Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Did Reporters Embellish Facts of Watergate Probe?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Did Reporters Embellish Facts of Watergate Probe?

Article excerpt

Last Saturday, June 16, was the 40th anniversary of the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate hotel.

Watergate is the most highly publicized scandal in American history. It made heroes of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two then junior reporters at The Washington Post. But what they told us about Watergate may be more myth than fact.

"Deep Throat," Mr. Woodward's famous source, was loosely based on then FBI deputy director Mark Felt.

Very loosely based. In researching his book "Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat," author Max Holland reviewed the contemporaneous notes Mr. Woodward took of his meetings with Mr. Felt, which are publicly available at the University of Texas.

"Woodward committed acts of embellishment that any normal reporter would be drawn and quartered for," Mr. Holland said. "The account in 'All the President's Men' contains direct quotes of words, phrases and sometimes whole sentences that are not present the contemporaneous typewritten notes. ... Occasionally, the meaning of what Felt said is substantially changed."

Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee doubted Mr. Woodward's account of his meetings with Mr. Felt, according to a 1990 interview unearthed by former Woodward research assistant Jeff Himmelman for his new biography of Mr. Bradlee.

When Mr. Woodward read the transcript of that interview, his mentor was "visibly shaken," Mr. Himmelman wrote. "All vigor drained from his voice."

With good reason. "At the heart of 'All the President's Men' is a fairy tale," Mr. Holland said. Mr. Felt's motive for snitching wasn't outrage (he'd done worse himself). He wanted to get FBI director L. Patrick Gray fired, so he could replace him. And "Woodstein's" primary source appears to have been a grand juror who was illegally leaking information.

The prosecutors had developed an "airtight" case against the five Watergate burglars, and two White House aides, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Edward J. Epstein had noted in 1974. Mr. Holland thinks it was tacky of Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein to imply the original federal prosecutors "missed the real story," when in fact "these same U. …

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