Mark Felt Dies; 'Deep Throat' In Watergate Investigation Was 95 : It's All Politics Mark Felt, the former FBI agent who turned out to be the famous "Deep Throat" informer during Watergate, has died.
NPR logo Mark Felt Dies; 'Deep Throat' In Watergate Investigation Was 95

Mark Felt Dies; 'Deep Throat' In Watergate Investigation Was 95

For more than 30 years, it was the best-kept secret in journalism: Who was "Deep Throat," that mysterious informer who gave Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward the details behind the Watergate scandal that would bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon?

The break-in at the Democratic National Committee occurred in June of 1972. Nixon resigned two years later. But it wasn't until 2005, when Vanity Fair magazine published an article by John O'Connor, that the source -- with his assent -- was revealed to be W. Mark Felt. Felt was the No. 2 guy at the FBI at the time.

Felt died yesterday at the age of 95. He had been suffering from congestive heart failure.

Here's what I wrote in my Political Junkie column at the time:

Who was Deep Throat?

How many times have I asked, or been asked, that question over the past three decades? Granted, it may not have been the sort of question that kept me up late at night. But as one who breathlessly watched the entire unraveling of the Nixon presidency, from break-in and Sirica to Ervin and Rodino, it would be fair to say that guessing the identity of the most famous anonymous source in the history of political journalism was something I dabbled in now and then. And so, when the news hit late Tuesday morning, that the identity of "Deep Throat" was finally revealed, the resulting feeling was a confluence of emotions.

It was a time like no other. A president who, within just months of a smashing 49-state election landslide, found his administration falling apart, one indictment and one resignation at a time. Bumper stickers everywhere that read, "Honk If You Think He's Guilty." Or sentiments from the Nixon defenders: "Nobody Drowned in Watergate." Ultimately, after disclosures about cover-ups and secret tape recordings and damaging testimony, it seemed clear that it was time for him to go. No one talked about "Deep Throat" -- at least in political terms -- back then. In fact, no one knew of him until Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote All the President's Men in 1974, though it wasn't until the release of the movie in 1976 whereby he grew to mythical proportions.

And then came his unmasking this week, after nearly 33 years. Along with it came a feeling of disbelief. Not because no one suspected it could be Mark Felt; truth be told, he was a prime suspect on nearly everyone's list of potential Throats. I guess it was just hard to fathom that after all this time, the answer to the question was at hand. It seemed like it would be the kind of question that would remain unanswered forever.

If it was disbelief for some of us, it was no doubt a relief for others... especially those who, like Felt, were long suspected to be the Woodward/Bernstein source: Fred Fielding, L. Patrick Gray, Al Haig, Leonard Garment, Henry Peterson, David Gergen -- the list is endless. (Full disclosure: For the longest time, until his death in 1987, I thought Mr. Throat was Bryce Harlow, the former Eisenhower and Nixon aide who I suspected did not look kindly at the Watergate shenanigans.)

It was remarkable that a secret could be held for so long in Washington, where secrets are routinely spilled, and ironic that The Washington Post, which protected the secret, was scooped on the story. And I guess it should be expected that the new parlor game in town is deciding Mark Felt's motives. Revenge for being passed over when J. Edgar Hoover died? Was it anger over the Nixon administration's attempts to keep the FBI in the dark about its illegal activities? I'll let others decide that. And I'll pass, for now, on whether Felt's actions -- feeding information to Woodward and Bernstein on what the FBI knew about the Watergate break-in and cover-up -- make him a hero or a villain.

See also my cast of characters in the Watergate scandal.