This week, journalism's most mysterious anonymous source, Deep Throat, revealed himself to be former G-man W. Mark Felt. Media portrayals have cast him, alternatively, as a crusader driven by affection for the Bureau or a disaffected bureaucrat with an axe to grind. Bob reflects on the media's final installment of the "kind of crazy &$!#@ story" that imbeds itself in the psyche of a nation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Here's an old movie that's no doubt flying off video rental shelves. [CLIP FROM ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN PLAYS]
BOB WOODWARD/ROBERT REDFORD: The money's the key to whatever this is.
BEN BRADLEE/JASON ROBARDS, JR.: Says who?
MAN: Deep Throat.
BEN BRADLEE/JASON ROBARDS, JR.: Who?
MAN: Well, that's Woodward's garage freak - his source in the exec.
BEN BRADLEE/JASON ROBARDS, JR.: Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy story is this?
BOB GARFIELD: What kind of crazy story? The kind that slowly, incrementally grips the world and ultimately topples a presidency. The kind that fills history books and bestsellers, that goes Pulitzer and Hollywood. The kind that inspires a generation of journalists to shine the bright light of inquiry into the darkest corners of government. The kind of mythic tale that permanently enshrines itself in the psyche of a nation. At the heart of that myth, the garage freak known as Deep Throat. The identity of Woodward and Bernstein's source was Watergate's last secret, until this week we witnessed the unmasking, under ambiguous circumstances of the former FBI official, Mark Felt. On the Don Imus Show, Bob Woodward tried to explain why Deep Throat remained under deep cover for 31 years.
BOB WOODWARD: This is a man who was in turmoil, not sure whether he did the right thing or the wrong thing, and saw the Watergate cover up, and chose the route to talk to me.
BOB GARFIELD: Motivation. That was the central theme of the week's media free for all. Why did the number two man in the FBI risk career and prosecution to speak to Woodward? Why did he remain silent for so long? Why, at the age of 91, addled by dementia and stroke, did he finally come forward? Why didn't he let the Washington Post close the circle? And why, of all venues, opt for the celebrity-obsessed Vanity Fair? Maybe because of vanity, and maybe because it's only fair. Watergate and the Deep Throat guessing game itself had grown into an industry, generating revenue for damn near everyone but Mark Felt. Here's Woodward on Larry King Live talking about is pending Deep Throat memoir.
LARRY KING: You have a publisher, you have a deal already.
BOB WOODWARD: Well, we can, we, we can get a deal, that's for sure, and… [LAUGHTER]
BOB GARFIELD: Profitability was probably the week's least-intriguing question. But Deep Throat can hardly fault anyone for the journalistic impulse to follow the money. What was hilarious was seeing who did.
BOB NOVAK: It really goes against my grain to have Mark Felt coming over as a great American hero, and that's why his family put it out. They also said they'd like to make a little money over, out of it.
BOB GARFIELD: That, of course, was Bob Novak, who makes a living converting Washington leaks into TV blather and syndicated columns, such as one originating in the Bush administration, outing CIA officer Valerie Plame. That wasn't the only slice of irony served up this week. TV news was more or less Hypocrisy Central, featuring lessons on ethical behavior from convicted Watergate conspirators Charles Colson and G. Gordon Liddy.
G. GORDON LIDDY: He was a very, very highly placed law enforcement official. Number two at the FBI. If such an official gains knowledge and evidence of a crime having been committed, what he is ethically bound to do is to go to a grand jury and get an indictment, not selectively leak some information to one source.
BOB GARFIELD: That was Liddy on NBC Nightly News. Here's Chuck Colson on Nightline.
CHARLES COLSON: If he was concerned about what was happening in the White House, I think is obligation was to go to the director of the FBI, is boss, and then immediately walk in and see the president of the United States, and tell him.
BOB GARFIELD: A thunderously naïve notion, especially if you buy media portrayals of Mark Felt as an embittered soul, passed over for the FBI directorship and infuriated by Nixon administration interference in the Bureau's investigations. Maybe he was motivated by truth and justice, and maybe he was just another disaffected bureaucrat with an axe to grind. In one of the week's more telling observations, Woodward said he didn't much care about Deep Throat's motivations, so long as the information checked out, which of course, it did. The idea is so basic, yet at this moment in journalistic history, it screams with significance. The use and abuse of anonymous sourcing has lately been the stuff of scandal. It remains unclear whether any Koran pages were flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo, but a measure of media credibility surely was, because, in the words of Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, he dropped the ball. So indiscriminate is the practice of not naming names that Jayson Blair, Jack Kelley and Steven Glass invented sources, and their editors didn't even notice. Unnamed law enforcement sources exploited such carelessness to sweat nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee and hero turned Olympic bombing suspect Richard Jewell before both were cleared of wrongdoing. Because the reporters of those stories, unlike the pavement-pounding Woodward and Bernstein, were satisfied with their various shallow throats. And in that, the final irony. Many of this generation's journalists are journalists because of Woodward and Bernstein, whose exploits inspired them, or shall I say, motivated them, to seek their own explosive scoops of the Watergate variety. Unfortunately, like little leaguers inspired by Willie Mays' virtuosic basket catches, the wannabe's too often dropped the ball. The unquenchable desire for the explosive actually calls to mind another movie scene, this one, in fact, from the real Deep Throat. [CLIP FROM FILM DEEP THROAT PLAYS]
LINDA LOVELACE: I want to hear bells and bombs.
MAN: Yes, we just went through that, Miss Lovelace. Have you ever had an internal examination?
BOB GARFIELD: If it weren't obvious before this week, for the news media, it certainly is now. An internal examination? What a splendid idea.