Dancing over Deep Throat

Vanity Fair says W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat. The Washington Post has no comment.

Published May 31, 2005 5:43PM (EDT)

"The Washington Post has no comment."

That's the official line from the Post on Vanity Fair revelation that W. Mark Felt, formerly the second-in-command man at FBI, is the confidential source who led Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein through the story that became known as Watergate. In a long, first-person article in the new Vanity Fair, lawyer John D. O'Connor says that Felt, now 91, told him: "I'm the guy they used to call 'Deep Throat.'"

O'Connor has more than Felt's word on it, but his independent confirmation is largely of the circumstantial variety. O'Connor writes of a long visit Woodward made to see Felt in 1999 and continuing contacts between the two men thereafter. O'Connor recounts conversations he had with Woodward about the possibility of making a joint announcement about Deep Throat's identity, conversations in which Woodward didn't admit that Felt was the man but didn't exactly deny it, either. "Woodward would sometimes begin these conversations with a caveat, saying, more or less, 'Just because Im talking to you, Im not admitting that he is who you think he is,'" O'Connor writes. Felt's daughter tells O'Connor that Woodward was concerned that her father, whose memory has diminished with age, might not be "competent" to make the decision to release Woodward from his vow not to reveal his identity until death. At one point, Felt's daughter says she asked Woodward to tell her, "just between you and me, off the record," whether her father was Deep Throat. "He wouldnt do that. I said, 'If hes not, you can at least tell me that. We could put this to rest.' And he said, 'I cant do that.'"

So far today, the Washington Post is keeping the story at an arm's length. It's on the front of the Post's Web site -- albeit below news of the Supreme Court's decision in the Arthur Andersen case -- and the "compiled from wire service reports" article notes that Felt denied in 1999 that he was "Deep Throat." The Post story doesn't have any word from Woodward, who still works for the paper, but it does include a statement which it says MSNBC attributes to Bernstein: "We've said all along that when the source, known as Deep Throat, dies, we will reveal his identity. Beyond that, when there have been articles, books, speculations, classes of university journalism students. . . we've always said the same thing: That we're not going to say anything because we have an obligation to all our sources, to whom we gave our word that they will remain confidential, including Deep Throat, until their deaths."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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