Veteran Watergate Reporters Looking for Respect

The revelation this week of the identity of Deep Throat, Bob Woodward's celebrated anonymous source on the Watergate scandal, has stirred up the memories of many journalists. These competing reporters, beaten badly at the outset of Watergate, say that the accolades raining down on the Washington Post obscure scoops of their own.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

This week's revelation of the identity of Deep Throat, Bob Woodward's anonymous source on the Watergate scandal, has stirred up the memories of a host of other journalists. Their names aren't as familiar as those of Woodward or his partner, Carl Bernstein. And as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, these competing reporters have a slightly different perspective on the story of their lives.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:

Dan Thomasson was a political corespondent for Scripps Howard Newspapers back in June 1972 when a group of burglars were caught breaking into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate. He was assigned to help cover what many papers were calling a caper.

Mr. DAN THOMASSON (Former Political Correspondent): Three days later on a Monday, I guess it was, I'm sitting there thinking I'd rather be out on the campaign; I don't have any place to go with this story, and the phone rang. And I just listened. I recognized the voice on the other end. I said, `Well, now we got a story.'

FOLKENFLIK: Thomasson's boss asked whether they could trust a story verified by just one source.

Mr. THOMASSON: And I said, `Well, I guess so. The guy was a top official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who had started out the conversation by saying, "Hey, I owe you one."'

FOLKENFLIK: He wasn't Mark Felt, the senior FBI official later dubbed Deep Throat by The Post, but the caller was Thomasson's own source, providing guidance on a confounding story. There were hints of involvement of people with ties to President Nixon.

Mr. THOMASSON: A lot of organizations were late into this story because they just couldn't believe it, you know. I mean, editors said, `Oh, this can't be true. I mean, are you kidding me?' It was so preposterous what was going on, that anybody would do this kind of thing.

FOLKENFLIK: Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times broke several major stories on Watergate including an exclusive interview with Al Baldwin, a security guard for the Nixon campaign involved in the Watergate break-in. Nelson's scoop proved the burglars were acting in concert with the Nixon camp. But Nelson kept casting a wary eye at the pages of his competitors.

Mr. JACK NELSON (Los Angeles Times): It was electrifying, actually. Every day you were waiting to see what else might break out. And of course, we were all fascinated by what we were seeing in The Post. But none of us ever had any idea there was any sort of a single source involved because most of the stories were written, `sources said,' you know, `sources said,' `officials said,' or whatever.

FOLKENFLIK: The Post coverage was most galling for The New York Times. Walter Rugaber was 33-year-old Times reporter in Washington in 1972. Woodward and Bernstein were even younger and hungrier, Rugaber says.

Mr. WALTER RUGABER (Former New York Times Reporter): They were always out skulking around in the middle of the night interviewing people, you know, at their front doors. And I think that was pretty clear from their stories.

FOLKENFLIK: Rugaber earns a brief mention in Woodward and Bernstein's book, "All the President's Men," for an early story about money funneled to a Watergate burglar. But The Times lagged. The authoritative history on The Times, "The Trust," calls its Watergate coverage `a wincing embarrassment.' Former Times executive editor Max Frankel, then the Washington bureau chief, wouldn't talk about it for this story. Neither would Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who was brought in specifically to help The Times catch up.

Some Watergate reporters say The Post's dominance is a bit of a myth. Jack Nelson of the LA Times says even the importance of Deep Throat to The Post has been exaggerated.

Mr. NELSON: Let's face it, it's to everybody's benefit now for him to have been a really major source. Woodward's working on another book. After the Vanity Fair got this story, the daughter of Felt was saying, well, she thought they should get some money out of it. So, I mean, you know, you can hear the cash registers ringing. There may be another movie in the offing here.

FOLKENFLIK: The coverage from The Post and the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek and others helped lead to criminal trials and congressional investigations. The cover-ups crumbled. President Nixon resigned in August 1974, more than two years after the Watergate break-in. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

BLOCK: You can read profiles of key players in the Watergate scandal and hear reactions to the unmasking of Deep Throat at our Web site, npr.org.

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