Books in the Law
Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat
By Max Holland
University Press of Kansas, 2012
Review by Joseph C. Goulden
The who of the Deep Throat mystery that captivated Washington for decades was not resolved until Mark Felt, the former number two man at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), revealed in 2005 that he was the unnamed source who fed information to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate investigation. But left dangling was why he chose to breach the bureau’s code of silence and give a journalist inside information on one of the more sensitive criminal investigations of the century.
In their first book on Watergate, All the President’s Men, published in 1974, Woodward and Post colleague Carl Bernstein depicted Deep Throat (who they did not name) as a selfless, high–ranking official intent on exposing the lawlessness of the Nixon White House. Deep Throat, they wrote, “was trying to protect the office [of the presidency] to effect a change in its conduct before all was lost.” A secondary goal was to prevent the FBI from being corrupted by being drawn into a White House cover–up.
That statement turns out to be 100 percent false, according to Max Holland, whose exhaustively researched work is a must-read for any person interested in the tangled scandal that drove President Nixon from office. (And let me admit it: As did uncountable thousands of other Washingtonians, I delighted in “wallowing in Watergate” during the months in 1972–73 when the story unfolded. And despite the flaws pointed out by Holland, I continue to admire Woodward and Bernstein for keeping the story alive when it received scant media attention elsewhere.)
As Holland authoritatively establishes, Felt (who died in 2008) turns out not to be an altruistic hero, but a scheming bureaucrat who yearned to replace J. Edgar Hoover as FBI director, and did so by staging a smear campaign in an attempt to discredit rivals for the job.
His targets were L. Patrick Gray, named acting director after Hoover’s death in May 1972, and eventual successor, William D. Ruckelshaus. (Another aspirant to the position, William Sullivan, already had self–immolated by leaking material derogatory of Hoover to columnists Bob Novak and Rowland Evans in 1971.)
Further, contrary to public perceptions nurtured by Woodward and Bernstein (and by extension, The Post itself) that they “uncovered” Watergate, the truth is somewhat different. Actually, as Holland writes (and documents), “the newspaper essentially tracked the progress of the FBI’s investigation, with a time delay ranging from weeks to days, and published elements of the prosecutors’ case well in advance of the trial.”
Read the entire review here.