Without the help of W. Mark Felt, one of this nation's great political scandals might have ended quite differently. But despite conflicted loyalties and unknowable pressures, Felt took a stand on behalf of truth, accountability and the law.
Without the help of Mark Felt, one of this nation's great political scandals might have ended quite differently. But despite conflicted loyalties and unknowable pressures, Felt took a stand on behalf of truth, accountability and the law.
Better known to most of America as "Deep Throat" before dying last week at the age of 95, Felt secretly fed key information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that aided them in unraveling the burgeoning scandal stemming from the break-in at the Democratic National Committee's offices at the Watergate complex. His information eventually led them right to the leader of the free world.
To be sure, Felt wasn't the end-all, be-all of that scandal. He was but one source for one newspaper on an overall story that took more than two years to unravel before bringing down President Richard Nixon. And yet, information from this No. 2 at the FBI - who had risen through the ranks and usually toed the company line - was high-level confirmation of the cover-up and the abuses of power that consumed Nixon's administration.
What's more, the existence of "Deep Throat" was always a bit of a reassurance amid all the leaks and whisper campaigns. In a town where secrets don't stay secret for terribly long, people across Washington D.C., had fun guessing the identity, but never got anywhere until Felt voluntarily gave up the secret in 2005. Nobody sold him out and everybody in the know kept their traps shut. That may be the most remarkable element of Watergate.
Admittedly Felt was no angel, as his detractors often pointed out after he unmasked himself. He spent years doing the sometimes questionable bidding of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, but was passed over twice for the top job after Hoover's death. He was also a felon, convicted of authorizing warrantless searches of suspected Weather Underground terrorists and their sympathizers; he was pardoned by Ronald Reagan in 1981. But in this instance he donned the cloak of a whistle-blower and said that the law came first.
That bold stand, even if anonymous, served as an inspiration for people to come forward over the years to try to right wrongs, whatever their politics. Watergate also kicked investigative reporting into high gear and inspired a new generation of young people to get into the news business so they could uncover lies, "follow the money" and find their own "Deep Throat." Until the last few years of retrenchment, it had resulted in greater government transparency - a strengthened Freedom of Information Act and efforts at campaign finance reform, for example.
On the flip side, Watergate was a scandal that certainly helped foster the last 35 years of political cynicism and shake people's trust in government. Along the way it inspired perhaps the most overused suffix in the political lexicon, as the -gate that begat all the other -gates.
Nonetheless, all things considered, Felt's role in bringing down Nixon was a moment of truth for this nation, proof that America was a nation of laws and that no man, no matter his stature, was above them. "This is a man who did his duty to the Constitution," reporter Woodward said upon hearing of Felt's passing.
That's what we should expect from any public servant, and why we acknowledge Felt's life today.
Peoria Journal Star