Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat
A review by Leard R. Daughety
July 28, 2005
Early next month will mark thirty-one years since Richard Nixon was forced to resign as President of the United States. As reporters for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein played a significant role in exposing the unlawful abuse of power by Nixon that first revealed itself in the break in of a room at the Watergate Hotel. Assisting them in their Pulitzer Prize winning reporting was one of journalism's most celebrated "deep background" sources. Over the years, the true identity of this person has produced several books, at least one Master's thesis, and has remained a consistent subject of speculation. All of this suspense came to an end earlier this month when Vanity Fair published the article "I'm the Guy They Call Deep Throat". Having read all of Woodward's previous books on Watergate, I was anxious to adsorb this missing chapter on the subject.
"The Secret Man, the Story of Watergate's Deep Throat" was rushed into publication by Woodward due to the sudden public confession by Felt. (Deep Throat's admonition to "follow the money" seems to be echoing in the background.) Most of the space contained in "Secret Man" is spent on the discussion of the need for possessing confidential sources of information and the ethical struggle of when, if and how to reveal them. After all, it was Woodward's compliance to the agreement to Felt "that there would be no identification of him, his agency, or even a suggestion in print that such a source existed"
that over years continued to increase the worth of Deep Throat's identity. In the beginning of Watergate only Woodward, Bernstein and Ben Bradlee were privy to who Felt was. Secret Man reveals that in time, wives and former wives, children, and even another reporter came into possession of the well kept secret. The longstanding, often quoted agreement between Woodward and Bernstein was that the name of Deep Throat would not be announced until his death. What made the possibility of breaking this pledge even thinkable was Felt's declining health, the desire by Felt to achieve some type of historical recognition for his role and whatever monetary gain might be attached to such an admission.
Secret Man also provides biographical insights into Felt and Woodward. The reader will learn about the awkward first meeting between the two men-much like a first date as it turns out. Felt's loyalty to J. Edgar Hoover and the independence of the FBI are detailed at length. There is also the irony in the inclusion by Woodward of Felt's conviction in 1980 for ordering illegal searches of homes of a radical group, Felt's justification for his actions, and President Reagan's later pardon of Felt. Woodward contributes insights into his own life also. He shares openly his feelings of wanting Felt's approval for his actions as well as his desires of forgiveness by Felt when he errs in his reporting and when the Washington Post is not supportive of Felt during his felony trial. Bernstein, in his reporter's assessment portion of the book, provides a candid slice of Woodward's personality when he states:
"I knew that Bob, who is prone to complete his homework before it is due or even assigned, had written a book-length draft of the Deep Throat story."
Secret Man is indeed more like a very long footnote about Deep Throat instead of the complete and definitive work that most would like to have had from Woodward. Felt and his relatives have recently agreed to their own book deal that will be based on previous interviews by Felt's son which should add still another chapter. I have managed to find two out of print titles cited by Woodward in Secret Man- "In Search of Deep Throat" and "Watergate in American Memory" and placed them on order for the Library.
While Secret Man may not live up to the standards of Woodward's previous books it still presents an enthralling, absorbing, honest insight into Woodward's relationship with Felt and his connection to Watergate.