Bob Woodward On 'The Secret Man' Of Watergate Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward talks about FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt, the secret source that helped him break the Watergate story.

Bob Woodward On 'The Secret Man' Of Watergate

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This is Fresh Air. I'm David Bianculli of Broadcasting & Cable Magazine and, sitting in for Terry Gross. Our program originally scheduled for today with composer Philip Glass will be heard at a later date so that we can react to some recent news. W. Mark Felt Sr., the FBI associate director during the Watergate scandal who was Bob Woodward's top-secret source known as Deep Throat, died in his sleep yesterday while under hospice care. He was 95. Felt guided Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during his investigation in the early 1970s into the Watergate cover-up.

It was a path Woodward and his partner, Carl Bernstein, followed all the way to the White House and to President Richard Nixon himself, who eventually resigned from office. For decades, Woodward refused to reveal the identity of Deep Throat. Not until Vanity Fair in a 2005 article approved by the former FBI executive and his family revealed Deep Throat to be W. Mark Felt did Woodward confirm his identity. Bob Woodward also published his own account that year, updating a manuscript about Deep Throat called "The Secret Man." Soon after that book was published, he spoke with Terry Gross. He began by recalling the drama and the stakes of the story he and Carl Bernstein were chasing.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, July 7, 2005)

Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Author, Reporter, Washington Post): What was at stake here? There was - we really had a surveillance world. There was all kinds of wiretapping, break-ins going on, I mean, the list of the Nixon crimes is endless, and there were confidential sources who were willing to help Carl Bernstein and myself. The uncovering of that took place in an environment where we were denounced and threatened and sources were - could not have taken a greater personal risk to themselves in their careers by assisting.

TERRY GROSS: What were some of the threats against you?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, no physical threats, though the source, Deep Throat, Mark Felt, did say the stakes had grown so large that lives could be at stake, but for days we would be denounced by the White House. Ron Ziegler, the White House press secretary, would go on for half hour. I don't know that you've had one of your broadcasts denounced by the White House press secretary ever or for that long, but it gets your attention. The Nixon reelection committee chairman went out and denounced us. Bob Dole, who was then the Republican National Committee chairman, devoted a whole speech to us. So, it was very aggressive, condemning language, saying not only were we wrong, but that we knew we were wrong, which, of course, now we know the record, we were right and we knew we were right.

GROSS: Several newspapers and magazines, including Newsweek, the Washington Post and New York Times, have tightened their restrictions on anonymous sources. I've been noticing, for instance, in the New York Times when there's an anonymous source, there's usually a clause within the sentence now explaining why that source feels they need to remain anonymous. What do you think of the way publications are changing the way they handle anonymous sources?

Mr. WOODWARD: I think, by and large, it's good. There should be high standards, but at the same time, and I am in a small minority here, I think there should be more anonymous sources because that's the way you find out what's really going on. You can be careful within a news organization about using them. You can say, I think, these descriptive phrases, so-and-so requested anonymity because the White House isn't supposed to talk about the upcoming Supreme Court nominee. That kind of makes sense to people, and I think that adds information. But if we are going to define the news as what the government says publicly and what people say publicly, we're not going to get at what's really going on.

GROSS: Is there a clause you could have come up with to explain why Deep Throat needed to remain anonymous?

Mr. WOODWARD: That is a great question. It would have been a whole book, because it's very, very complicated. It's personal. It's institutional. This is somebody I knew. He wanted to be protected. He set up rules about contacts and meetings, which I regularly broke and called him on the phone a good number of times, which did not make him happy. Not only was his career in jeopardy; this was sensitive material under investigation. I think he also felt disappointed that he had been not - that he was not elevated to head the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover's death. I think he also is an old FBI agent who was a spy hunter, liked the game, to be quite honest with you, and he devised methods to make sure that he was protected. I also think he felt the Nixon administration was making an assault on the law, which we know is the case. Also, Nixon had launched a war on the independence of the FBI, which Mark Felt felt very strongly was important and that the FBI should not be directed as a secret police agency for political reasons or motives of a sitting president.

GROSS: Well, that's not only a lot longer than a clause; that would have totally revealed his identity.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes, exactly. Good detective work. It would have, and so, sometimes you can't even have that clause, but if you develop a system as Ben Bradlee did at the Post of requiring two sources, rigorous personal examination of the reporters by Bradlee himself, he felt comfortable that we could run these stories. And there were efforts in a civil suit to get us to disclose ourselves, but to my knowledge, the force of the government was never brought to try to find out our sources.

GROSS: Did you already have a set of rules to play by with anonymous sources when you met Mark Felt, Deep Throat, or did you have to like make them up as you ran along?

Mr. WOODWARD: Oh, that's a very good question. I was very young and new in the newspaper business, and he set the rules. He said, no one is to know; this is to be beyond confidential. He said that he would only confirm information, try to steer us in the right direction. But the idea was it was going to be on deep background, that there would be no source identified at any time. So, he would not only be insulated as a source; the very concept of having a source would not appear in the newspaper.

GROSS: Did the naming of him as Deep Throat violate that?

Mr. WOODWARD: It did. And that was done by the managing editor of the Washington Post and when Carl Bernstein and I wrote "All the President's Men," the story of reporting Watergate, we wanted - I wanted to identify Mark Felt, and I asked him. And he could not have been more strident and emphatic in saying, are you crazy?

But I did report on our meetings because it was part of the story, and we wanted to be as thorough and complete as possible in demonstrating to somebody, this is how you put a story together. It's not about having one source or two. It's about having an array of sources, lawyers, people who worked in the White House, people who worked for Nixon's reelection committee, having law-enforcement sources, and so forth. And in the interest of completeness and honesty, we laid it out in the book without identifying him in any way, and his identity remained unknown for three decades after that book came out.

GROSS: It must have weighed on you to identify that there was a Deep Throat, because you say that after the book came out and became a bestseller, you were afraid not only that Mark Felt would be angry or depressed; you were afraid he'd take his own life. Mr. WOODWARD: Well, yeah, because he was so upset. When I called him after the book came out, he hung up on me, and I don't know how often somebody's hung up on you that you knew and dealt with on very important matters. It hasn't happened to me very often, and it's earth-shattering, and I was really worried. I knew that we had not put him in jeopardy because we did not say where he worked or we didn't say it was the FBI. A lot of people thought for decades that it was somebody in the White House or the Nixon administration. So, he was protected, but again, this is kind of like your clause after an anonymous source. We were able to tell people there was such a source and what role he played exactly and how emphatic he was in insisting that - I've never had clandestine meetings in underground garages since. He really laid down. I don't know the...

GROSS: You're too famous to do that now. People would recognize you.

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, but you have to - I think I was 29 at the time and had worked at the Post for less than a year, and you have somebody who's this kind of original FBI agent. He is somebody just physically formidable, very controlled in this - you know, Hoover's son, to a certain extent; somebody who thought Hoover had been a great man, and Hoover dies, and you have this figure saying, this is where we're going to meet; this is how we do it; these are the signals. You tell absolutely no one; you - when you leave your apartment house, you go down the stairway, don't use the elevator. You take two cabs, not one cab, to the meeting place. You, in fact, walk the last part, get off - I would get off at the Marriott Hotel, which was near there in Rosslyn across the Potomac. I mean, it's - and I didn't know, is this common? Is this something people normally do? But he was so important; the story seems so significant that I played by his rules.

BIANCULLI: Bob Woodward speaking to Terry Gross in 2005. More after our break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2005 interview with Bob Woodward. His connection with the secret informant known as Deep Throat helped the investigation into the Watergate cover-up reach all the way to the White House. The actual Deep Throat, former FBI associate director W. Felt Sr., died yesterday at age 95.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, July 7, 2005)

GROSS: There were times when you had to lie in order to divert people from who Mark Felt really was. So, for instance, like, you would say, no, he's not in the Justice Department.


GROSS: Or is not the intelligence community, I mean. I thought you'd said that.

Mr. WOODWARD: No, I never said he was not in the Justice Department. When I was interviewed once a long, long time ago while I was working on a CIA book by - it was a long extensive interview, and I, at that time, was focused on the intelligence community being the CIA and the National Security Agency and so forth. Technically, the FBI is, but at the point of time in the interview, they really didn't have much of an intelligence function.

GROSS: So, you feel like you were never in the position of having to lie in order to protect Mark Felt.

Mr. WOODWARD: Not in those circumstances. I did lie to a colleague, Richard Cohen, who is a columnist, who had deduced that the memos outlining what Felt had said had at the top MF, which I said - which meant "my friend," but also could be the initials for Mark Felt. And he was going to write a column saying that Felt was Deep Throat, and he was insistent on it and I said - I lied to him and said he was wrong. And he wrote a version of the column very watered down.

I've apologized to him since, and he understood because this is at a time when Mark Felt was being investigated and, in fact, was about to stand trial himself for authorizing FBI break-ins. You know, if you want an irony - there is one of the many ironies in all of this - but Mark Felt was about - actually had been convicted, could have gone to jail for 10 years, and if this had been disclosed at that time his law enforcement defense would have been in jeopardy. And so, when I weighed that against not telling the truth to my friend, Richard Cohen, I did not tell the truth to Richard Cohen.

GROSS: Yeah, it really is quite an irony with Mark Felt; you know, after helping you uncover the illegal break-in and other connections to the White House and Watergate, it turned out that he later authorized illegal break-ins of members of the Weather Underground, you know, without warrants. So, yeah, talk about irony.

Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. And not only - he was doing it at the same time. Now his...

GROSS: Oh, it was that at the same time? OK.

Mr. WOODWARD: His argument - yes, while Patrick Gray was the acting FBI director.

GROSS: Don't you wish you could have talked to him about that and said, why did you do that? How could you do that?

Mr. WOODWARD: Yeah, exactly. Well, his argument, which he makes extensively in his book which came out in 1979, is that we were at war with the Weather Underground, who was responsible for the bombings in the Pentagon and so forth.

GROSS: He meant like a civil war?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, I mean, almost. I mean, it is a kind of - he actually says we were at war and that there was this violent group, and in order to stop them from doing something really gigantic, we needed to find out who these people are and - well, they knew who some of them were - where they are. And so he authorized these break-ins into the homes of relatives, hoping there'd be a phone number or a letter or a note. As I say in the book, you know, that concept of national security is frightening to me, but that's what he felt at that time and acted on it, and it turned out in the atmosphere, which he as much as anyone had helped create, of investigating any wrongdoing by any particular lead - some organization like the FBI or the CIA. He lit the fuse that eventually came to - it led to his indictment.

GROSS: Did you ever think that the Deep Throat story would be revealed in the way that it was by another publication?

Mr. WOODWARD: No, I did not. And I hoped it would not, but I think it was the Wall Street Journal editorial page after Vanity Fair disclosed Mark Felt's identity, they said congratulations to the Washington Post on being scooped, because the point is, for us, we will not reveal confidential sources. And I had visited Felt five years ago in California at his home and interviewed him extensively and he has - his memory is essentially gone. So, I - and I consulted a lawyer, consulted with Ben Bradlee about, can I get him to release me from this agreement of confidentiality? And the feeling was there was no way he was competent to do that. So, I had to maintain my silence, and the family did what they did about five or six weeks ago.

GROSS: It's really - this is an irony that you're protecting the identity of a person after he told his own family and the family wants to reveal it. So, it must have felt like you were doing the right thing, but at the same time, did you feel like the family revealing the identity was qualitatively different than, say, a columnist who wanted the scoop revealing the identity? The person who actually, we know, is credited with writing the article for Vanity Fair is the family's lawyer.

Mr. WOODWARD: John O'Connor, that's right.

GROSS: Yeah. So, I mean, he just kind of - he did this, like, on behalf of the family.

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, he did. But the standard my lawyer, Bob Burnett, created for me a number of years ago on this is that you have to - that the source had to competently and voluntarily and completely release me. And after I interviewed Felt, you couldn't even at least get me in the room in terms of saying, this is a person who can make a decision like this. At the same time, he lives with his daughter, Joan Felt, who cares about him immensely, is taking care of him. You know, we all should be that lucky to have somebody take care of us if we get in that condition, and by the family lawyer, and so, how can you say they did the wrong thing? I would not set any judgment on them, and Mark Felt seems to be quite happy about it. So, there is no downside at the moment.

GROSS: Was that a happy ending for you, then, that, you know, the word is out, he is still alive, you know?


GROSS: And he's happy about it. So, it means you don't have to go to your grave thinking that he took to his grave anger about what you did.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes, that's right. And I described at length my visit with him and my sense because he, as his daughter says, he remembers two people from his Washington past anyway: J. Edgar Hoover, who was the FBI director, and me, Woodward. And he doesn't remember any of the details about anything, but he did say to me - he said, you and Carl Bernstein did the right thing. I think he has an overarching view of what occurred. I think he's got no - I know he has no memory of, you know, the secret signals we used or what he told me, and he even said he didn't recall why Nixon had to resign.

BIANCULLI: Bob Woodward, speaking to Terry Gross in 2005. We'll continue their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli and this is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is Fresh Air. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross. W. Mark Felt Sr., the former FBI associate director who was the top-secret source known as Deep Throat during the Watergate years, died in his sleep yesterday at age 95. To mark his passing, we're listening back to an interview Terry conducted in 2005 with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, back when he first publicly confirmed the identity of Deep Throat.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, July 7, 2005)

GROSS: Your book was more or less written a few years ago. You were waiting for Mark Felt's death. I don't mean to put that in a ghoulish way, but you would not publish the book until his death. At least, that was the plan. So, the manuscript was written. But after he was outed by his family with his own consent, you decided to publish the book. Where had you hidden the book all this time?

Mr. WOODWARD: Where?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WOODWARD: I wrote it on a computer not connected to the Internet. And I wrote it three years ago. My wife, Elsa Walsh, read it. Ben Bradlee read it and made some comments. My wife, Elsa, posed and, I think quite wisely, said, maybe this is just a secret that should never be told, and if - when Mark Felt dies, you shouldn't say anything, and the books should not be published, or at least, you know, maybe until I'm gone or something like that.

GROSS: Getting back to how you kept your manuscript a secret, it was on a computer. The computer wasn't connected to the Internet. Was your office door locked? I mean, were you afraid...


GROSS: You'd have a party guest who would figure out you might have something on your computer and go hunting?

Mr. WOODWARD: I've had a locked office at home for, wow, for almost 30 years, and my wife and daughter don't like it, and I just say, you know, those are the rules I've got to play by.

GROSS: So, it is locked even to your family.


GROSS: You were probably following what some of the conservative press was saying about the revelation of Mark Felt's identity as Deep Throat, and there was an article by Ben Stein. And he said, Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POWs, ended the war in the Mideast, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Eretz Israel's life, started the Environmental Protection Administration. Does anyone remember what he did that was so bad? Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable.

And then he basically says that by getting him impeached, you, Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and Mark Felt made the Cambodian genocide possible. He writes, you, Felt and Bradlee, out of their smug arrogance and contempt, they hatched the worst nightmare imaginable, genocide. I hope they're happy now. And then Pat Buchanan and Russ Limbaugh also hold you responsible for the fall of Vietnam.


GROSS: What's your reaction to that?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, first of all, the real conservatives, the people who believe in the rule of law, hold a never-ending outrage at what Nixon did, and we can remember what Nixon did. He was a criminal president. Go listen to the Nixon tapes, and you know, you got me started on this, and I'm going to go through and rebut with the record that on the tapes Nixon regularly orders lying to law enforcement, to the grand jury, to use the FBI, the IRS, to screw, as he puts it so eloquently - or he has another version of that verb - any of his opponents.

Not only is this criminal and abusive - and that is the basic foundation of our government. It is a government that is answerable, and Nixon became unanswerable. He became a power unto himself, wiretap, break-in. He had the Secret Service wiretap the telephone of his renegade brother. The list of things that went on that are horrifying doesn't stop.

But then, you go to the tapes, and you listen to the tapes, and I've listened to a number of them and read transcripts of them. The real nightmare is the dog that doesn't bark on the Nixon tapes. No one says, including Nixon or his innermost aides, what would be right? What would be good? What would be - what does the country need? What is the high purpose of the presidency that we are - you know, we're here to do good. It's always about Nixon. And so in the end, it's about the smallness of this man. I'm sorry to get so wound up there.

GROSS: No, no, no, no, no.

Mr. WOODWARD: But the idea that somehow, by reporting and establishing the illegality of what Nixon did, that somehow because - that caused the fall of Vietnam. I mean, Vietnam was heading off the cliff long before. And the idea that somehow what happened in Cambodia is attributable to this - I mean, others columnists - conservative columnists have written, well, Nixon was a serious president. He was somebody, and this is the tire iron around his neck, which he will never get out of. Those tapes just tell this story of somebody who just didn't belong in the presidency. And to try to bring to the public information about that, we weren't - I'm still not a crusader about it, quite frankly, but that's the job. And for people to somehow say, oh, this is not going be remembered, don't understand the record.

GROSS: If I'm remembering correctly, after the Vanity Fair - well, before the Vanity Fair piece came out, but after everybody knew that it was going come out, Ben Bradlee was on one of the cable talk shows and he said that for years he - all he knew was that - about Deep Throat was that you told them he was a highly placed person in, I guess, in intelligence or the Justice Department - I forgot the way you...

Mr. WOODWARD: Justice Department.

GROSS: Yeah. But he didn't know his name. When you did you tell him his name?

Mr. WOODWARD: I told him his name after Nixon resigned. Ben took me out on a park bench in McPherson Square, couple of blocks from the Post and sat down and said, I need to know who this is. I think he had some indication there might be some attack on us even after Nixon resigned, and so I told him and gave him the name, rank and serial number. And Ben has said, and I think quite rightly, he would never let the identity of a critical source go undisclosed to him as editor for that long. And I think in the environment we're in now, he would call a reporter and close the door and grill him or her, and rightly so. And I have always believed that editors - one editor should know who confidential sources are, and I tell one editor at the Post, Len Downie, always voluntarily. I say, you need to know this, and he takes the information in, and he's as tightlipped as anyone. He doesn't tell anybody else, but the top guy needs to know.

GROSS: Looking back on the whole Watergate story, is there anything that you wish you had done differently?

Mr. WOODWARD: Sure. We should have figured it out sooner. We should have worked harder. We should have put the pieces together. But the - as I look back on it and reflect back on it, the real issue was, are we going to have secret government in this country or not? And that's where we were headed with Vietnam and Watergate, a level of secrecy and fear and surveillance unheard of outside of the constitutional and legal system we have. What reporters are working when we work in these areas, about particularly the federal government or local police force, we're saying, no - no secret government. The first - or one of the barriers to that is a press that can operate freely and people in government or business or at NPR or wherever who can go and talk to somebody and say, this is the truth.

GROSS: For over 30 years, you've carried a secret. You're not carrying it anymore. Does life feel any different not having to hold on to that secret any longer?

Mr. WOODWARD: I've grown accustomed to holding on to it, so it doesn't feel any different, and I hope there's some lesson here, and I'm repeating myself for the eighth time about the importance of having Mark Felt's, Deep Throat's, confidential services, whatever you want to call him, in deep - in the reaches of our most secret institutions who will explain and answer and, if necessary, blow the whistle.

GROSS: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. WOODWARD: Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Bob Woodward, speaking to Terry Gross in 2005. The man known as Deep Throat, former FBI associate director W. Mark Felt Sr., died yesterday at age 95.

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