-telephone rule” on occasion). And though Felt was sometimes reluctant and seemingly ambivalent about the road he had chosen, the relationship was not a one-way street. At the same time they agreed on a signal whereby Woodward could request a rendezvous, Felt devised a way of communicating his desire for a meeting “if he had something for [Woodward].”
Simultaneously, as the journalistic competition became keener, Woodward, realizing he had an unrivaled advantage, became infinitely more close-mouthed about the source he had somewhat freely referred to initially. While reporters from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or the then-powerful newsweeklies might be able to get a low-level somebody at the Justice Department to open up a bit, no one had the Bureau’s number two man as both a rabbi and occasional conduit for raw information that was otherwise unobtainable. As Woodward would later observe, Felt’s “position gave him access to information from hundreds, eventually thousands, of interviews and documents in the first months after the 1972 burglary. In addition, he was well situated to learn much about the Nixon White House, its behavior and concealment strategies.”
The importance of keeping Deep Throat secret was such that Woodward kept his own editors in the dark as to Deep Throat’s identity, though apparently Woodward shared information about Felt’s access, seniority, and nominal location at the Justice Department with (at least) executive editor Ben Bradlee. In a 1973 interview, Howard Simons, the Post's managing editor, explained why he and Bradlee had decided not to insist on knowing the identity of Deep Throat, although they often asked for the names of other sources. “Because you [Woodward] really didn’t want to tell us,” said Simons, whose playful sense of humor was responsible for giving Felt his immortal codename. Moreover, if the recollections of city editor Barry Sussman, who directed The Washington Post's coverage as special Watergate editor, are any guide, he was woefully in the dark about Deep Throat’s involvement and significance.
Occasionally, The Washington Post was beaten to an important story or two in the unfolding scandal. But it always recovered and consistently led the pack during the five months immediately after the break-in, when the sordid saga was mostly an incremental, media-driven story. Felt was very shrewd and careful about his leaks. He certainly did not get exercised when the Post got scooped on occasion, and cared nothing for the journalistic sweepstakes. (Indeed, it was in Felt’s interest to see that the Post's competitors got into the act and broke stories). Felt, like most career officials at the FBI or CIA, detested the media’s habitual shallowness, inexactitude, and fleeting attention span. “I don’t like newspapers,” he once frankly admitted to Woodward.
Deep Throat did just enough, and strictly on his own terms, to nudge the story along without adding to the enormous risk he was taking. Woodward and Bernstein had to work very hard for every column inch of information. Still, it got so that the Post's front page became a daily surprise for Washington’s more senior journalists, and a source of angst and heartburn at The New York Times. Much too often for its taste, the Times had to scramble to catch up to articles by a 29-year-old reporter who had been at the Post for barely a year. In a Watergate round-up article published just before the 1972 election, the Times had to credit the Post a dozen times because Times reporters were unable to replicate information provided from such anonymous sources as “the FBI” and “investigators.”
Apart from sharing Deep Throat’s identity with his sidekick in the fall of 1972, Woodward clearly violated his “deep background” arrangement with Felt only twice in the pages of The Washington Post. These instances are revealing, as they illustrate Woodward’s willingness to exploit his ultimate source, and contravene the ground rules, when the situation seemed to warrant it.
The first occasion occurred in late October 1972, when Woodward and Bernstein’s reputations, if not their jobs, seemed at risk. They were desperate to correct a grievous error in their first effort to tie H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, the president’s chief of staff, directly to the CRP’s secret fund, thereby putting the Watergate affair at the very door of the Oval Office. White House press secretary Ron Ziegler was jumping all over their mistake, using it to impugn all of the Post's Watergate coverage. Woodward and Bernstein thought they might have to tender their resignations if they could not recover.
Along with other remedial steps, Woodward signaled for a meeting with Deep Throat. Felt subjected Woodward to a merciless scolding, but also told him what the reporter absolutely needed to know. The essential facts were correct: Haldeman did have authority over the secret fund, and their mistake had been a technical one. Five days after the initial article — without Felt’s approval, and despite his earlier refusal to be a source on anything having to do with Haldeman — Woodward and Bernstein quoted Deep Throat anonymously in the 14th graph of a story that began on the front page. The article served to correct the earlier account while simultaneously defending its gist. “One [federal] source went so far as to say ‘this is a Haldeman operation,’ and [that] Haldeman had ‘insulated’ himself,” read the October 30 article.
About this episode, Woodward would later write, “I had very bad feelings about quoting Felt so directly. It really was contrary to the rules we had established of deep background. But I was frantic to get a story in the paper correcting our mistake. I didn’t try to contact Felt for some time . . . .” Indeed, the two men did not have another clandestine rendezvous for three months. Coincidentally or not, during this same period —November, December, and January—the Post's coverage of Watergate dried up. “We couldn’t get a smell of a story,” Ben Bradlee later recalled.
The second anonymous quote appeared more than a year after the first, in November 1973. Felt had retired from the Bureau the previous June, after having been passed over again for the directorship. At the time, Woodward had worried that he and Bernstein “would be handicapped” by Deep Throat’s departure. But by 1973, Woodward and Bernstein’s reputations were firmly fixed. Besides, the role of pushing the story forward had passed decisively from the press to the political/legal process, and real scoops, of the 1972 kind, were much fewer and harder to come by. Every news organization with any Washington presence was onto the story, but it was “the pincer movement of legal and congressional investigations” that was really driving events. Yet somehow, Felt would prove to be good for one parting exclusive.
This episode occurred in the midst of the titanic struggle over Nixon’s secret tape recordings. According to Woodward, on the off chance Deep Throat knew something that would propel the Post to the front of the pack again, a garage meeting was arranged, the first one in many months. Sure enough, it turned out Felt had a irresistible kernel of information that almost no one else knew. How a former FBI official had learned that at least one tape showed signs of having been deliberately erased remains a mystery. But that was what Felt told Woodward, and the information was appropriated immediately. In the November 8 story, Felt, identified as “one” of “five [White House] sources,” was quoted as saying that reported problems with the tapes “’are of a suspicious nature,’ and ‘could lead someone to include [sic] that the tapes have been tampered with.’” It was Deep Throat’s “last great leak.”
Thirteen days later, the entire nation learned about an erasure, lasting 18½ minutes, that just coincidentally obliterated what had been said during a crucial meeting between Nixon and Haldeman three days after the break-in. It bears mentioning that the November 8 article was the main reason why many Watergate sleuths later ruled Felt out as Deep Throat. He could not reasonably be described as a White House source in November 1973, or, for that matter, at any time.
Protecting Felt (Not)
It was an accomplishment to keep Felt cloaked in secrecy while churning out newspaper scoops, but once Woodward and Bernstein shifted their focus to finishing a book about Watergate they had contracted to write in 1972, they faced an entirely new problem, one of their own making. Because the Watergate scandal showed no sign of ending soon, they decided they “had no alternative” but to shift the book’s narrative line from the scandal itself, to the story of covering the scandal as Post reporters. It was a fabulous idea, but how could they tell the story without the most integral part? Some anonymous sources who had been helpful during their newspaper coverage, such as Hugh W. Sloan, Jr., the former treasurer of the Republican National Committee, readily agreed to be identified for the book when asked. But when Woodward broached that possibility with Mark Felt, his truculent answer was absolutely not. Felt clearly indicated he considered the 1972 agreement “inviolate” and still binding.
Felt’s wrathful answer put Woodward and Bernstein under enormous pressure to disguise Deep Throat, dilute his role, and otherwise be as deceptive as possible in the book. They never included some revealing statements that Felt had made, such as “on [L. Patrick] Gray’s desk” or “It’s all in the files,” and carefully redacted drafts of the manuscript to remove other references that might point too clearly to their secret source. Still, the book unilaterally disregarded terms in Woodward’s agreement with Felt, if only because it quoted him at considerable length. Indeed, by exposing Deep Throat’s mere existence, Woodward and Bernstein were breaching the letter and spirit of the ground rules laid down in the summer of 1972.
Woodward’s later justification was that Post stories had made “numerous references in print to FBI files.” Moreover, Felt had been quoted anonymously as a source in October 1972 and had not expressly objected. “I . . . thought it gave me some leeway,” Woodward would write. It “never really crossed my mind to leave out the details of Deep Throat’s role. It was important . . . .” And thus the myth of the source who supposedly “only . . . confirm[ed] information and . . . add[ed] some perspective” was born.
While there was ample reason to believe that the book would be a best-seller, no one anticipated the fixation that would instantly develop over Deep Throat once All the President’s Men came out in April 1974. (Prior to the book’s publication, only Bernstein shared Woodward’s secret as to Deep Throat’s name, and only a few Post reporters and four editors even knew there was a secret, high-level source by that codename). Public interest in Deep Throat’s identity exploded, and it was more than matched by professional curiosity. As Alicia Shepard recounted in her 2005 biography of the duo, “The Wall Street Journal kicked off the game with a front-page, middle-column story, prime real estate for one of the country’s largest newspapers. The June 25, 1974, headline read: IF YOU DRINK SCOTCH, SMOKE & READ, MAYBE YOU’RE ‘DEEP THROAT.’”
The fact that Woodward had actually disregarded the terms of the understanding with Felt went virtually unnoticed amidst all the hubbub and orgy of self-congratulations in the press. Rather, Woodward and Bernstein were hailed for their fidelity, specifically, for standing by their pledge not to reveal Deep Throat’s identity—as if that were the only stipulation in the “deep background” agreement.
As the book shot to the top of the national best-seller lists, Woodward called Felt, apparently for the first time since Felt had reminded him that their agreement was inviolate. The reporter was “dying to know” what Felt thought about All the President’s Men, which was now adding wealth to Woodward’s fame. When he heard Woodward’s familiar voice, Felt instantly banged the receiver down and left Woodward listening to a dial tone. Undoubtedly Felt was furious about something other than the fact that he had been dubbed with a pornographic moniker by disrespectful newsmen. The exposure shredded every aspect of his understanding with Woodward save one. Assuming Felt read the book, he probably found little solace in the misdirection and disinformation the authors had inserted in the text to confound anyone who might try to divine the Deep Throat’s identity.
In April 1976, the film version of the book was released, and a best-seller became a blockbuster that exalted and romanticized the press — a “paean to investigative journalism,” as the historian William E. Leuchtenburg described the movie. Holbrook’s “neurotically loaded” portrayal (he was always in the shadows, half-hidden) and his memorable admonition to “follow the money” (something Felt apparently never said), only added to the hyperbole, and perpetuated a national guessing game that would last until 2005.
A Public Promise
The same month the film was released, Woodward adopted a new tack in response to a new round of relentless questions about Deep Throat’s identity, which by now included speculation that Deep Throat, as such, did not in fact exist. Woodward’s new answer would amount to a second, major reinterpretation of the original “deep background” agreement, and there is no evidence he sought Felt’s permission.
Woodward explained this decision in 2005 by writing, “I don’t remember exactly why or when but sometime back in the 1970s I answered that I thought it should be revealed only after his death, unless in his lifetime he changed his mind and agreed to have it disclosed, an unlikely occurrence I believed.”
In truth, it is easy to pin-point precisely when this new tack was adopted: during an April 1976 interview with TIME magazine that occurred in conjunction with release of the film, and publication of The Final Days, Woodward and Bernstein’s second book. As usual, an element of misdirection was simultaneously introduced to keep would-be detectives confused. Woodward made it seem that Deep Throat was still in the U.S. government at that very moment.
When we wrote All the President’s Men, he declined to be named . . . . He has a career in government. He thinks that while he might be a hero to some, he would be a rat or a snitcher in some eyes . . . . Some day he’ll come forth. If he were to die, I would feel obliged to reveal his identity. Some day he’ll write a really fascinating book. Carl and I would like to work on it with him.
As intended, this public promise dampened and contained the endless conjecture, though it was never extinguished. In the meantime, the secret-keepers benefited from the aura of intrigue created by the guessing game. Besides giving Woodward and Bernstein something to dine on for 31 years, it kept them in the public eye long after they might have otherwise faded. Most importantly, Watergate lent them enormous cachet as journalists. “You’ll protect sources,” was the common, if unintentionally ironic, refrain. Yet it was not all easy either, particularly when Woodward was occasionally confronted with the choice of either lying to keep Felt’s identity secret, or making no comment whatsoever, which might be taken as confirmation that Felt was Deep Throat.
Periodically, Woodward fantasized about persuading Felt to let him tell the whole story, on the grounds that the FBI official would be viewed as a national hero. Woodward’s suggestion in TIME that Deep Throat might some day write a book could be considered part of a subtle campaign of persuasion. But when Felt published his own memoir in 1979, the aptly-titled The FBI Pyramid from the Inside, it was without any help from Woodward. This memoir, of course, was strewn with Felt’s numerous, strenuous denials that he was Deep Throat, or that he had ever leaked any internal information to any reporter ever.
In November 1980, Woodward contacted Deep Throat for the first time in two years. Felt was probably at the lowest point of his life. He had just been found guilty of conspiring in 1972-73 to violate the civil rights of citizens who had relatives in the violent Weather Underground organization, and he was facing up to 10 years in prison (though no one expected him to get that much), a possible $10,000 fine, certain disbarment, huge legal bills, and to top it off his wife, Audrey, was ill. If there was ever a moment to cash in on having been Deep Throat, this seemed to be the time. Yet when Woodward broached the possibility, Felt’s response remained the same as it had been in 1973: an unyielding, resounding “NO,” along with a reminder to Woodward about his commitment “not to further exploit [their] relationship.”
Blind-Sided by the Felts
In May 2005, Vanity Fair magazine finally closed down the Deep Throat cottage industry, or at least the one in existence since 1974. Initially, Woodward and Bernstein sought to treat the Vanity Fair article as just another of those periodic flare-ups that had to be, and could be, quenched. Their response to the article was smoothly noncommittal, followed by a reiteration of their public promise. But during a hurriedly-called and intense meeting at the Post, Leonard Downie, Jr., Bradlee’s successor, overrode Woodward’s objections and declared the obvious. “Bob, it’s over,” said Downie. The executive editor was unwilling to let the newspaper be party to a non-denial denial, marking the first time in decades that the Post’s interests prevailed over those of its most famous reporter. Woodward, as he finally confirmed the news, explained that “We’ve kept that secret because we keep our word.” The only word Woodward was keeping here, of course, was his own 1976 promise not to disclose Deep Throat’s identity until his death.
Naturally, there was a great bow in the direction of consistency, too, a reminder, now that the mystery was over, that Felt’s contribution ought to be kept in perspective. In their formal statement, Woodward and Bernstein said, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in The Washington Post.” And during a June 2 appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” the duo struck the same theme. Felt “would only guide us and steer us. And when we would find out something, he would confirm it.”
Little more than a month later, Woodward’s once-secret manuscript about Deep Throat was published as The Secret Man. It, too, reiterated the duo’s carefully parsed interpretation as propagated over decades. “The trick was to use [Felt] as a backstop or second source for information and conclusions gathered elsewhere,” Woodward wrote. He also insisted, rather disingenuously, that when he and Bernstein had written All the President’s Men, “We held nothing back. [We] laid out what happened . . . exactly as it occurred.”
Still, there were subtle differences between the descriptive language used in All the President’s Men in 1974, when discretion and concealment were paramount, as compared to the language employed in The Secret Man in 2005, when only the need to appear consistent mattered. Several passages in The Secret Man were not in harmony with a circumscribed interpretation of Felt’s role, and in fact, contradicted it, just as All the President’s Men had not been in complete consonance either. Apart from the standard line, The Secret Man also described Felt as “the celebrated, secret anonymous source who had helped direct [emphasis added] our Watergate coverage during late-night meetings in an underground parking garage.” “Direct” would not seem to be an appropriate verb for someone who merely confirmed information and added perspective, much less served as a “backstop.”
Elsewhere in the book, Woodward wrote that Deep Throat “could draw on the raw data in FBI files. He was able to provide all kinds of clues, ultimately giving us the schematic diagram of the Watergate conspiracy, or at least pointing us to it.” And in what Woodward claimed was the most important Watergate story he ever wrote with Bernstein — a three-column story that occupied the upper right quadrant of the Post's front page — Woodward acknowledged “So much was from [Felt].” Woodward and Deep Throat had held what was probably their longest ever garage meeting, from 1:30 a.m. to 6 a.m., just prior to this October 10, 1972 story. It was the one that disclosed the CRP’s political espionage and dirty tricks for the first time, and turned a young, moon-faced lawyer, Donald Segretti, into a household name virtually overnight. Because of Felt’s position atop the FBI pyramid, his “words and guidance had immense, at times even staggering, authority,” confided Woodward.
So, in the end, what does one make of Felt’s role? Although Leonard Garment was among those who tried but failed to unmask Deep Throat, the former lawyer for Richard Nixon probably had it about right when he wrote the following in his 1997 book, Crazy Rhythm:
[Deep Throat] provided the Post with eye-popping stories, preceding disclosures by law enforcement people, that built momentum and drew in the rest of the press at a time when Watergate might otherwise have faded from public view. I’d say he accelerated the pace of Watergate by somewhere from six months to a year.
Another way of looking at it is that W. Mark Felt simultaneously guided, with an invisible hand, two parallel investigations in the months following the June 1972 break-in: one inside the government, conducted by special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and another one outside the government, undertaken with a ferocious intensity by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post.
And what of the journalistic ethics evident in this case? Although Woodward’s situational adherence to “deep background” rules does not rise to the level of Janet Malcolm’s controversial remark about journalists, it might be best not to hold up Woodward’s treatment of Deep Throat over the years as an exemplar to budding reporters.
It certainly makes for a good case study though.
William Gaines won two Pulitzer Prizes, in 1976 and 1988, for investigative reporting during a 27-year career with the Chicago Tribune. Since 1999, he has held the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative & Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In June, CQ Press will publish his latest book, Investigative Journalism: Strategies for Reporting the Story.
Max Holland is the editor of Washington Decoded.
 The 2005 dénouement, to be sure, had the whiff of an anti-climax, as it had long been alleged that Felt was the mysterious Deep Throat. On 19 October 1972, just four months after the break-in, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, told the president that Felt was leaking to The Washington Post. The White House dared not order Felt’s dismissal, however, because he knew too much. In June 1974, two months after publication of All the President’s Men first disclosed Deep Throat’s existence, The Washingtonian magazine pointed the finger at Felt, but then published his denial. Haldeman, in a 1975 television interview, also publicly identified Felt as Deep Throat, although he also backed off. Much later, James Mann, who was a colleague of Woodward’s on the Post's metro staff, wrote a discerning and widely acclaimed article in The Atlantic that concluded Deep Throat had to be someone at the FBI, most likely Felt or some other high-ranking official. In 1997, historian Stanley I. Kutler produced an edited volume of the Nixon tape recordings that astutely drew attention to Haldeman’s 1972 assertion about Felt. Lastly, Ronald Kessler, another former Post reporter, wrote in a 2002 book that several FBI agents involved in the Watergate investigation believed Deep Throat was Felt. Kessler also drew attention to the fact that Woodward had unexpectedly visited Felt in Santa Rosa, California, allegedly in the summer of 1999 (the correct date was 28 February 2000).
 Felt had been effectively running the Bureau since 1971, when he became the FBI’s third-highest ranking official, behind only the 76-year-old J. Edgar Hoover and an ailing Clyde Tolson. When L. Patrick Gray became the acting director following Hoover’s death in May 1972, Felt became acting associate director. Owing to Gray’s unfamiliarity with the FBI, Felt still effectively ran the Bureau. As Woodward put it, “Gray got to be director of the FBI, and Felt did the work.” Bob Woodward, The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat (New York: Simon & Schuster), 51 (hereafter TSM).
 To be sure, histories of Watergate based on archival sources have provided more nuanced interpretations for years. The outstanding example is Stanley I. Kutler’s The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (New York: Knopf, 1990). Yet myths die hard, particularly when the mainstream media is invested in perpetuating them.
 Bernstein and Woodward, All the President’s Men (New York: Touchstone, 1994), 71 (hereafter ATPM).
 The assertion of what Deep Throat contributed was strangely at odds with many details in the narrative. In one passage, for example, Woodward was quoted as chiding Felt for “pretending to himself that he never fed Woodward primary information.” Ibid., 135.
 Alicia C. Shepard, Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007), 108.
 Shepard, Shadow of Watergate, 101.
 The sender of the approximately 900-page manuscript, who asked to remain anonymous, provided it to Gaines in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Gaines was regularly teaching a course in investigative reporting at the University of Illinois. As a training exercise in investigative techniques, successive classes were assigned the task of determining who was Deep Throat. In June 2002, after four years of collaborative research by dozens of students, Gaines erroneously concluded that White House deputy counsel Fred Fielding was Woodward's secret source.
 One of the passages from All the President’s Men hinted at this: “By making the reporters go elsewhere to fill out his information, [Deep Throat] minimized his risk.” Bernstein and Woodward, ATPM, 243.
 Shepard, Shadow of Watergate, 105.
 James M. Perry, “Watergate Case Study,” 1997, in Tom Rosenstiel and Amy S. Mitchell, Thinking Clearly: Cases in Journalistic Decision-Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). In the period between the break-in and the 1972 election, front-page stories about the Watergate scandal appeared 79 times in The Washington Post, and 33 times in The New York Times. No other media outlets came close to this kind of coverage. Kutler, Wars of Watergate, 226.
 FBI File Number 139-4089, Watergate Summary, 5 July 1974, FBI Reading Room (hereafter FBI Watergate Summary).
 Woodward and Bernstein Collection, Series II, subseries A, 43.1, Early Draft, typed script and fragments with handwritten corrections, undated (hereafter Ransom Manuscript), 4-5.
 As always, Felt did not allow Woodward to write anything down. “Woodward had not taken notes and asked Deep Throat to review the steps again so he [Woodward] could get them straight.” Ransom Manuscript, 8. According to Woodward, he adjusted to this stricture by sitting down immediately afterward and typing up everything he could remember that Felt said. The quotes of Felt in All the President’s Men were taken from these typed notes. Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, “Watergate Papers: Who Leaked What When?” Washington Post, 10 April 2007.
 Ransom Manuscript, 5-6.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 6-7.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., Add 105A.
 Rodney Tiffen, “Deep Throat Comes Out—Revisiting Watergate,” Australian Review of Public Affairs, 25 July 2005. James McCartney similarly highlighted the significance of the Mexican money-laundering story in a lengthy 1973 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, the first account of how Woodward and Bernstein cracked the coverup. James McCartney, “The Washington Post and Watergate: How Two Davids Slew Goliath,” Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 1973, 8.
 W. Mark Felt, The FBI Pyramid from the Inside (New York: Putnam, 1979), 253. Citing “national security considerations” that were bogus, Gray had issued the prohibition against interviewing Ogarrio on 29 June 1972. FBI Watergate Summary, 5 July 1974.
 Felt was extremely careful about what information he provided and when, so much so that he made it probably impossible to identify him as the sole source of a leak. On one occasion, Felt cleverly instigated an internal FBI investigation into a leak that appeared in a Post story, knowing full well that it concerned an aspect he had not spoken to Woodward about. Woodward, TSM, 9-11.
 A similar example to the one already cited involves a 27 September 1972 article by Woodward and Bernstein that concerned James W. McCord, the Nixon campaign security chief who was also one of the Watergate burglars. In Barry Sussman’s book on Watergate, the former Post editor recalled that he first heard about “Bob’s friend” in conjunction with the break-in when Woodward came to him with a minor story, and an unusual request. Woodward said he would tell Sussman who the source was if Sussman really wanted to know, but preferred not to. There is only one story that fits this description, the September 27 article that revealed McCord had been involved in gathering information on syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. The only anonymous source cited in the article was identified as “a reliable source close to the Watergate investigation.” In the Ransom Manuscript, one page mentioned that Woodward worked “on a story that McCord . . . had investigated Jack Anderson, gumshoeing the columnist all over town.” But there was only a fleeting reference to McCord’s investigation of Anderson in the published book, and no mention of the article on that subject. Presumably, it was left out because it was risky to link Felt to tightly-held knowledge at specific points in time, and/or highlight specific Post articles that were solely traceable to Deep Throat. Woodward and Bernstein, “Bugging Suspect Investigated Writer,” Washington Post, 27 September 1972; Barry Sussman, The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate (Arlington, VA: Seven Locks Press, 1992), 102; Ransom Manuscript, 200.
 Woodward, TSM, 58. Ziegler apologized for this characterization in April 1973, on the same day that John Dean was fired, and Haldeman, presidential aide John Ehrlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigned.
 Bernstein and Woodward, ATPM, 71.
 Sussman, Great Coverup, 102.
 Ben Bradlee, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 334.
 Woodward, TSM, 65.
 Ibid., 5. Felt received daily briefings on the FBI’s Watergate investigation from Robert G. Kunkel, the special agent in charge of the Bureau’s Washington Field Office. Perhaps more to the point, a compelling case that Felt did not act alone, but with the connivance of Kunkel and three other senior FBI officials involved in the Watergate investigation, was published in the Albany, New York Times Union a few days after Deep Throat was unmasked. Brendan Lyons, “Deep Throat’s Tale Revealed,” Times Union, 5 June 2005.
 Shepard, Shadow of Watergate, 104.
 In his 1974 book on Watergate, Barry Sussman, one of the four Post editors who knew of Deep Throat’s existence but not his identity, wrote that “Deep Throat seemed to know everything about Watergate, but he rarely volunteered information. . . . Generally, Deep Throat confined his help to telling Woodward whether information we had was correct or to explaining what seemed to be the philosophy behind the Watergate spying without getting into the individuals responsible for it. He was more a guide than a traditional source, letting Woodward know when he was on the right track and steering him from dead ends or from exaggerating the importance of certain leads.” Sussman, Great Coverup, 102.
In a subsequent article on the 25th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, Sussman claimed that the public’s fixation on Deep Throat was a testament to the power of myth over truth. “Over the years an anonymous bit player, a minor contributor, has become a giant. For me, half the answer to the Deep Throat question is that I don’t know who Deep Throat is. The other half is that it really doesn’t matter. Interesting, yes, in that it would solve a mystery. Important to the Post's Watergate reporting, no. Deep Throat barely figured in the Post's Watergate coverage. He was nice to have around but that’s about it.” Sussman, “Watergate, 25 Years Later: Myths and Collusion,” 1997.
 Felt undoubtedly tried to make it impossible to identify him as the sole source of a leak. On one occasion, he even instigated an internal investigation about an item that had appeared in the Post, knowing full well that he had not spoken to Woodward about it. Woodward, TSM, 9-11. In his FBI history, Kessler quoted one FBI agent directly involved in the investigation as observing that “what would be published in the paper was generally one day to two months behind where we were.” Ronald Kessler, The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002), 79.
 Bernstein and Woodward, ATPM, 131.
 “I have to do this my way,” Felt invariably remarked, when pressed by Woodward to be more forthcoming. Ibid., 243.
 Perhaps the most prominent example of this occurred when Woodward and Bernstein were the first to disclose the CRP’s “massive campaign of political spying and espionage.” Bernstein and Woodward, “FBI Finds Nixon Aide Sabotaged Democrats,” Washington Post, 10 October 1972.
 Walter Rugaber, “The Watergate Mystery,” New York Times, 1 November 1972. The title of this article had an ironic twist, in that the mystery was not only the scandal itself, but why the Times’s Washington bureau was getting beaten so consistently, and so badly.
 The duo erred in claiming that the disclosure about Haldeman had come out during Hugh Sloan’s sworn testimony before the grand jury investigating the break-in.
 Bernstein and Woodward, “Magazine Says Nixon Aide Admits Disruption Effort,” Washington Post, 30 October 1972.
 Woodward, TSM, 92. When Woodward and Felt finally did meet again in January, Felt did not broach the subject of the anonymous quote, so Woodward also avoided bringing it up.
 Another reason for the limited contact may have been the fact that by late November, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst was requesting that Felt be fired. The White House had suspected since October 19 that Felt was the FBI source of leaks to Woodward.
 Perry, Watergate Case Study, 1997.
 Woodward, TSM, 107.
 Woodward’s explanation was that although Felt had retired from the Bureau, “he was in touch with many friends there.” Woodward, TSM, 103.
 Bernstein and Woodward, “Parts ‘Inaudible’,” Washington Post, 8 November 1973.
 In an article in Slate just after Deep Throat was unmasked, Timothy Noah suggested that it was unfair to accuse Woodward and Bernstein of misidentifying Felt because he was described technically as one of five sources in the sixth paragraph. But any reasonable person reading the article would naturally presume that those “five sources” were identical to the “White House sources” mentioned in the lead graph. Noah, “Woodstein’s Misdirection: Lying to Protect Mark Felt from Being Exposed,” Slate, 2 June 2005.
 Woodward, TSM, 109.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 78-79. For example, on one page of the manuscript in Gaines’s possession, a notation scribbled in the margin read, “Bob, too close on ID of throat here?” The note referred to a passage that read, “He was perhaps the only person in the government in a position to possibly understand the whole scheme and not be a potential conspirator himself.” Other deleted phrases referred to the fact that Woodward and Felt were “fast friends,” and that Felt was an “older person.” Rob Stafford, “On the Trail of ‘Deep Throat’,” Dateline NBC, 14 June 2002.
 Woodward, TSM, 110.
 Ibid., 110. Felt, of course, was quoted anonymously for a second time in November 1973, the month before the book was completed. Ibid., 103, 112.
 Ibid., 113.
 Bernstein and Woodward, ATPM, 71.
 Woodward, TSM, 111. Executive editor Ben Bradlee, managing editor Howard Simons, metropolitan editor Harry Rosenfeld, and special Watergate editor Barry Sussman were in the loop.
 Shepard, Shadow of Watergate, 109. Since Felt was a leading contender, the Journal reporter interviewed him. Felt floated the idea that Deep Throat was a “composite,” an idea that Woodward thought was brilliant precisely because it was so false, yet plausible. Woodward, TSM, 117.
 Ibid., 115. Signed for an advance of $229,000, All the President’s Men reportedly earned approximately $4 million in royalties within a year of being published (both figures in 2007 dollars).
 Ibid., 133. One example of misdirection occurred in a passage that described a meeting between Bernstein and an FBI agent involved in the Watergate investigation. “’You guys are causing big trouble,’ the agent said. ‘Our reports are showing up in the paper almost verbatim.’ Bernstein was encouraged. He and Woodward were not always sure their information was the same as the Bureau’s, despite the general opinion that it was their source.” Bernstein and Woodward, ATPM, 175.
 Redford had purchased the film rights for $1.9 million (2007 dollars).
 Gary Arnold, “Meticulous . . . and Incomplete,” Washington Post, 4 April 1976; Woodward, TSM, 71.
 Ibid., 151.
 Jennings Parrott, “Newsmakers,” LAT, 26 April 1976; Hayes Gorey, “Woodward on the Record — Sort of,” TIME, 3 May 1976. The introduction to the TIME interview noted that “Though
he has proved himself a probing, tenacious reporter, Bob Woodward
bitterly resents being on the receiving end of an interview if the
subject is Deep Throat. But last week, as speculation swirled anew
about his phantom Watergate source, Woodward reluctantly agreed to a
terse session . . . .” Woodward explained in the interview that he didn’t think “reporters trying to identify other reporters’ sources is the noblest kind of journalism.” Ibid.
 Sometime after March 1976, when The Final Days came out, Woodward shared Deep Throat’s identity with Ben Bradlee. The conjunction of the book’s publication with release of the film had created a tsunami of publicity (the film was a cover-story in TIME), which, in turn, had led to a new bout of frenzied speculation, not all of which was in the Post’s interest. Bradlee felt he finally needed to know, and became the second person so informed (after Bernstein). Unless Woodward’s new tack was spontaneous, it is likely that Bradlee helped craft the April statement that Woodward would feel “obliged” to reveal Deep Throat’s identity after his death.
 Woodward, TSM, 184.
 Wrote Felt, “I never leaked information to Woodward and Bernstein or to anyone else!” Felt, FBI Pyramid, 226.
 Shortly after taking office in 1981, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt.
 Woodward, TSM, 136, 144. Notwithstanding this instruction, as Felt’s health declined, and after Woodward learned in April 2002 that Felt’s son and daughter had come to believe their father was Deep Throat, Woodward completed a confidential first draft of a book in May 2002 and began to contemplate the sale of book, serial, and film rights at the appropriate time, meaning once Felt died. Ibid., 201, 204.
 In 2002, the Felt family began trying to persuade Woodward to cooperate on a joint project that would presumably split the proceeds from an anticipated windfall. After these efforts fizzled out, the lawyer for the Felts, John O’Connor, a corporate litigator in San Francisco, began shopping the story around. Eventually, O’Connor, in the July 2005 issue (released in May) of Vanity Fair, broke the story that had eluded “squads of ace reporters for 30 years.” Joe Hagan and Katherine Rosman, “How a Lawyer Finally Unveiled ‘Deep Throat’,” Wall Street Journal, 2 June 2005.
 Woodward, TSM, 225. Downie understood that the The Washington Post would be implicated in a non-denial denial because he had learned of Deep Throat’s true identity the previous March. Downie became privy to the secret after insisting that the Post, and not just Woodward, had to be prepared for Deep Throat’s demise.
 Christopher Cooper and Joe Hagan, “Ex-FBI Official Mark Felt Was Watergate’s ‘Deep Throat’,” Wall Street Journal, 1 June 2005.
 Woodward, TSM, 232.
 CNN, “Tapes: Nixon Suspected Felt,” 3 June 2005. It should be pointed out that some of the media did not simply recycle Woodward and Bernstein's stock description of Deep Throat’s significance and contribution. The New York Times, for example, offered a more discerning analysis. David Johnston and David E. Rosenbaum, “Reporters Credit Felt with Keeping Story Alive,” New York Times, 1 June 2005.
 Woodward’s book was followed in April 2006 by W. Mark Felt and John O’Connor’s A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat’, and the Struggle for Honor in Washington (New York: PublicAffairs, 2006). The latter was a repackaged version of Felt’s original 1979 memoir.
 Woodward, TSM, 66.
 Ibid., 111.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 5-6.
 Ibid., 80. Sussman described this article as the “centerpiece in the Post's collection of pre-election Watergate stories.” Sussman, Great Coverup, 105.
 Felt was referring to this subject matter when he told Woodward, “It’s all in the files,” mentioning the usually unmentionable. Woodward, TSM, 78.
 Ibid., 104.
 Quoted in Shepard, Shadow of Watergate, 109. Garment’s perspective is similar to that of Stanley Kutler, the first scholar to write a history of the scandal using the FBI’s Watergate documents. In his 1990 book, The Wars of Watergate, Kutler debunked the simplistic notion that the press (a.k.a Woodward and Bernstein) had brought down a president.
 A 25 March 1975 FBI analysis of All the President’s Men lends credence to the notion of two parallel investigations. “[A] comparison of the chronology of our investigation with the events cited in All the President’s Men will show we were substantially and constantly ahead of these Washington Post investigative reporters. In essence, they were interviewing the same people we had interviewed but subsequent to our interviews and often after the interviewee had testified before the grand jury. The difference, which contributes greatly to the false image, is that The Washington Post blatantly published whatever they learned (or thought they learned) while we reported our findings to the U.S. Attorney and the Department [of Justice] solely for prosecutive consideration.” Woodward, TSM, 120-121.
 In her book The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm famously observed that “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”
© 2007 by William Gaines and Max Holland
© 2007 by William Gaines and Max Holland