The Meaning of Deep Throat

First of all, this is a weird, twisted, wonderful story in Vanity Fair, not the least of which for the way it lays out Mark Felt’s wavering, his conflicting feelings about revealing himself, and the ways in which his actions during Watergate haunt him still:

On that Sunday in May when I first met Mark Felt, he was particularly concerned about how bureau personnel, then and now, had come to regard Deep Throat. He seemed to be struggling inside with whether he would be seen as a decent man or a turncoat. I stressed that F.B.I. agents and prosecutors now thought Deep Throat a patriot, not a rogue. And I emphasized that one of the reasons he might want to announce his identity would be for the very purpose of telling the story from his point of view.

Still, I could see he was equivocating. “He was amenable at first,” his grandson Nick recalls. “Then he was wavering. He was concerned about bringing dishonor to our family. We thought it was totally cool. It was more about honor than about any kind of shame [to] Grandpa. … To this day, he feels he did the right thing.”

And the Washington Post’s story just cracks me up:

Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee had kept the identity of “Deep Throat” secret at the source’s request, saying his name would be revealed upon his death. “We’ve kept that secret because we keep our word,” Woodward said.

But with the Vanity Fair article and the family’s statement, the three decided today to break their silence.

Bradlee said today, “The thing that stuns me is that the goddamn secret has lasted this long.” He was the Post’s executive editor during Watergate and now is a vice president of the newspaper.

As someone familiar with Bradlee’s persona mainly from the portrayal in All The President’s Men, I love that he was unable to keep himself from cussing even for the purposes of an interview in his own goddamned paper.

I entered journalism school post-Watergate; hell, I was BORN post-Watergate. But that was a story you tell for however long you can make yourself tell it, you tell it to yourself on the nights on your first shit job where you write captions and get screamed at all day long: that someday, I will write something clear and true, and things will change because of it.

Everybody needs heroes. Woodward and Bernstein were mine. I’ve had others since, Miriam Ottenberg and Anthony Shadid, Mark Helprin and Marilyn Hacker, Ingrid Formanek and J. Michael Straczynski and now young Mr. McSwane, people who reported or wrote what they saw and what they believed and made you believe it, too. People who busted the extra ball, went the extra mile for the story they believed needed telling, whether it was fiction or poetry or the desperate prose of the downtrodden. And sometimes it was only a goofy TV show, and sometimes only a stark poem nobody knows, and sometimes you bring down a corrupt president’s entire administration.

At a time when we’re faced with an administration that’s lied as surely as Nixon did and worse, that has started a war based on lies and killed our sons and daughters based on lies and refused in the face of any exposure to take responsibility for those lies, we still need people who are willing to step out of line and say no, not this. You will not do this nor anything else like it, this stops here, and I make sure it does.

But we also need people who will listen to them. Whistle-blowers are there by the dozens, but right now, everyone is deaf.

And perhaps, watching revelation after revelation about this war and the criminals who started it rise and disappear with so little remark, what Watergate truly is is not a stain on our nation’s honor after all. Perhaps now it’s an example of how good we once had it, that a newspaper could expose a president’s lies and Congress would answer, not wait for some sign that never comes and then say it’s not their fault no one cared. I never thought I’d consider that period in our nation’s history as a high point, but truly, comparing it to today, when hundreds more will die while Republicans in Congress talk about the sanctity of human life, I cannot help but feel nostalgic for Deep Throat’s America.