A new book recasts the heroes of Watergate.
When the manuscript of contributing editor Max Holland’s Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat came my way last year, I searched in vain for an excerpt that could run in the WQ. Now I’m doubly sorry it didn’t work out, because Leak’s reconsideration of the myths surrounding Watergate is stirring useful controversy about how the scandal came to light and its lessons for today.
Leak is really two books. One is a dramatic retelling of the story of Mark Felt, the top FBI official who became Deep Throat, the famous anonymous source who helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein penetrate the secrets surrounding the Watergate scandal. In the mythology surrounding Watergate, Deep Throat (Felt’s identity wasn’t revealed until 2005) was a public spirited official whose revelations helped save the country from a lawless administration. But in Holland’s persuasive telling, Felt emerges as a villain worthy of Shakespeare, his only goal to win the top spot at the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover’s death. Felt talked to the two reporters only to make his rival, acting director L. Patrick Gray, appear incompetent and to convince Nixon to put the veteran Felt in charge. (And, ironically, Felt was forced out of the FBI by the machinations of another canny rival.)
The second book in Leak looks at the larger mythology surrounding Watergate and its central story line that two intrepid reporters prevailed against all odds in revealing high level malfeasance. In fact, Holland says, Woodward, Bernstein, and other reporters did excellent work, but they didn’t do much that official investigators in the FBI and elsewhere weren’t already doing. “The main effect of Deep Throat’s leaks was merely to accelerate the scandal by perhaps six months or a year.”
That’s where the shooting starts.
Read the entire article here.