Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Jason Pontin

A View from Jason Pontin

In Defense of Deep Throat

The emerging conventional wisdom amongst the commentariat is a stern-toned shock that Deep Throat’s motives were unheroic. These, it seems, are the facts: Mark Felt (pictured, looking extremely groovy), the Assistant Director of the FBI in the early 1970s,…

  • June 1, 2005

The emerging conventional wisdom amongst the commentariat is a stern-toned shock that Deep Throat’s motives were unheroic. These, it seems, are the facts: Mark Felt (pictured, looking extremely groovy), the Assistant Director of the FBI in the early 1970s, was annoyed when Richard Nixon passed him over for Director when J. Edgar Hoover died; he detested Nixon personally; and he worried (correctly) that the President would politicize the Bureau. Timothy Noah is fairly typical of the CW, writing on Slate:

“Hoover loyalists at the bureau were frantic that President Richard Nixon would get his mitts on the FBI, which Hoover had kept independent of political control through a variety of nasty methods, including blackmail.”

On The News Hour, David Gergen, a political operative to multiple presidents, intoned in a low, lugubrious monotone:

“I just would caution that this was very much a cloak and dagger era in our political history, in which there were a lot of rough things going on, not only in the White House, as they were, but they were going on elsewhere in Washington and other agencies including J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.”

As so often, only Andrew Sullivan gets it about right.

To me, it is slightly ridiculous that any seasoned political commentator would be surprised that Felt’s motives in guiding Woodward and Berstein combined the high and the low. How could they not? Of course any source sufficiently senior to know the secrets behind Watergate would be playing his own political game. All good reporters know that their sources are up to no good, just as every good intelligence officer knows that even his bravest agents are vindictive traitors. What human act in this sublunary world does not mix avowable and shameful motives?

Acts must be judged by their consequences. Deep Throat’s leaks exposed the criminality of an arrogant administration, led to the imprisonment of some forty political crooks, and they prompted the resignation of a president whom John Updike once described as “a man of almost comically bad character.” You could add: Deep Throat exploded forever our misplaced trust in our political masters. Really, that’s good enough for me.

Technorati tags:

Be the leader your company needs. Implement ethical AI.
Join us at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.