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Is "Deep Throat" a Fictoid?

On June 1, 2005, Mark W. Felt Jr., a retired FBI official, claimed that he was “Deep Throat,” and he certainly was in a position to be a source for Bob Woodward (and many other reporters) during the Watergate era. Thirty years ago, in my book Between Fact and Fiction (1975), I wrote about Deep Throat,

“The prosecutors at the Department of Justice now believe the mysterious source was probably Mark W. Felt, Jr, who was then an associate deputy director, because one statement the reporters attribute to Deep throat could only have been made by Felt.”

There were, similar stories in the Los Angeles Times by Jack Nelson, some published prior to Woodward and Bernstein’s stories in the Washington Post, so presumably Felt had other outlets.

The traceable information concerned data from FBI 302 files that sent Woodward and Bernstein after Donald Segretti, which turned out to be, if not a wild goose chase, irrelevant to the Watergate crime. The prosecutors assumed that the reason Felt provided this information was, as I wrote in 1975, “to get rid of [L. Patrick] Gray,” who then headed the FBI. Now that Woodward and Felt have confirmed this fact, it is no longer an issue that Felt was a source. The issue remains, however, is Felt the source described in Woodward’s book as Deep Throat– or is Felt part of a composite character.

Consider, for example, that Woodward’s Deep Throat character tells him that a Nixon tape had been found to have “deliberate erasures”. Woodward published that report in the Washington Post November 8, 1973. But in November 1973, according to records examined by Nixon’s biographer Jonathan Aitken, only six people knew about the problem in the tape– Richard Nixon; Rose Mary Woods (Nixon’s personal secretary); Alexander Haig (The White House chief of staff); Haig’s deputy, Major General John C Bennett and two trusted Nixon White House aides, Fred Buzhardt and Steve Bull. Felt– or for that matter anyone else in the FBI– was not privy to that information. If so, Felt cannot be the sole component of Deep Throat.

Part of the “mystery” enjoyed by Woodward is that there are no corroborative witnesses to any of these meetings between Woodward and Deep Throat (no more than there was a corroborative witness to Woodward’s putative death bed interview with CIA Director William Casey). Not even Woodward’s co-author, Carl Bernstein, was present at any of these meetings supposedly took place in an empty underground parking garage.

Woodward never mentioned Deep Throat in any of the newspaper stories he wrote in the Washington Post between 1972 and 1974. In these stories he consistently attributes his information to multiple sources. Consider, for example, his (and Bernstein’s) 1972 revelation that at least “50 people” who worked for the White House and the Nixon campaign were involved in spying and sabotage. In the Washington Post (October 10, 1972, p A1), he attributes the information to multiple “FBI reports.” In 1974, in All The President’s Men (p.135), he puts the exact same information in the mouth of Deep Throat. In the scene in the book, first, he tussles with Deep Throat on the floor of the underground garage at 3 AM, grabbing his arm, then Deep Throat tells him:”You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and the CRP to play games and spy and sabotage and gather information.”

It is not even clear how he can claim directly to quote Deep Throat — earlier in the book (p.71), Woodward says that he solemnly agreed “never to quote the man even as an anonymous source.” Even if Woodward was not concerned with such a demonstrable breach of his agreement, the book’s publisher, Simon &Schuster, and movie producer, Warner Bros. might have been concerned with the potential breach of contract exposure.

Deep Throat did not exist in the early versions of the book, according to Woodward’s own book agent. The agent, David Obst, explains “In the original draft of their book, Deep Throat was not mentioned. In the second draft he suddenly appeared and it was a better book for the addition, a much more exciting one.” Certainly, Woodward wrestling Deep Throat in a spooky garage is a more exciting scene than Woodward and Bernstein gleaning information from documents.

If so, Deep Throat– as a single source– was conjured up between the first and final draft and took the place of the less exciting multiple sources and documents. This is not to suggest Woodward did not have many real sources for his Washington Post reporting. But fusing them into a single composite character is the same operation novelists perform. A composite character, since he does not exist (and cannot sue) is fiction.

Finally, the fact-or-fiction issue is best illuminated by Woodward himself. He writes (page 71) that Deep Throat’s “identity was unknown to anyone else.” How could Woodward know whether or not Deep Throat ever spoke to anyone else?

Deep Throat might have been the Anonymous Source for those reporters, or any number of other reporters, who would not know that he was Woodward’s source as well. The only way Woodward could know with absolute certainty that Deep Throat could not possibly have spoken to anyone else is that Deep Throat is his own exclusive fictoid.

EDWARD JAY EPSTEIN’s new book is The Big Picture : The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood.

 

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