Since I spent a good couple of months in 2002 editing John Dean’s e-book “Unmasking Deep Throat,” I had my own interest in today’s news unveiling former FBI honcho Mark Felt as the original deep-background source for Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate reporting. But if this outcome felt anti-climactic, it’s not just because the conclusions Dean so painstakingly reached — among other things, that Deep Throat was almost certainly an attorney, and that he couldn’t have been at the FBI — were simply wrong (to be fair, it appears that the bobbing and weaving Woodward and Bernstein have done through the years. and Felt’s own vehement disavowals, left a somewhat deceptive trail for the attentive sleuth). And it’s not just because Felt has been the “most likely suspect” for over a decade now.
It’s really because it marks the end of the mystery at the heart of the investigative-reporting act that inspired my generation of journalists. I was 15 years old in 1974; I listened to the Watergate hearings in the car radio every morning as I rode with my dad on the way to my summer job. I chose to become a journalist at perhaps the one moment in American history at which the public’s trust in reporters was higher than its faith in political leaders. The naming of Deep Throat represents the final coda to this old story — and reminds us of how much things have changed.
Meanwhile, the current generation of executive malfeasance awaits its comeuppance. Which public servant will step forward, in shadows, pseudonymously or not, to blow a loud whistle on this decade’s lies? Or has the Deep Throat of the George Bush White House already fed his tips — say, to Seymour Hersh — but we’re simply too fatalistically inured to the “disassembling” of our leaders to do anything about it?