Mark Felt died last week at the age of 95. For those who don’t recognize that name, Felt was the “Deep Throat” of Watergate fame. It was Felt who provided Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post with a flow of leaks about what had happened, how it happened and where to look for further corroboration on the break-in, the cover-up, and the financing of wrongdoing in the Nixon administration. Woodward and Bernstein’s exposé of Watergate has been seen as a high point of journalism, and their unwillingness to reveal Felt’s identity until he revealed it himself three years ago has been seen as symbolic of the moral rectitude demanded of journalists.
In reality, the revelation of who Felt was raised serious questions about the accomplishments of Woodward and Bernstein, the actual price we all pay for journalistic ethics, and how for many years we did not know a critical dimension of the Watergate crisis. At a time when newspapers are in financial crisis and journalism is facing serious existential issues, Watergate always has been held up as a symbol of what journalism means for a democracy, revealing truths that others were unwilling to uncover and grapple with. There is truth to this vision of journalism, but there is also a deep ambiguity, all built around Felt’s role. This is therefore not an excursion into ancient history, but a consideration of two things. The first is how journalists become tools of various factions in political disputes. The second is the relationship between security and intelligence organizations and governments in a Democratic society.
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Posted: Tue Dec 23, 2008 11:01 pm Post subject:
It is a very interesting read. I wonder if Felt would have leaked the Watergate scandal if the president made him head of the FBI. It is a side we never get to hear.
I dislike how the media treats Nixon. I personally believe Nixon did not know about the whole Watergate break-in. Nixon is a smarter man than that to clearly be behind something that illegal. His only sin was trying to protect the aides around him when this story broke. It just doesn’t make any sense from a man who was committed to clean government his whole political career.
I also saw Frost/Nixon a couple weeks ago in Toronto. It is a good movie. It portrays Nixon in a sympathetic light, but it really does attack his “cronies” surrounding him.
Sfrank - That's a good question about Felt. If he had been made FBI director would we have had a Watergate scandal. It was Nixon who put a partisan in the FBI directors seat inorder to run interference on the Watergate scandal. I think if Felt had been in the directors chair the lid would have blown off alot sooner.
Tricky Dick seems to have been up to alot of other things than just covering up his subordinates rolls in the breakin. Probably no more than other Presidents though. We only heard his dirty secrets cause of the tapes and the scandal.
Thanks for the article - there's lots to think about when considering 'anonymous source' reporting.
Sfrank - That's a good question about Felt. If he had been made FBI director would we have had a Watergate scandal. It was Nixon who put a partisan in the FBI directors seat inorder to run interference on the Watergate scandal. I think if Felt had been in the directors chair the lid would have blown off alot sooner...
Gray was appointed before Watergate happened, IIRC... and while some may view his appointment as partisan, it is equally likely that it was made to reduce the influence of Hoover in the FBI. Like the article mentioned, various presidents had been wanting to do that since LBJ.
And from what is known of Felt, I'd say it's rather more likely that had he been appointed, the story might never have broken. The FBI under 'Hooverism' knew no ideology, and was all about protecting it's own influence. Watergate would have been a very, very useful secret for wheeling and dealing behind the scenes.
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The Death of Deep Throat and the Crisis of Journalism