Friday, February 17, 2012

Another myth collapses: Deep Throat

In July of 2005, Bob Woodward published The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat, after Deep Throat's identity was revealed to be Mark Felt by Vanity Fair on May 31, 2005. The book acknowledged that Felt was the sole source of leaks Woodward and Bernstein had attributed to Deep Throat, shattering ongoing speculation that there was no actual Deep Throat, that there were instead a multitude of sources responsible for the leaks, a claim actively promoted by L. Patrick Gray, former FBI Director and Felt's boss during the time of the scandal.

Beyond that, the book was also a defense of sorts for Felt's motives. As Deputy Associate Director of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, Felt had designs on the top spot after Hoover's death in May of 1972. But Nixon temporarily appointed Gray to that position, knowing that the current number two man--Associate Director Clyde Tolson--would be retiring. Felt, of course, knew that too and expected he would take the reigns. Instead, he ended up in Tolson's position, subservient to Gray, a man who was coming over from the Justice Department and lacked an FBI pedigree.

Felt was, of course, not happy with this state of affairs. Woodward admits this in his book, but still maintains that in the end, Felt was motivated by a desire for justice, not for personal gain. However, Max Holland's soon to be released new book--Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat--shatters Woodward's defense of Felt. It demonstrates that Felt's goal was the obvious one all along: get rid of Gray and take over the FBI.

Glenn Garvin at the Miami Herald provides some tidbits:
Felt began systematically leaking material from the FBI’s Watergate investigation. He knew Nixon, whose paranoia about leaks was legendary in Washington, would figure out that the source was somewhere in the FBI. Gray would be blamed, lose his job (he hadn’t yet been confirmed by the Senate and was officially only acting director) and Felt would be the logical replacement. 
Contrary to the heroic myth that he always pointed reporters in the right direction, Felt’s leaks were often either carelessly inaccurate or maliciously false. 
Even more damning to the romantic image of Deep Throat as the guy in the white hat standing up to the Nixon Gang at high noon is what he didn’t leak. For instance, the unsuccessful but quite genuine blackmail the FBI used against Martin Luther King Jr., using illicit tapes of sexual incidents to try to force his resignation. Or the FBI campaign of burglaries (“black-bag jobs,” they were called) against anti-war groups, which were directed by Felt himself.
The original myth, of course, plays much better to the average psyche, not unlike the Camelot myth of JFK's Presidency. The idea that a President was brought down in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way is just too appealing and even with the publication of this new book, it is unlikely that the popular perception of Deep Throat--and indeed, the historical perception--will change all that much. Because at the end of the day, Felt's actions led to Nixon being rightly forced to step down.

Still, the reality of Felt's motivations demonstrate that Nixon was never his real target; he had hoped for Nixon to simply dismiss Gray, at which point Felt would become Director, the leaks would suddenly stop, and Nixon would never have been in any real jeopardy. But Felt miscalculated in this regard, as Nixon doubled down on Gray, nominating him as the permanent Director in 1973, well after the scandal and Felt's leaks had begun. Gray's mishandling of his confirmation hearing--by saying that White House Counsel John Dean had lied to the FBI--was the beginning of the end for the Administration and, in hindsight, for Felt's hopes to replace Gray. From that moment on, Felt had to become the hero, and Woodward assisted him in that regard.

But the truth is what it is; Felt apparently was just another ladder-climbing, power-hungry Washington bureaucrat, not above skulduggery to advance his own career. His heroism was accidental, at best.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

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