Saturday, June 11, 2005

Deep Throat apparently was more of a committee than a single person, Part 1

Over the last week, there has been an increasing body of evidence that W. Mark Felt, recently identified by both his own family and the Washington Post as Deep Throat, was almost certainly not acting alone in leaking sensitive Watergate information to the press, but was rather working in concert with, or the lead of, a band of several other then-senior FBI officials who sought to provide details of the FBI investigation's investigation of Watergate to the press.

The Albany Times Union last Sunday a week ago broke a major story quoting Paul Daly, a former FBI high-ranking manager, as saying that at least three other senior FBI officials worked closely with Felt in leaking Watergate information to the press as a means of keeping the Nixon's White House at bay.

Last night, I believe that I significantly advanced the story, reporting new information as a Web exclusive to the Village Voice (a newspaper for which I was a staff reporter back in the day in my wayward twenties). I think my new account clearly provides additional credence to Daly's claims. Additionally, over the next few days, both here on my blog, online at the Voice, and perhaps elsewhere, I will provide other new evidence making the case that Felt was actually acting with a group of senior FBI officials.

In short, Deep Throat was less of an individual than a committee of sorts.

For the last thirty years, Deep Throat was the public face to the man in the parking garage that Bob Woodward knew to be W. Mark Felt. Now apparently, though, even though it was Felt in the parking garage, he in turn might have been acting as the face to Woodward in concealing the role of a circle of other senior FBI officials. Felt was playing much more a complicated game than apparently Woodward knew, and one that might not be fully understood because Felt is 91 and most of the other key players in the FBI are now deceased.

In my view, the revelation that Felt was co-ordinating his activities with other senior FBI officials is as important or even more important a revelation that Felt was Deep Throat. It enlightens and informs our understanding of Watergate in ways much more significant than that the man who met Bob Woodward in a parking garage and became known as Deep Throat was Felt. (I will be further explaining why in future blog entries.)

What is also extraordinary about this episode so far is this: The Albany Times Union story has been out there a week now and virtually nobody has picked up it. In the days when only a few large newspapers, wire services, newsmagazines, and television networks decided what was news-- say when Watergate was originally in the news-- this would not seem that extraordinary. But we live in the day of blogs and the Internet and the such!

Yet other than my advance of the story in the Voice, the story has not been reported upon, commented upon, or advanced upon by a single major newspaper. All of the nation's very largest newspapers-- the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal-- have been silent. Newsweek, which devoted an entire cover story to the revelation that Felt was Deep Throat, is yet to publish a word. No pundit has taken up the case. And also silent has been the online press. Timothy Noah and Jack Shafer of Slate have obsessively and relentlessly written recently about Watergate and Deep Throat so much that even people like me haven't read half of it! But they too have yet to write their first words about this. (Update: In the original of this post, I mistakenly wrote that Mickey Kaus, who blogs for Slate, did not write or blog at all about Paul Daly's allegations. As he pointed out to me in an email, he did in fact briefly mention Daly's disclosures and link to the Albany Times Union story as well. Apologies to both Mickey and my numerous readers.)

And then there are the bloggers, the supposed and vaunted last line of defense when an important story disappears beneath the radar! All that I conclude at this moment (this comment is made somewhat tongue-in-cheek in that bloggers can sometimes be oh so too sensitive at times): Bloggers suck!

This story is meant for bloggers, but yet somehow they are missing it.

One of the reasons that this tale is tailor-made for bloggers is that perhaps the major newspapers have not been covering this is because it doesn't make them look so good.

The new narrative that emerges from this important new information is that the Washington Post's Watergate coverage was perhaps not as heroic or integral as both the Post and much of the rest of the elite press corps have portrayed it over the course of the last three decades.

Most historians of the Nixon era have long ago developed a consensus that it has been myth to believe that the Washington Post brought down a President of the United States. It has even been an even greater myth that the Post's reporting solved the Watergate mystery.

At best, the Post and other newspapers acted as a catalyst in spurring on others to act: the FBI; the federal prosecutors investigating the burglary, funding of it, and subsequent coverup; the special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski who took over the case from the U.S. Attorney; the Senate Watergate Committee; and finally the House Judiciary Committee, which drafted articles of impeachment against Nixon.

In reality, the historical record clearly has shown for some time that there was little published in the Washington Post in the initial days of Watergate that already was not known by the FBI or federal prosecutors. The Post largely relied on leaks from the FBI, or pursued leads based on tips from other governmental investigators. Much of what the newspaper reported was simply leaks as to what the FBI was telling Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. There was virtually nothing that the Post published that had not already long been known to the FBI.

That the That Deep Throat turns out to be W. Mark Felt, then the FBI's deputy director, only seems to further show that this was the case. T he new revelations that Felt was likely the leader of, or simply one of, a group of four FBI agents who decided to leak to the press only further seems to illustrate the point further.

At best, the Washington Post kept the Watergate issue alive, amplified the findings of the FBI and other official government investigators, and lead the way for the rest of the press. Some historians have even argued that without the Post's Watergate coverage the outcome might have very likely been the same. But that is uncertain, and there is no way of knowing.

What the newspaper might have actually accomplished-- and deserves our gratitude for-- was paving the way and elevating the issue to the point whereupon the Senate formed a special committee to investigate and a special prosecutor was named to take up the case from a possibly compromised Department of Justice. Historians and journalists have long considered and argued whether the Post's reporting was responsible for those key developments. Others have said that that is not so. It is, of course, unknowable whether that was the case or not.
But without the formation of a Senate investigating committee and the appointment of a Watergate special prosecutor, the outcome of Watergate could have been very different. But if the Post's coverage kept the heat on for those developments to occur, then their role was crcucial, although hardly paramount among the major institutional players.

Those were no small developments and they led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. And if a newspaper's reporting served as a catalyst, that was and remains no small accomplishment. And no-one is saying that the paper's Watergate coverage was not exemplary, and Post publisher Katharine Graham was any less a brave woman, even if they did not play that role. Thus, it is has been hard for many journalists such as myself to uderstand why the reporters or the newspaper that published their work have perpetuated a myth that they brought down a President or that their own detective work broke the Watergate case.

The new revelations that W. Mark Felt was not working alone but rather with several other FBI senior officials to release sensitive details regarding the FBI's investigation of Watergate to the press on its surface appears to undermine the Washington Post's own mythology of its Watergate role. (Once again, out of fairness, I want to underscore that the newspaper's coverage was historic, at times brave, and a watershed event for American journalism, which makes the newspaper's mythmaking to overstate it own role both so disquieting and puzzling.)

Over the course of the last several days I have been able to interview a number of FBI agents and senior officials, including Daly, who were knowledgeable about the role of Felt and other senior FBI officials in getting the Watergate story out to protect the integrity of their criminal investigation, and see to it that their prosecutions were not to be hampered and justice were not done. Some of those are talking for the record, and I will report their comments in the days to come.

In the meantime, however, one former FBI agent told me: "It was an unspoken thing... but there was almost an unspoken directive [to the agents working the Watergate case] that it was all right to talk about certain things to certain reporters... the Washington Post, Sandy Smith [then of Time magazine], and [Seymour] Hersh." For those not familiar with all things Watergate, Sandy Smith was a Time reporter, whose Watergate stories have been considered by many journalists and historians (including among them, David Halberstam) of almost as great an importance as those of Woodward and Bernstein. Seymour Hersh, then writing for the New York Times, came to covering Watergate late, but once he was on the case, was competitive and often ahead of the Post. (Disclosure: Hersh is a friend of mine on several days of a week. On the other days during-- those on which he teases me-- it is unclear.)

More than one of the FBI officials I have spoken to, as well other key participants, suggest that Felt and other FBI officials wanted the word out regarding Watergate and that that they would have found ways to do so had not Bob Woodward confessed his twenty-something angst to Felt and Felt befriended him. Felt, after all, as Paul Daly has revealed, was working closely with other senior FBI officials to get the Watergate story out. And Felt was only too familiar with so many other reporters, as this story in USA Today and this recent New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece by Seymour Hersh both demonstrate.

In short, the historical outcome might very well have been the same without the role of role of Woodward and Bernstein and the Post and its courageous publisher Katharine Graham. The FBI officials appear to already have had a game plan and they would have simply found another outlet.

For those who will interpret these new and forthcoming revelations that Watergate was simply another story that came out solely because of leaks from senior officials, that would be too much a simplification. But the emerging evidence is that while the reporters engaged in many of the tools of the tools of traditional investigative reporting and understood the use of shoe leather, the story very likely well have emerged through other media outlets and the outcome might have been the same.

But coversely, the simplistic myth that detective work of Washington Post reporters broke the Watergate case or that the newspaper or the press brought down a President are and have been dangerous and wrongheaded myths sometimes perpetuated by those involved for their own aggrandizement or profit. No serious historian or other student of Watergate has believed that to be the case for some time.

That Deep Throat was most probably a committee rather than a single person-- or rather more specifically in that W. Mark Felt very likely co-ordinates a campaign of leaks with other senior FBI officials-- and that they had available any other number of means to get their story out only further undermines the myth of "All the President's Men." That is perhaps why you are not reading anything about this so far in the Washington Post.