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Posted by on Feb 7, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

We Will Soon Know “Deep Throat’s” Identity

We will soon learn the answer to one of history’s biggest journalistic mysteries — but will it raise more questions, particularly those related to journalism?


Time will tell — and soon: former Nixon administration official and Watergate whistleblower John Dean reports that in the not too distant future the identity of “Deep Throat,” prime source for the award-winning Woodward-Bernstein Watergate reporting, will be known. Dean writes in the L.A. Times:



I have little doubt that one of my former Nixon White House colleagues is history’s best-known anonymous source — Deep Throat. But I’ll be damned if I can figure out exactly which one.


We’ll all know one day very soon, however. Bob Woodward, a reporter on the team that covered the Watergate story, has advised his executive editor at the Washington Post that Throat is ill. And Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Post and one of the few people to whom Woodward confided his source’s identity, has publicly acknowledged that he has written Throat’s obituary.


When that posthumous profile reveals the secret name, it will be flash powder on the long-simmering debate about reporters’ use of anonymous sources — an issue much in the news lately because my former law school classmate, Thomas F. Hogan, now the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has been holding journalists in contempt of court for refusing to reveal their sources to a grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.


I’m caught in the middle on this discussion. As a columnist, occasional freelancer and author of six nonfiction books, I use unidentified sources myself. In fact, I just used one. The source who informed me that Woodward leaked the news of Throat’s illness to the executive editor of the Post gave me that information either on “deep background” or “off the record” (I never could get the distinction of those rules straightened out). So I apologize to my source if this information was never meant to be public, but it is a tidbit too hot to keep sitting on.




Dean raises the question: what if current judicial inclinations prevail…and the whisteblowers are thrown in jail?


Without confidential sources, much of what people need to know in a democracy would never be reported, so unless there is a higher reason, journalists must be able to protect such sources who are willing to impart such information. That said, no news person should agree to provide confidentiality unless it is essential to obtain information that the public should be told and there is no other way to obtain the information. A scoop per se does not justify a pledge of confidentiality.


He correctly points out that there’s always a danger that a source could be using a reporter. And the report, he also correctly notes, has entered into a kind of contract with the source that his identity — which could be potentially dangerous to the source if revealed — is to be kept secert. Indeed, it’s juggling the overall good with the fact that there could be abuses of this system.

He adds:



As for Deep Throat, well, we will all soon learn if Woodward has been protecting a criminal for three decades, or merely a source who gave him some good information and some bad information — when history’s greatest source was wrong — that Woodward has never corrected. (To pick just one of Throat’s many errors, I randomly opened “All the President’s Men,” scanned until I came to the passage in which Woodward reports Throat as giving him this: “Dean talked with Sen. [Howard] Baker after [the] Watergate committee [was] formed and Baker is in the bag completely, reporting back directly to the White House.” It never happened.)


I suspect that Throat’s identity may prove a cautionary tale for all news gatherers. Stay tuned.




Prediction: it is likely to open a can of journalistic worms.



UPDATE: A denial from a WP bigwig that they’ve been told Deep Throat is ill.

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