'Vanity Fair,' Desperate Housewives and Deep Throat

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Vanity Fair magazine revealed the identity of Watergate super-source Deep Throat in last week's issue. Day to Day tongue-in-cheek correspondent Brian Unger ponders what it means when the magazine that reveals the inside secrets of Desperate Housewives also breaks the biggest political scoop of a generation.


The business of political skulduggery now. Last week, we learned that the secret source in the Watergate scandal, known for decades only as Deep Throat, is actually former FBI official Mark Felt. Then there was a lot of analysis about whether he was a hero or a traitor. Now the nation seems ready to move on, except for Brian Unger. Here is today's Unger Report.


Well, the journalistic high ground held in trust by Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee at The Washington Post for more than 30 years has been breached by a magazine that exposed catfighting among the cast of "Desperate Housewives." Vanity Fair scooped everyone with its expose. Finally, after all this time, we discovered the truth. Those chicks on "Desperate Housewives" don't get along. Teri Hatcher, one of the stars, she was allowed to pick her bathing suit first for the magazine's photo shoot. Can you believe that? That was a good issue. I also learned that I should never spend more than 10 percent of my net worth on buying a yacht.

Then, in a journalistic 180, the same magazine exposes the truth behind the most enduring political mystery of our time: the identity of Deep Throat. The Washington Post admits it got scooped, and even reported in its own pages how. Mark Felt's attorney called Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter two years ago and said he had a client, quote, "who is Deep Throat, and he wants to come out in the pages of Vanity Fair." When I read that, I renewed my subscription, not just because of Deep Throat's endorsement, but because it has my favorite horoscopes, too. That's a combo that few publications can match.

This month, I'm looking forward to reading about Angelina Jolie, then Jeff Gannon in the article Fake Reporter by Day, Gay Escort by Night: Infiltrating the White House Press Corps, How it Happened. Is it me, or are stories with news value something I should be reading at home with the shades drawn?

If Felt's representatives hadn't chosen Vanity Fair in which to spill the beans, Deep Throat's identity may have wound up in the pages of People, where, reportedly, the story was also shopped. That would have been one heck of an issue: an article on how Jennifer Aniston is coping with her split from Brad Pitt, followed by The Kooky Fella Who Helped Topple Nixon and Where You Can Buy His Spectacular Oversized Eyewear.

Vanity Fair's coup is a bit of a journalistic nuclear bomb that levels the playing field in news and erases the line between news and entertainment. Not that the magazine wasn't already a respected gatherer of news, but their Deep Throat exclusive illustrates that journalism can pop up on the same pages that feature "The Dukes of Hazzard" remake.

Now it's not likely that a conspiracy to assassinate JFK will be exposed on the pages of Highlights opposite the latest installment of Goofus & Gallant. Folding the back page in Mad magazine won't reveal the location of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But Vanity Fair's Deep Throat scoop feels like a watershed in an age of constant analysis of where people get their news: from blogs, from Comedy Central, FOX News, NPR. Do people want harder news on CNN, as Ted Turner insinuated last week? Will CBS News be more effective if it gets rid of its voice-of-God tone, as CBS chairman Les Moonves said?

Take note, news executives. Vanity Fair has demonstrated that good journalism is still about finding a good story and reporting it well, even if it is opposite the photograph of a naked Tony Curtis covering his jewels with two Yorkshire terriers. And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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