The journalist obsessed with Watergate's Deep Throat
When reporters fool you because you assumed they were being honest, did you give those reporters too much credit or too little? After William Gaines, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his investigative journalism at the Tribune, retired from the paper in 2001 to teach journalism at the University of Illinois, he led his students in the unraveling of his business's greatest mystery: who was the Watergate scandal's Deep Throat?In 2003 Gaines's class announced its conclusion: Deep Throat had been a White House attorney named Fred Fielding. But the class was wrong. In 2005 we all found out Deep Throat was Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI.
Gaines took the mistake in stride. He explained to me that the class had carefully read All the President's Men, the memoir by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that introduced Deep Throat as Woodward's secret Watergate source, and drawn inferences from the details. Some of those details offended Gaines—they were indiscreet. "When you have a confidential source you don't say anything about him," he'd tell me.
"But as it turned out, they didn't do that," Gaines said when Felt was unmasked by Vanity Fair. "They fooled us. They were not giving up clues after all. The clues we saw deceived us." And Gaines approved.
To many journalists who'd lived through Watergate, naming Felt closed the book on the era. But Gaines still had questions about the Felt-Woodward relationship. He teamed up with Max Holland, author of the online newsletter "Washington Decoded," to pursue them, and in 2007 Gaines and Holland published the critique "Deep Throat 3.0." Gaines argued that Felt had been a lot more central to the Post's Watergate coverage than Woodward ever acknowledged, and Holland made the case that Woodward frequently compromised Felt's interests to serve the Post's and his own. The most dramatic example of this was his revealing that there was a Deep Throat at all.
Holland continued to write about Watergate, and in 2012 he published a book, Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat. There was nothing romantic or noble about his answers. Holland said Felt leaked to Woodward (and other reporters) because he was calculating and ambitious; he wanted to run the FBI, and he believed his leaks would discredit the FBI's current boss yet never be traced back to their source.
Read the entire article here.
Read another tribute to Bill Gaines here, published in The News-Gazette.