'Washington Post' Confirms Deep Throat's Identity

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Thirty-three years after a break-in at the Watergate hotel, one more mystery is solved. The Washington Post has confirmed that former FBI official W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat, a confidential source who guided the newspaper's coverage of the scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. The Post's David Von Drehle interviewed Bob Woodward, who held secret meetings with Felt, and discusses the unmasking of Deep Throat.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Thirty-three years after a break-in at the Watergate Hotel, one more mystery is solved. The Washington Post has confirmed that a former FBI official was Deep Throat, a confidential source who guided The Post's coverage. W. Mark Felt is the man who held late-night meetings with reporter Bob Woodward. He coached Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they uncovered one detail after another about the scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. Now at the age of 91, Felt's identity was revealed in a Vanity Fair magazine article. On this Watergate story, unlike so many others, it is The Post that is following up. The newspaper's senior political reporter David Von Drehle interviewed Bob Woodward after the news broke, and he joins us now.

Good morning.

Mr. DAVID VON DREHLE (Senior Political Reporter, The Washington Post): How are you this morning?

INSKEEP: Doing fine. Thank you very much. Why did Mark Felt decide to leak information about the scandal to Bob Woodward?

Mr. VON DREHLE: Well, there was a relationship between them that Bob is going to describe in our newspaper tomorrow. It started really in a chance meeting between a young reporter and a senior figure at the FBI. They took an immediate liking to each other and Bob quickly, just by chance, began to use Felt as a source not on this story but another story, the attempted assassination of George Wallace in the spring of 1972. So they had this relationship just by chance at the time when the Watergate burglary was uncovered, and Woodward picked up the phone, called this new friend of his, and Felt tentatively, reluctantly but ultimately decisively chose to become the most important secret source maybe in journalism history.

INSKEEP: Did he change the course of history? Was his information that important?

Mr. VON DREHLE: It's information. I think now that his identity is known, we'll be able to draw a closure bead on what he actually did do for Woodward and Bernstein, whose reporting was very important in the early phases of this story, keeping it alive, keeping the heat on, but there were many elements to the Watergate investigation, both at The Post and in the United States government.

What he did do was encourage Woodward, direct him and most importantly probably provide confirmation and guidance, context on the nature of the scandal. He was the one who sort of gave Woodward the early indications of how big this was, that it went all the way to the top, that it spread throughout the Nixon administration and that Watergate wasn't an aberration or a misstep. It was standard operating procedure for the Nixon administration.

INSKEEP: Now John Dean, who went to prison over the Watergate scandal, has raised questions about whether Felt at the FBI really would have had access to that much information. He wasn't at the White House, for example.

Mr. VON DREHLE: Right.

INSKEEP: What's the response to that?

Mr. VON DREHLE: Well, clearly he did have access to the information because he was the source. John Dean has been one of many people engaged for decades in the hunt for Deep Throat, and some people have more trouble giving up an entrancing game than others, but this was really the most senior figure at the FBI in the early 1970s, and he had access to an enormous amount of information through official and unofficial channels.

INSKEEP: In a moment, we're going to be hearing about how journalists are using anonymous sources today. Can you tell us how this dramatic story of the anonymous sources that Woodward and Bernstein used influenced your career?

Mr. VON DREHLE: I'm one of thousands of journalists who grew up in the light of Watergate, and I think it taught us many of the important lessons that we apply on our best days to do the work, make the phone calls, knock on the doors and most of all to keep our promises to sources who give us reliable information.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

Mr. VON DREHLE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: David Von Drehle is The Washington Post's senior political reporter.

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