Slate's Chatterbox: FBI Agent Says He's 'Deep Throat'

Alex Chadwick speaks with Slate contributor Tim Noah about a new Vanity Fair magazine article that identifies former FBI agent V. Mark Felt as the Watergate source "Deep Throat." Felt tells the magazine he was the government source who channeled information to reporters investigating the break-in at a Democratic Party office — a petty burglary that eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now this: Vanity Fair magazine dropped a huge bombshell for news junkies today: the identity of the most famous anonymous source in history, Deep Throat. He helped Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward break the Watergate scandal which drove President Nixon from office 31 years ago. The reporters created a journalistic legend with their pledge not to reveal the name of their source until he--they have said it's a man--until he dies. Today Vanity Fair is reporting that a former FBI official named W. Mark Felt admits to being Deep Throat. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have issued statements saying that they will continue their silence on the matter, so no comment from them.

Timothy Noah from our partners at Slate magazine has been studying and writing about various Deep Throat theories for years. We spoke earlier.

Tim, who is Mark Felt, and how plausible is this claim?

TIMOTHY NOAH reporting:

Well, it's a very plausible claim, and Felt, in fact--the more discriminating Deep Throat thinkers, including myself, have long taken the Mark Felt theory very seriously. He was running the FBI at the time of Watergate, and there was a huge amount of tension between the FBI and the Nixon administration, and there was a lot of fear in the wake of J. Edgar Hoover's death, which had just been a few months before, that the White House was going to take over, exert control over the FBI. And so there was a huge bureaucratic imperative there to be leaking news about Watergate.

Felt was the--I think he was the deputy director at the FBI at the time and would have had every motive to do so. I should add, though, that he denied it to me when I spoke to him about it several years ago back in 1999. I said, `Are you Deep Throat?' and he said, `The answer to that is yes and no. I'm the person they're talking about,' which tantalized me until I realized he was saying that he was the Mark Felt who worked at the FBI, and then he said, `I was involved very deeply in all that, but I'm not guilty of disclosure, leaking to the press or anything like that.'

CHADWICK: He apparently doesn't think it's a very noble thing to have leaked information to the press, but now, according to Vanity Fair, he's saying, `Well, I did that back then.' He's in his 90s now, his early 90s. He's living in California. You have spoken with Mr. Felt. Can you guess why he would be making this admission now?

NOAH: Well, he's very old, and he may have been worried about some sort of legal recourse. I mean, when you're talking about, you know, blabbing about criminal investigations, there may be some criminal sanctions against that, but surely nobody is going to throw a nonagenarian into jail at this point. And what baffles me, though, is I don't think anyone was really likely to throw him into jail 10 years ago, and I don't know why he...

CHADWICK: Why has he kept quiet all this time?

NOAH: ...hasn't come forth earlier.

CHADWICK: Is this going to settle the question, even though, for some reason, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein aren't saying anything?

NOAH: Well, they have pledged not to discuss this until Deep Throat is dead. Maybe they're taking that quite literally or maybe they haven't--simply haven't had a chance to sit down and read the Vanity Fair piece. I confess I have it in front of me right now, but I haven't yet read it, either.

CHADWICK: All right. Well, you know everything about Deep Throat, except the exact identity, anyway. Thank you for taking our call today. Opinion and analysis from Tim Noah. He writes on politics for our partners at the online magazine Slate. Tim, thank you.

NOAH: Thank you, Alex.

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