So now we know the identity of Deep Throat, the mystery man who helped bring down the Nixon White House. Mark Felt, a high-ranking official in the FBI, finally made the startling announcement this week. The 91-year-old Felt recently suffered a stroke and is in ill health. Apparently he just wanted to clear the record before his days on this Earth are done.
Felt is either a hero or a law-breaker, depending on your view of Watergate. Conservatives instantly pounced on Felt as an opportunist whose family clearly hopes to make some money by this week's announcement. Still others view him as a hero who saw wrongdoing in the Nixon administration and used the media to change the course of history.
The sad reality is that Felt is not nearly as interesting as the character offered by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who leaped to fame on his whistleblowing. The shadowy figure detailed by the two reporters was a mystery for three decades and captured the imagination of the media and the nation. In the end, Felt was actually just a disenchanted bureaucrat who was miffed about being passed over for the top spot in the FBI.
I was just a couple of years into a journalism career when Watergate erupted. Deep Throat became the dream of every journalist. He was that source with information you needed and a willingness to help. Your only promise was to maintain his secrecy.
But unfortunately, far too many reporters saw cut-throat investigative reporting as their ticket to the top. And our society has paid a heavy price. The relationship today between elected officials and the media has no resemblance to what it once was. Too many reporters are out to ambush elected officials because of the fame and fortune that fell on the two Watergate reporters.
After 30 years, it matters little what motive Felt had for his disclosures. His information and some hard work over time cast a shadow that would ultimately doom Nixon. But he was just one in a cast of characters that dominated the entire Watergate episode.
I wish Deep Throat's identity would have remained a mystery. It makes for a better story. There will never be universal agreement on the actions of Mark Felt. His family will surely profit from his announcement and, if that is his motivation, so be it. At his age and with his declining health, that's about all he has remaining to give.