The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat
New York, Simon and Schuster
The story is one we kind of know; the corruption of the Nixon White House, the burglary of the Watergate Hotel, the middle of the night meetings in the parking garage (and the iconic image of Hal Holbrook saying “follow the money”1), and the eventual collapse of the Nixon administration and the first appointment of an unelected person to the presidency (Gerald Ford—appointed to the Vice-Presidency and, upon Nixon's resignation, ascended to the Presidency). But the story has become simplified over the years. At the time it was practically indecipherable due to its complexity. What did Agnew's personal acceptance of a bribe have to do with the burglary at the Watergate? Who was Segretti and what connections were there to the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office? And who really shot Kennedy?
The deep-seated culture of corruption in the Republican Party, and the inter-generational nature of the culture—from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in the Nixon administration, and from Johnson to Nixon to Ford, Reagan, Bush and the Shrub, the main players have often remained the same while the ancillary figures have been numerous. The sheer number of players and the overwhelming number of activities they've undertaken (from Howard Hunt fabricating documents implicating Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem to the falsifying of intelligence reports and planting of false stories in the press during the run-up to the second invasion of Iraq) have left even the most dedicated of observers battered and overwhelmed. And with the dedication of the Amerikan ruling class to cover stories, deniability, false news and flat-out Goebbelian “Big Lies” since the run up to WW I2, truth has become a forgotten concept for at least the last seventy years.
This book doesn't get us that much closer to the essential nature of the Amerikan ruling class. Part memoir, part newspaper obituary biography, part meditation on the value of protecting sources, Bob Woodward fills in only the barest outlines of just who Mark Felt/Deep Throat was and what he meant. Woodward particularly explores his own conflicts on the outing of Felt as Deep Throat: his refusal to name Deep Throat for thirty years has meant a great deal to him professionally. Woodward recounts many times where his protection of Felt has meant that members of subsequent administrations were willing to talk to him because they were confident that he would never out them. But for the most part the book seems to be Woodward wandering through his life, re-examining an early triumph from the vantage point of middle age, and wondering what it all means.
This is not to say that there aren’t some interesting passages in the book. Woodward is too much the professional newspaperman to write crap. The Secret Man is very readable, re-visits a very important period in American history, re-awakens us too much of the systemic corruption of the American political system, and fills in some of the background on just who the real person behind Deep Throat was. Not worth buying, but definitely worth borrowing (and my copy is now up for grabs....).
1It must be iconic: after all, it was used on the X-Files and parodied on The Simpson’s.
2Yes, WW I. Walter Lippmann pioneered the idea of “manufacturing consent” and Woodrow Wilson used the ideas to convert the American public from essentially pacifist to rabidly pro-war in less than a year during the run-up to American involvement.