Former FBI official W. Mark Felt, the man now universally identified as “Deep Throat,” was “in turmoil, profound ambivalence” over his role in tearing down the presidency of Richard Nixon, according to the journalist who transformed him into a cultural icon, and never “felt totally comfortable with it.”
Bob Woodward, the Washington post reporter who combined with Carl Bernstein to break the famous story of the June 1972 Watergate break-in that culminated in Nixon’s resignation a little more than two years later, said on CNN’s Larry King show Thursday night that Felt thought he may have been breaking a secret FBI code when he decided to help the young reporter. But, Woodward said, he “found it his duty”
“I think when this is all put together he was a man conflicted, in turmoil, truly a man of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI, who saw all these things going on,” Woodward said.
Felt was the number two man at the FBI, passed over for the top slot by Nixon upon Hoover’s death in favor of L. Patrick Gray, when burglars with connections to the Nixon re-election campaign broke into the office of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel. White House tape recordings subsequently revealed that Nixon tried to foil the official investigation, forcing him to resign in the face of impeachment.
Bernstein, who also appeared on the King show, said that individuals in the Nixon administration, and the president himself, were “engaged in massive corruption and would not tell the truth about the most serious constitutional crimes in our history.”
The country was served by Felt, Bernstein said, “because he told the truth.”
Ironically, Bernstein revealed during the show that he never has met Mark Felt, the man who catapulted him to fame.
During the Washington Post probe of the burglary, it was Woodward who occasionally would consult with a source known only to a few. Since the editors at the papers didn’t know whom Woodward was dealing with, the source was dubbed “Deep Throat” after a popular pornographic movie of the time.
That source turned out to be Felt but, under an agreement, his identity was not to be revealed until his death. That codicil was broken earlier this week when Vanity Fair magazine published an article in which the 91-year-old Felt revealed that he was the famous source.
Woodward said Felt was “a reluctant source _ someone who did not come to us.”
“He would guide us and steer us,” Woodward said, willing to confirm information and let the reporters know if they were on the right track.
“He was really critical but there were other sources as well,” Woodward said.
“Deep Throat” became a folk hero with the publication of “All the President’s Men,” Woodward and Bernstein’s account of the Watergate break-in and subsequent developments. It became further ingrained in the public’s consciousness when the book was turned until a film, with actor Hal Holbrook appearing as Deep Throat.”
Bernstein revealed that he never met with Felt and Woodward’s encounters with the source occurred only about a dozen times.
“He provided us at some very crucial moments with context and certitude,” Bernstein said. “He made us more confidant in what we were being told.”
Since the revelation, former Nixon staffers such as Pat Buchanan and Charles Colson have excoriated the now-feeble Felt, asserting that he proved disloyal and is coming forward now only for financial gain. He only helped Woodward, they said, because he was passed over for the FBI job.
Bernstein said that assessment is “much too simplistic” and insisted Felt “felt an obligation to tell the truth. The claims by Nixon’s old hands amount to little more than sour grapes.”
Bernstein said he is amazed at the reaction to the revelation, noting that Watergate broke 33 years ago.
Even with Deep Throat’s identity revealed and the Nixon White House tapes easily accessible, Woodward said, “We will never really know everything. I think today no one has the full story.”