Mark Felt’s death Thursday gives us a chance to talk about probably the most famous annoymous source in journalism history – Deep Throat – and how it shows we need get the Shield law passed in the next Congress.
Felt admitted in 2005 that he was Deep Throat, the secret source that helped provide information to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Woodward used Deep Throat’s assistance to help expose the Nixon administration’s involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Some say that Woodward and his partner Carl Bernstein did little more than review reports from FBI investigations that Felt, the No. 2 man at FBI at the time, provided. Duh! Of course Woodward and Bernstein relied on some of what the FBI had uncovered. The point is that the public might not have seen any of it, and certainly not as soon as it did, if not for Woodward and his secret FBI source. The book All The President’s Men also makes it clear the duo had more than just one source in FBI and justice. There were also efforts by Nixon’s people to get the FBI and CIA to stop investigating or to cover up. The Post stories made that very difficult.
I do not want know what things would have been like if Woodward and Bernstein did their Watergate reporting in this era, when U.S. attorneys eagerly seek the names of annonymous sources with subpoenas. I’m certain Woodward and Bernstein would havve held out under enormous pressure and cost. They spent 35 years doding questions from the currious and those writing books suggesting they knew who Deep Throat is.
Whistleblowers and leakers such as Felt are critical to democracy functioning well. If whistleblowers decide it is too risky to speak out about wrong doing or to help expose corruption, as Felt helped do, it is the American people who will lose.
So we will continue to push for the Shield law in the next Congress. SPJ and its many media coalition partners came pretty close last summer. We have more optimism this year. We are hopeful that a new administration will provide a Justice Department more open to our request. We are already planning are efforts to push the bill next year and have urged the President-elect to follow through with his campaign promise on the bill. There is more to come. Feel free to contact your member of Congress and ask them to support the Shield law in 2009.