I woke up this morning , flipped on the TV and saw a ‘breaking news’ banner at the bottom of the screen on CNN. Breaking news doesn’t proffer quite the same importance it once did, but it still got my attention.
Deep throat revealed – that was the gist of the story.
This just might have been the best kept secret in Washington, the identity of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate source. Only four people knew for sure: Woodward, Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and Deep Throat himself… a claim now raised by W. Mark Felt.
Mark Felt was a high ranking FBI official. AP says he was number two at the bureau, putting him just below J. Edgar Hoover at the time.
His name has been linked to Deep Throat in the past, but he is not a high profile person. A quick Google search of “W. Mark Felt”¹ shows only 292 hits. Even I’m better represented than that!
Woodward and Bernstein continued to protect their source until a few minutes ago when the Washington Post issued a confirmation. Over the years, as names were tossed out, they neither confirmed or denied what Felt today claimed. Before the confirmation, I was guessing, since this is in Vanity Fair which (in spite of its wimpy name) is very well respected for top notch writing and reportage, it’s true. I would expect this story has been well vetted.
Deep Throat’s tips were what broke open Watergate and finally brought down President Nixon. It is an excellent example of an unnamed source leading to credible journalism. Lately, unnamed sources have been under fire.
It’s funny that even today the White House offers up unnamed sources in a very structured way.
MR. McCORMACK: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the briefing you’ve all been waiting for — all day long. (Laughter and applause.) We have a senior administration official here who is going to be — has a few words to say about the President’s meetings with Prime Minister Singh of India and Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. And then he’ll take a few questions from you.
With that, I’ll turn it over to our briefer.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. I’m the senior administration official. The President met with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh this morning at 8:05 a.m. And he met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at 3:00 p.m. And let me tell you a little bit about those two, and then I’ll take some questions.
That’s from an actual White House briefing as documented on the White House website.
The White House uses unnamed sources for the same reason they’re used elsewhere. Sometimes, people who know news that must get out just don’t have the ability to speak freely. I’d rather they weren’t used without additional attribution, but I believe inside sources… protected unnamed sources… are an important part of journalism.
Now, how the heck did they keep this a secret for so long?
¹ – By putting my search in quotes, Google limits its results to only those pages with the exact text I’ve entered. Searching for W. Mark Felt without quotation marks yield millions of entries, but most of them aren’t on topic.