The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat

By Nelson, Bryce | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat


Nelson, Bryce, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat. Bob Woodward. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. 249 pp. $23.00 hbk. $14.00 pbk.

One of the most intriguing and important relationships between a reporter and a source in U.S. history was that between the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and "Deep Throat," now revealed as W. Mark Felt, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's number-two man during much of the Watergate cover-up scandal of the early 1970s. Deep Throat, made famous by Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book All the President's Men and, even more, by Hal Holbrook in the movie, was the man Woodward says helped him understand the broader nature of the political dirty tricks implemented by President Nixon and his gang.

This short book, admirable for its brevity and simple style, is worth reading by anyone interested in the relationship between reporter and source, in how diligent journalism is done, in Watergate, or in the reporting of Bob Woodward. Woodward, with his incredible access to high-level Washington sources and relentless work, has become a journalistic phenomenon. His writing of serious books certainly has been an overwhelming publishing success. The secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat is his thirteenth consecutive book to make the New York Times best sellers list, which, the Times said, "is just about unparalleled on the nonfiction side of the list." The legacy of the Deep Throat story-that Woodward will keep promises of confidentiality forever-has played an important role in opening up key sources throughout the years, Woodward writes.

But while Woodward has used the Deep Throat legacy and his prodigious organization to amass great journalistic power, some have questioned his journalistic ethics and candor. Woodward has substantial streaks of candor in this book. In his writing of The secret Man, Woodward admits, "The portrait of me is not all that admirable. I was pushy, secretive. I used Mark Felt, and I lied to a colleague, Richard Cohen." Several years ago, columnist Cohen told Woodward that he knew Deep Throat was Mark Felt and was going to write about it. "It's not him (Felt), I said adopting the well-tested Watergate strategy that when all else fails, lie. I lied and insisted to Cohen that he had it wrong," Woodward writes.

Keeping the man's identity secret for three decades helped preserve the mystery and romance of Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate reporting of the 1970s. It was also the right thing for journalists to do. Woodward kept the secret until 2005 when Felt, his family, and his lawyer placed an article in Vanity Fair announcing that Felt had been Deep Throat. The ever-ready Woodward was apparently prepared with most of this book manuscript to capitalize again on his youthful reporting under Deep Throat's tutelage. …

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