The Secret of Deep Throat Is Finally Out

It was just too exciting. The closely held secret revealed after 30 years. Well, at least it was exciting to those of us who lived through those times.

The Census Bureau says there are now more than 296 million Americans, half of them born after 1974. Hello?

As an aging baby boomer that is downright scary to me. It means half the American people did not experience "Watergate," the scandal that for the first time in history forced a U.S. president to resign.

On Aug. 8, 1974, Richard M. Nixon tearfully gave up the highest office in the land. Congress was about to impeach him. The Supreme Court had made him turn over incriminating tape recordings of White House conversations. In them, Nixon could be heard scheming with his aides on how to keep his own government investigators from finding out the truth.

The man who famously told the American people, "I am not a crook," turned out indeed to be one of the biggest political crooks ever. He was masterminding a re-election scheme that involved burglaries, bribes, pay-offs, wiretaps, enemy lists and lies.

But democracy stepped in with its checks and balances. Check (stop) the law-breaking and balances (bring back into line) the power of the president and the executive branch.

The constitutionally protected "free press" played an important role, as well. In particular, The Washington Post, which kept digging out the story and described in detail the lengths to which President Nixon was going to cover up his and his aides' wrongdoing.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were young Post reporters who were initially assigned to cover the local Washington, D.C., police department. What they thought was a simple case of breaking and entering turned out to be the beginning of the end for President Nixon.

It occurred at the Watergate, a Washington showplace. The huge complex on the Potomac River includes a hotel, apartments, and offices. Shockingly, the five men arrested for the break-in at the National Democratic Party Headquarters worked for the Nixon administration. They were trying to read files and bug the Democrats' offices and phones. The date was June 17, 1972, five months before the presidential election, in which Richard Nixon was seeking re-election to a second term. It appears he was determined to win no matter what.

Trying to get to the bottom of this odd occurrence consumed two years of dogged reporting by all the news media. The Washington Post, however, seemed to be two steps ahead of all the other media.

After Nixon was hounded from office, the Post reporters admitted they had a high-ranking, secret source that the newspaper had dubbed "Deep Throat," the name of a popular pornographic movie at the time. They refused to identify him in order to protect his job. In a dark parking garage, he was secretly feeding information to Woodward about government wrongdoing inside and outside the White House.

Woodward and Bernstein became press heroes. They wrote a best-selling book, "All The President's Men," which became a blockbuster movie starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Hal Holbrook as "Deep Throat." Read the book or rent the movie. Two thumbs up.

Anyhow, for 30 years, those of us who watched the scandal unfold have, from time to time, wondered who would have access to the information Woodward and Bernstein published. It was clearly a highly placed source.

And now we know. It was W. Mark Felt, the former No. 2 man at the FBI. While Woodward and Bernstein said they would only reveal Deep Throat's identity after he died, Felt finally outed himself. He is now 91 years old, in declining health, and living with his daughter in California.

When Felt revealed to his family a few years ago that he was the guy they called "Deep Throat," his family thought he should come forward and receive the acclaim he deserves. They think he is a hero. Yet there are people in this country who say he was motivated by spite. He had been passed over when President Nixon picked a successor to the famed FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover. Other critics believe Felt was wrong to disclose classified information, that he was disloyal to the FBI.

Whatever you may think of Felt's motivations, he and the stories the Post reported helped change this country and proved no man is above the law, even if he is the president. Nixon was disgraced. A lot of his staff members went to jail. And a lot of young people flocked to journalism schools wanting to become investigative reporters.

By the way, the "gate" from "Watergate" has been used to describe all kinds of scandals -- Koreagate, Monicagate, Travelgate, Rathergate. If the "gate" is attached, it's a big story. But nothing yet could rival Watergate.