Nice Timing, Deep Throat

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Another of my former beliefs bit the dust last week.

“Deep Throat” was an individual, not a composite: L. Mark Felt, a former high-ranking Federal Bureau of Investigation official with various grudges against the Nixon administration and a grudging willingness to help two Washington Post reporters unravel the cover-up of Watergate and other crimes.

I had little invested in this 30-year-old guessing game, other than bragging rights had it come out that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein combined two or more different tipsters into a composite individual. Others risked and lost more. As onetime Woodward assistant David Greenberg pointed out in the Los Angeles Times last week, the former Nixon aides who wrote books opining wrongly about Deep Throat’s identity should be happy their checks have already cleared.

The specific identity, now that it’s out, means a lot to Felt and his family, who’ve conceded, according to reports, that making some money out of the mystery was at least a partial motivation for the ailing 91-year-old to make his identity known.

The fact it was Felt also meant a lot to David Kinley, the Sun Country Cable chief and a former FBI official who, as Ted Hearn reports in our “Through the Wire” column, finds nothing that honorable about the clandestine disclosures his former colleague made in D.C. parking garages in 1972.

I’m not particularly troubled it was an FBI man passing secrets, especially if — as reported last week — Felt said it was clear within the bureau that the White House was covering up misdeeds. Pat Buchanan went on the Don Imus radio program to say Felt should have taken his concerns to L. Patrick Gray, the Nixon-appointed FBI chief, and Nixon himself, and if he were still unsatisfied he could have resigned. That wouldn’t have accomplished anything.

My conspiracy theory was fueled mainly by, 1, the secret’s longevity and, 2, schadenfreude (a desire to see “Woodstein” squirm while explaining away the absence of a single Deep Throat).

But Felt’s self-loathing is a satisfying explanation for why he kept it quiet, and now he’s likely not very concerned about what his detractors are saying. And schadenfreude is sated by Woodward’s getting scooped by Vanity Fair. (He and Bernstein will make plenty with their promised book, though. And they were rightly praised in a Wall Street Journal editorial for doing the right thing, even though they were scooped.)

More important, journalism, as the Journal noted, needs an injection of honorable acts to counteract much-chronicled acts of fiction, theft and incompetence. So I’m glad I was wrong. Amid all the recent debate calling for an end to anonymous sources — a worthy effort — Woodward was a lone voice in defense of protected sources, as essential to reporting the truth about government. And I’m glad Deep Throat emerged to back him up — and that Woodward got scooped in the process.

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