[NOTE: I really planned to ignore the Deep Throat crap until I stumbled across a little story from Iowa. Iowa — famous for a baseball field in the corn, dating Dean but marrying Kerry and … well … more corn.]
And so ends the mystery.
The legendary source “Deep Throat” in the Watergate scandal that brought down a president was identified Tuesday by Vanity Fair magazine and The Washington Post as W. Mark Felt.
Felt, now 91, was the No. 2 official at the FBI in the early 1970s. The information he provided Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein helped them break many of the stories that led to the resignation of President Nixon in August 1974.
The revelation ended more than three decades of speculation about Woodward and Bernstein’s famous confidential source in reporting on the cover-up by the Nixon White House following the bungled break-in of National Democratic Committee headquarters at the Watergate office-hotel complex in June 1972.
Not with a bang, but with a yawn.
The identity of Deep Throat, the source who leaked information about President Nixonâ€™s involvement in the Watergate scandal, often is cited as one of the 20th centuryâ€™s greatest mysteries.
However, Quad-City residents interviewed Tuesday are indifferent to the revelation that it is former FBI official W. Mark Felt.
â€œNot too many years ago, I had a student come up to me and say, â€˜Did that really happen?â€™,â€ said Ann Preston, journalism department chair at St. Ambrose University. â€œThat student who said that would be close to 30 now. Younger adults, they see it more as urban legend than as history.â€
For some, the mystery behind Deep Throat is for another generation.
I would suspect that more of the disinterest lies in the generational stance rather than the disbelieving stance. The days when this would have been a story with national legs are long past, especially without a big name being revealed.
Josh Anderson, 23, of Rock Island, learned about Deep Throat in high school and college. He said the identity of Deep Throat and the scandal as a whole do not really matter today.
University of Iowa sophomores Phil Young, of Davenport, and Allison Hildebrand, of Princeton, Iowa, said they also learned about Watergate in high school. However, they were unfamiliar with Deep Throat and the circumstances surrounding how the Watergate scandal broke.
Eileen Benson, 68, of Bettendorf, remembers learning about Deep Throat but does not particularly think much of the revelation.
â€œThere are so many other problems in our world today that itâ€™s not my top priority,â€ she said.
For Preston, the disclosure that Deep Throat was Felt makes the mystery less interesting.
â€œThe mystique is gone; it also cuts out the hope that within that corrupt administration, there was somebody honest who was trying to the right thing in a backward way,â€ she said.
Preston is right about the loss of mystique. The story is a yawner because that mystique was not replaced by substantial identity. However, the rest of Preston’s statement, her willingness to condemn an entire administration, will tie into my issue with Deep Throat, Watergate and the state of journalism shortly.
Preston uses the book â€œAll the Presidentâ€™s Menâ€ in her classes to demonstrate journalismâ€™s importance.
The book, written by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, recounts in detail the reporting surrounding the Watergate investigation.
â€œI use it to show the insignificance, yet significance of the world of journalism,â€ she said. â€œIn one of the scenes in the movie, it shows (Woodward and Bernstein) in the Library of Congress,â€ she added. â€œTwo tiny guys with a stack of material; the camera pulls away from them to make them even more insignificant and tiny, yet they are the people who bring down the presidency.â€
You want to know why the yawn? It’s people like Preston, people who have tainted journalism ever since the Watergate days. Felt brings no glamour to the story. All the President’s Men had glamour; being a rebellious journalist racing after the truth had glamour.
Before the Watergate story, journalism wasn’t about glamour. It was generally a trade of love for most involved, a craft devoted to getting the story right and doing it the best. The slant, the color, the opinion — that was the domain of the paper’s two editorial pages and not to enter the realm of any and every news story.
Woodward and Bernstein did some solid journalism. They had a story and chased after it like my dog does a tennis ball. They were tenacious in their quest and in their research. They brought down a presidency.
And therein lies the problem. The face of journalism was changed, as even Preston shows. The lesson to be learned should have been how they worked their story; instead, it became “they are the people who bring down the presidency.” Journalists could now be the story, if they could break the biggest tale, bring down the highest figure.
This is the mentality that has hung over much of the mainstream media since the days of Deep Throat (the source, not the movie). Get there first, with the most damage, and hang onto the story with utmost determination. See, for example, CBS’s foul-up with the Bush-AWOL forgeries for an eagerness to be first and not relent, despite extremely inadequate research. See Newsweek’s Koran-flushing tale for the same eagerness. See the fact that the New York Times ran the Abu Ghraib story on the front page for 32 consecutive days for the misplaced doggedness. See the ever-growing distrust by the American public of a media, colored in the years since Deep Throat by a leftist nature still celebrating its ability to bring down a Republican administration and trying, always, to recapture that glory and the accolades that Woodward and Bernstein earned. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein may have been politically motivated to a degree, but their research was solid. Today, from journalism, we tend just to get the politically-motivated glory-hound aspect.
Such are the final results of Watergate: a yawn at the end of a mystery, a media ever chasing the next Watergate, and the eternal damnation drilled into the public of a version of Richard M. Nixon, deserved in part as long as his accomplishments are not swept under the rug.
And don’t get me started on all this “-gate” scandal-naming. Were Watergate to happen today, the trend is so ingrained in the collective media that the story would be labeled Watergategate. I’m freakin’ sick of it.