Here We Go Again: Deep Throat Revealed?


Ms. Hoff, Research Professor of History, Montana State University, Bozeman, is the author of: Nixon Reconsidered (Basic Books).

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Now we have another spectacular Deep Throat story that will have the mainstream press buzzing for days–enamored as it is of Woodward and Bernstein as investigative reporters. Even Ben Bradley agrees now that Mark Felt, former number two man at the FBI in the 1970s, was indeed Deep Throat. Before historians jump on the Watergate bandwagon again, please consider the following:

1) Read the Vanity Fair article online. Felt doesn’t really ever say to John D. O’Connor that he is Deep Throat or anyway, the only Deep Throat. Felt’s family and a close woman friend believe he is Deep Throat and they and some young people talk to O’Connor. They all think that Felt deserves to be honored for doing the right thing over thirty years ago. This is fine, but it does not prove the case. Right off the bat there is a problem not with anonymous sources, but the second-hand words of others about Felt being Deep Throat–most of whom claim not to have any detailed memory of Watergate even when they are old enough to have them–and whose motives, according to the Vanity Fair article range widely from family pride, to patriotism, to not letting “Woodward to get all the glory,” to “pay[ing] some bills.” Granted, Felt apparently can’t physically speak for himself because of failing health, but let’s be realistic about O’Connor’s sources and their motivations.

2) Most importantly, in All the President’s Men Woodward and Bernstein say that they only used Deep Throat “to confirm information that had been obtained elsewhere and to add some perspective.” But, aside from the fact that some of the information Deep Throat conveyed wasn’t true, the piece of information that has always intrigued me most was about the eighteen and a half minute gap on the June 20, 1972 tape. Deep Throat is not confirming anything Woodward and Bernstein have found out when he informs them on November 7 that “one or more of the tapes contained deliberate erasures.” There is no indication in All the President’s Men that Woodward and Bernstein knew about any erasures, but the very next day the Washington Post published an article saying that there were gaps of “a suspicious nature” which “could lead someone to conclude that the tapes have been tampered with.” November 8 just happened to be the day that Judge Sirica was holding a hearing about the tapes that had been subpoenaed. It was also a full week before the president’s lawyer Fred Buzhardt discovered the gap and told Nixon about it. It would seem that Deep Throat was not confirming anything on November 7, except that he had a hand in the erasures or knew who did and perhaps wanted to influence Sirica’s decision.

Publishing that story seemed to contradict the type of confirming information that Woodward and Bernstein have repeatedly said they always received from Deep Throat. There has never been any evidence indicating that Felt had access to the tapes. Therefore, it is unlikely that he could have conveyed what is clearly the most important piece of information that the reporters received from any one source. But let us assume for the moment that he did somehow learn about the erasure. He was one of the most important FBI agents in the country and a crime has been committed. Why didn’t he arrest the person who erased the tape? Or at the very least why didn’t he go to Sirica with the information given the important decision that the judge was about to make? Could it be that Felt himself was involved in black bag jobs for the Bureau and not as much interested in the law as in getting even against Nixon without drawing attention to himself? At least Ronald Reagan hastened to pardon him for being convicted of such activities against the Weathermen underground group. Please let a little logic prevail at least with respect to who could have had access to Nixon’s private presidential tapes in those crucial days when their public availability had become a major legal issue.

3) Woodward claims in All the President’s Men to have had a long-standing, personal relationship with Deep Throat. Again, there is no evidence that this was the case with Felt. Woodward had a cozy relationship with other Deep Throat candidates such as Alexander Haig, but he has never claimed or indicated the same with Felt. Why would a top FBI official start to relay information to a rooky Washington Post reporter on the job less than ten months? This does not deny that at some point Felt may have confirmed parts of the Watergate story for Woodward, but it is unlikely that Felt personally sought out Woodward because the White House was obstructing the FBI investigation and violating the civil rights of innocent people, as O'Connor claims.

4) I challenged Woodward in Austin at a conference celebrating the opening of the Woodward and Bernstein papers to videotape Deep Throat(s). At one session of the symposium when I suggested that the search for the identity of Deep Throat(s) had for too long proved a diversion from rethinking the meaning of Watergate and the Nixon presidency, Woodward interrupted me, saying that Deep Throat was, indeed, only one person. I replied that then he should videotape that individual as soon as possible so the public could be sure of the authenticity of man Woodward would ultimately reveal as Deep Throat when the person could not deny it.

Privately Bernstein told me he thought this was a good idea, but Woodward said that he has “other evidence” that would prove the dead man was Deep Throat. However, in a media age only a posthumous videotape would stop speculation about the verity of this long-awaited identification. The subject could also tell us in his own words why he leaked the damaging information he did about the Nixon administration. I said then that common sense and history demanded no less. Unfortunately Felt cannot verbally tell us this, although presumably he could dictate some details to some objective person outside of family and friends.

Now that Felt (or rather his family) have come forward, I challenge all other aging anonymous sources who spoke to Woodward and Bernstein to also come forward, so that the other real Deep Throats could now be identified before they die. It is even conceivable that they all thought they were the single source of information. But the one who indicated there had been a tape erasure is key to the Watergate story and belies the confirming nature of the reporters’ sources that they have clung to over the years. In the wake of the Newsweek story about the desecration of the Koran, the major news organizations on May 23 expressed concern the they “may have become too free in granting anonymity to sources” given readers' distrust of the practice. This is the perfect time for the most famous of all anonymous source(s) to be identified. We have had enough of contestable direct quotes which are the hallmark of all Woodward’s books. Mostly famously the interview he claimed to have conducted with the CIA Director Bill Casey when Casey lay dying and comatose. Curiously, the Washington Post did not “break” this sensational Felt story. The Post came in to claim it as truth only after the fact in a terse two-line statement. The Casey interview also did not make the Post’s headlines until after Woodward published a book saying it took place. Curious to say the least.

5) Finally, remember that David Obst, the literary agent for All the President’s Men, has categorically stated that Deep Throat was not in the original book proposal and only appeared in an early draft of the manuscript after Woodward had discussed movie possibilities for the book with Robert Redford. It would be an interesting research topic now that the Woodward and Bernstein papers are open to find both the original proposal and early drafts of the book . However, since these papers have been opened since February and Obst made the claim back in 1998 in his book, Too Good To Be Forgotten, I strongly suspect that any such proof of Deep Throat as purely a literary conceit has long since disappeared from these reporters’ papers. After all, they have garnered too much fame from perpetuating their investigative skills, especially as portrayed in the dangerous, detective story movie version of their relationship with Deep Throat that purportedly threatened his and their lives.

So myth lives on–unless we really want to take the Mark Felt story seriously to get to the bottom of the role that Deep Throat(s) played in Watergate. I for one want to know who was responsible for the eighteen and a half minute tape gap. We know it wasn’t Rosemary Woods (she claimed at most responsibility for at most four or five minutes in a gymnastic stretching feat) or Richard Nixon (who was too technologically challenged). But we do know of at least three other people who had access to the tapes: Nixon attorney Fred Buzhardt, Alexander Butterfield (the keeper of the tapes before he told Senate staffers about the taping system), and Alexander Haig, then chief of staff. Let’s stop letting Deep Throat play with the true history and meaning of Watergate and let’s stop falling for the latest identity story that comes down the pike. With identity theft such a prominent issue these days, it is time to put an end to the most publicized identity theft of all and find the person who erased the presidential tape.

Contrary to the PBS Lehrer NewsHour for May 31, 2005, and other network and cable station proclamations, the Felt story did not “bring to a close one of the great mysteries of history.” It only perpetuates the myth that the Watergate break-ins and Woodward and Bernstein brought down the Nixon presidency. There were many nascent neo-conservatives within the Republican party who wanted the president weakened and ultimately supported his resignation who couldn’t have cared less about the break-ins. Nixon obstructed justice with an inept cover-up, while they successfully covered up their desire to discredit his “soft-on-Communism foreign policy”--with or with out Deep Throat(s).

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James Stanley Kabala - 6/3/2005

Woodward's Washington Post article yesterday does document a long-term relationsip with Felt predating 1972, unless Hoff believes that was also a lie. Also, it is known that Woodward paid a friendly visit to Felt in 1999. (This visit was known even before May 31 and was a major piece of evidence for advocates of the Felt-was-Deep-Throat thesis.)

Maarja Krusten - 6/3/2005

Please see my comment posted under Dr. Greenberg's article at

Nathaniel Brian Bates - 6/1/2005

Nixon was a powerful Insider. He was supported by Nelson Rockefeller. His "reaching out to Communism" was strongly supported by the Corporations who have always backed Republicans over liberals. Who would turn against him?

I have many theories, and why. The Soviets had a theory somewhere along the lines of of Professor Hoff. However, until there is more evidence of the "Silent Coup" theory, we may have to accept that Nixon brought himself down. We would have to accept that Woodward and Bernstein were Reporters doing their job.

I am the last person to mock "Conspiracy Theory". However, all evidence seems to suggest that the powers of the world were TERRIFIED by what Woodward and Bernstein were able to do. Their fears formed the basis of the Trilateral Commission's "Crisis of Democracy".

Yet, if I am wrong, and if the Military-Industrial Complex brought down Nixon (JFK as well? For the same reasons? How ironic a theory!), indeed, if it is true, then we have seen the frightening power of the War Machine turning against their own. Clinton was turned against, perhaps for similar reasons. Why was Monica in the Pentagon? What really did happen in the White House?
I am not satisfied with the answers I have so far received.

That brings us to current times. We know that every single war that America has been in has been manipulated to some degree, from the French-Indian War to Iraq and Haiti. I am not saying that no war that we have ever been in has been UNJUSTIFIED. No. I believe that 1812 and WWII were entirely justified wars of self-defense. There have undoubtedly been others. I am simply saying that a large degree of manipulation of the public mind has been evident in all of these wars.

That manipulation includes the so-called "Left". We do not have a Left in this Nation, of course, but what is called the Left. The Left supports women in combat, something that the Pentagon desperately needs if the War Machine is to expand on the basis of the sacrifice of single moms driven in to it by necessity. In addition, the "Left" supports gun control, the greatest weapon of tyranny. The War Machine knows that it faces the one barrier to total control, the People. The so-called "Left" helps them when it talks of civilizing the savages, exactly what Missionaries in service of the System always do (the Missions in California being a great example, and also in Mexico, minus a few Righteous men like Las Cassas).

However, all said I take this story at face value, unless there is real evidence to the contrary. Scholarship demands it when all parties involved admit that Felt was the guy.

Van L. Hayhow - 6/1/2005

Ok, I can understand that. But I think the story came out from deep throat not Woodstein. I wonder if it wasn't someone getting old and ill and wondering about his legacy and if he did the right thing.

Daniel Piazza - 6/1/2005

Hi Van, I believe the story all right; I don't doubt that Felt is the guy and that W & B have confirmed it. I'm just speculating about the timing. Why is this story suddenly appearing now? Maybe the answer is just that it's a slow news week with Congress in the Memorial Day recess. But it's no secret that many in the MSM regard Watergate as their greatest moment and a great victory; and I tend to think refocusing attention on it at this moment is a way of licking wounds. Dan

Van L. Hayhow - 6/1/2005

How do you make that connection? Why would they set it up? Why would it detract from their other problems? Unless you can answer some of these questions it seems to me people don't believe it because they don't want to, and for no real reason at all.

Daniel Piazza - 6/1/2005

Perhaps I'm conspiratorial, but I think the timing has to do with the scandals and embarrassments that have plagued the mainstream media of late . . . by dredging up W & B and Watergate they probably hope to remind the public that they actually were journalists once upon a time and, inter alia, create the impression that they still are.

Daniel Piazza - 6/1/2005

I appreciate that HNN emphasizes "breaking news," but sometimes there is a virtue in waiting a few hours and letting events unfold before rushing "to press." It would have saved a lot of folks from wasting a lot of time "debunk" a story that turns out to be true. This is punditry, not news.

The constant escalation in the speed of the news cycle is certainly a contributing factor in all of the shoddy reporting and writing that we've been seeing lately in the mainstream media.

Don Adams - 6/1/2005

It is one thing to say that Felt's identity does not by itself resolve all of the questions surrounding Deep Throat, quite another to imply that the release of his name is a half-truth or an outright fabrication. Is it possible there is yet more to the story of Deep Throat? Certainly, but Hoff goes too far on too little evidence when she suggests that this is merely the latest chapter in a lengthy ruse put forth by Woodward and Bernstein. Whatever Woodward and Bernstein's motivation, Ben Bradlee has more to lose than to gain at this point by perpetuating a lie. His quick confirmation of Felt's claim is unlikely to have been borne of duplicity. Moreover, Hoff's claim that there are "other real Deep Throat(s)," each of whom might believe he was the only one, is almost certainly wrong. Felt and all other sources certainly knew what they told Woodward and Bernstein, and would not have believed themselves to be the sole source if information ascribed to Deep Throat did not come from them. We can comfortably believe that Felt believes he was the only source, which in turn means that we can comfortably believe that any meaningful information attributed to Deep Throat came from him. In any case, if anyone else could make a plausible claim to have been Deep Throat, we would likely have heard from him in the aftermath of Felt's claim. I of course cannot rule out the possibility that individual elements of the Deep Throat source came from someone other than Felt, but I see no reason to simply dismiss this story as part of a 30 year "myth" perpetuated by Woodward and Bernstein.

As for Hoff's claim that "nascent neo-cons" brought down Nixon, not Watergate, it seems that her determination to discredit Woodward and Bernstein has overwhelmed her sense of balance. The events which led to Nixon's resignation are complex and involve many actors, but to suggest that he was deliberately undone by members of his own party over a policy dispute is just silly. Hoff is apparently unsatisfied with the story of the most famous cover-up in American history: Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee, and now Felt have engaged in a 30 year cover-up of their own, and a group of conspiratorial Republicans have covered up their role in bringing down a President from their own party. Exciting stuff......

Van L. Hayhow - 6/1/2005

Why? They have no obligation to disclose it now or ever. In fact, they said they wouldn't originally until Deep Throat was dead. There is no reason I see to invent a deep throat now.

Gregory E Brougham - 6/1/2005

That 30years are up makes coming up with "an" identity for DeepThroat a necessity.

Gregory E. Brougham

Van L. Hayhow - 6/1/2005

Given that the identity of deep throat has been kept secret for decades, I can't imagine what would motivate Bradley, Woodward, Bernstein and Felt at this point to concoct a lie as to the identity of Deep Throat.
Van L. Hayhow