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What Motivated Mark Felt To Release Information As “Deep Throat”?

April 10, 2012

As a Richard Nixon history buff this story is one that caught my attention.

The question is what motivated Mark Felt? 

Decades after the nation was riveted with the mysterious person known only as “Deep Throat” it was revealed that former FBI official Mark felt was the person who fed information to the Washington Post reporters who were investigating the Watergate break-in.

The question is why?  A new book offers an explanation, and is prompting what I view as an appropriate blow-back from the intrepid reporters.

Woodward and Bernstein, not surprisingly, have argued that Felt, the FBI’s second-in-command at the time of the break-in and an acolyte of the late J. Edgar Hoover, acted out of patriotism—“with remarkable personal courage” when “the nation had become endangered by [Richard Nixon’s] lawless presidency,” as Bernstein eulogized the G-man a month after his death at age 95 in December 2008. “Mark’s great decision in all of this was his refusal to be silenced,” Woodward declared at the same memorial service. “Action is character.”

Now comes a new book, Leak, in which independent journalist Max Holland—drawing on his fresh interviews with Watergate prosecutors and FBI investigators as well as government files, private diaries, the Nixon White House tapes, and other records—claims that Felt was motivated principally by his desire to become Hoover’s rightful heir and calculated his leaks to torpedo Nixon’s handpicked FBI director, L. Patrick Gray III, along with other rivals for the top job.

Far from being a selfless patriot, Felt, in Holland’s portrayal, was a preening, duplicitous Washington player who tried to use Woodward and Bernstein, as well as other journalists to whom he passed (sometimes false) information, to further his egocentric personal ambition. Nixon’s downfall, Holland contends, was the last thing on Felt’s mind; indeed, given its potential negative impact on his chances to rise, it was probably the last thing he wanted.

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Woodward and Bernstein are predictably offended by Holland’s book—especially its claim that their Pulitzer Prize–winning Watergate reporting, albeit praiseworthy and impressive, essentially followed what government investigators were already uncovering about the unfolding scandal. Until last week, they publicly held their fire. But after the two were asked to respond to the assertions in Leak during a Watergate-themed panel April 3 at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention, all bets are off. Now they are blasting the book and vehemently defending not only Deep Throat’s legacy, but their own.

“I think we live in an age of too much revisionism that oversimplifies and twists complicated events, and this is a classic example,” says Bernstein, who likens Holland to a “bad scientist” who credits only data that fit his theory and ignores data that contradict it. “This book is part of a debunking industry—a huge enterprise in the cultural landscape, not just about Watergate, but all kinds of revisionist notions that mischaracterize the complexities of real events and history.”

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