4 People Suspected of Being Deep Throat

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It’s been 10 years since Mark Felt, who served as Associate Director of the FBI under Nixon, told the world he was also “Deep Throat.” But for more than three decades after the then-anonymous source laid bare the scandal that brought down an administration, he was also one of history’s great unsolved mysteries—and speculation about the true identity of Deep Throat became something of a political parlor game.  

The story of Deep Throat begins in 1972, with two young reporters who had landed the scoop of the century. When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post learned that five men had been arrested for breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel, they began to follow a trail that eventually implicated the Republicans, the Justice Department, the CIA, and President Nixon himself. The political furor that erupted led to the first-ever resignation of a United States president.  

Though Woodward and Bernstein relied on many sources in their reporting of the scandal, one informant was essential to their investigation. Their managing editor, Howard Simons, named him Deep Throat after a pornographic movie starring Linda Lovelace. Later, Woodward would write that “the interviews [with Deep Throat] were technically on ‘deep background’—a journalistic term meaning that information could be used but no source of any kind would be identified in the newspaper.” 

Over the years, the reporters protected Deep Throat’s identity, even as the informant became the most famous source in the history of journalism. Their tight-lipped refusal to reveal their sources only spurred speculation, resulting in a number of theories (some credible, some anything but) about their identities. Here are four people rumored to have been Deep Throat prior to the revelation that the source was really Mark Felt:  

1. John Ehrlichman 

Ehrlichman was White House counsel at the time of the scandal and ended up serving time in prison for his role in the cover-up. He was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury, and conspiracy in 1974 and was the only one of the people imprisoned for the cover-up who went voluntarily, instead of attempting to navigate the appeals process. Some used this as evidence of his involvement in exposing the case. They cite Ehrlichman’s publicly stated approval of the role of the press as tacit acknowledgment that he himself leaked details of the break-in and coverup to the Post—perhaps because he felt guilty over his leadership of the covert “Plumbers” group tasked with stopping the leak of classified information to the media.

2. Fred Fielding 

Fielding was associate and deputy counsel at the White House during Nixon’s presidency. In 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter William Gaines, who began teaching at the University of Illinois after his retirement from journalism, decided to put his students on the Watergate case. After reviewing thousands of documents, his team pointed the finger at Fielding. They matched details from Bernstein and Woodward’s book, All the President’s Men, to characteristics of Fielding, who ticked all of the boxes. The team cited six particular instances in which knowledge held by Fielding matched information provided by Deep Throat, making him the most credible candidate in the guessing game. 

3. Diane Sawyer 

Sawyer may be one of the most famous TV journalists of all time, but in 1995 she joined the group of suspected Deep Throats. Rabbi Baruch Korff, a religious leader who was one of Nixon’s close confidants, was ferociously loyal to the President. Even after Nixon’s resignation, Korff claimed that the President had committed no crimes, and during the scandal itself he formed the National Citizens Committee for Fairness to the Presidency, a group dedicated to restoring Nixon’s good name. This loyalty was shared by Sawyer, who was on the plane that took Nixon home from the White House and helped organize Nixon’s Watergate files for his memoirs. While dying of cancer, Korff pointed the finger at Sawyer, claiming that she was, without a doubt, Deep Throat. “I have no solid evidence of it, but everything points to her,” he said—despite Woodward’s repeated claims that the informant was a man. 

4. Richard Nixon 

One of the weirdest theories about Deep Throat is that Richard Nixon himself was the anonymous informant. Since the scandal broke, rumors circulated that the President, tormented by his deeds or threatened by other forces, blew the whistle on himself by contacting Woodward. Those that held this belief reasoned that nobody knew the details of Nixon’s presidency as well as the president himself. But the theory was so over-the-top that it was explored mainly in side conversations and fictional works like Robert Altman’s 1984 movie Secret Honor. As Patrick Marnham noted in 1980, “If Deep Throat was Nixon, Watergate was about the President of the United States being off his marbles.”  

Other References 
The Encyclopedia Americana (Grolier, 2000)
Emmett Watson, My Life in Print (Lesser Seattle Pub., 1993) 
Marnham, Patrick. The Spectator245.7934 (Aug 2, 1980): 25.

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May 14, 2015 - 10:00am
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