Deep Throat revealed

Daniel Ellsberg, Stanley Kutler, Sean Wilentz, Adrian Havill and David Daley weigh in on the end of the 30-year mystery.

By Compiled by Salon staff
Published June 2, 2005 12:33AM (EDT)

Daniel Ellsberg, author of "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers"

Felt was one of a dozen people who had access to information that the White House was lying. I'd like each of those people to ask themselves why they weren't Deep Throat, how they justified not sharing that information with the world. We desperately need more Mark Felts right now, and we needed them back in 1964. He played an important part in holding the government accountable, and should receive an honorary Nobel Prize. At the same time, I think he has lots more to tell, and I hope he tells it.

Stanley Kutler, author of "Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Oval Office Tapes"

Felt provided the FBI raw field reports and other information in the first days following the break-in. We long have suspected this. But through the life of the controversy, others provided ample information to the Senate Select Committee, the U.S. attorney, the House Judiciary Committee, and the special prosecutor. We owe enormous thanks to Felt for providing the essential first information. Richard Nixon tried to subvert the FBI and Felt simply would not allow him to do so.

Sean Wilentz, professor of history, Princeton University

It's interesting to have it confirmed that Deep Throat came from within the FBI, which the Nixon White House was trying to throttle. Of course whistleblowers and informants still exist inside executive departments and agencies, especially those that feel abused and manipulated by the Oval Office. Their stories even get reported sometimes, although the reports are often buried -- just as the Watergate story was at first. The difference between then and now has everything to do with the courage and tenacity of the young Woodward and Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, and Katherine Graham -- rare enough qualities then and, I fear, even rarer qualities now.

David Daley, features editor for Details Magazine

So Mark Felt lied to me when I asked him if he was Deep Throat six years ago. I'm not especially surprised. Felt was a career law-enforcement officer, who even in the Vanity Fair story in which he outed himself, seemed conflicted about whether leaking was ever the right thing to do. That's probably why the secret held over all these decades. Felt did not see himself as a hero. So he did something remarkable: He kept his quiet. And he gave me a fascinating denial when I asked the still-sharp, then-86-year-old if he was Deep Throat. "I would have done better," he said, after an explicit no. "I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn't exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?"

Felt's denial was what Woodward and Bernstein might have called a non-denial denial. By denying that he was the secret source, but also doubting the usefulness of Deep Throat, Felt seems like a man at war with himself, even decades later.

I don't know what Felt's motivations are for talking now. But his timing couldn't be better. Reporters for Time and the New York Times are facing prison sentences for discussions they had with a White House source who told them that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA agent days after her husband wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Times questioning the Bush administration's pre-war intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. It was a partisan leak, but it's the reporters who might go to jail. It's great to have a reminder of someone who risked everything for the truth, and until now, never talked about it again. So I can forgive Felt for lying to me in 1999. I just wish he had given a call back when he was finally ready for his hero's welcome.

Adrian Havill, author of "Deep Truth: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein"

If Woodward, Bernstein, [Ben] Bradlee and Felt all say so, who am I to say it's not true? A lot of us have egg on our face right now -- but there are still a lot of loose ends to tie up, what look like embellishments. I don't know if some questions will ever be answered.

Woodward and Bernstein both said "All the President's Men" was gospel, and that they didn't embellish. For one thing, they described Deep Throat as a heavy smoker -- but Felt stopped smoking in 1943. There are still things that don't jibe, and I think we still need to look at them.

Felt suggested in many interviews, and in his own memoir in 1979, that anyone who would reveal the kind of information Deep Throat did would be a traitor. Now today, we have many people lauding Felt as a patriot and an American hero. A lot of so-called Watergate experts have got to be wondering about today's news, but I think one reason that all of them, and I myself, were wrong is because Felt made so many remarks about being a traitor; if that won't throw you off, I don't know what will. He had a good story.

I think we have an even more serious situation regarding anonymous sources and the White House today. Take the Newsweek story on Quran abuse at Guantánamo, or the Valerie Plame scandal. And the WMD issue with Iraq, of course, is the biggest, and may be the biggest of all time. Unfortunately, media like the Washington Post and everybody else just bought the Iraq-WMD story hook, line and sinker. I guess people believe that if you're a president and you assert something in front of the nation, you can't be telling a lie. But in fact, it's done all the time.

Compiled by Salon staff

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