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Profile: Ben Bradlee

Ben Bradlee was a participant or observer in the following events:

Book cover of the Pentagon Papers.Book cover of the Pentagon Papers. [Source: Daniel Ellsberg]The New York Times receives a huge amount of secret Defense Department documents and memos that document the covert military and intelligence operations waged by previous administrations in Vietnam (see January 15, 1969). The documents are leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department official who worked in counterintelligence and later for the RAND Corporation while remaining an active consultant to the government on Vietnam. Ellsberg, a former aide to Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and a member of the task force that produced the Defense Department documents, has, over his tenure as a senior government official, become increasingly disillusioned with the actions of the US in Vietnam. [Herda, 1994] The documents are given to Times reporter Neil Sheehan by Ellsberg (see May 1969). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 313]
Ellsberg Tried to Interest Senators - After he and his friend Anthony Russo had copied the documents (see September 29, 1969), Ellsberg had spent months attempting to persuade several antiwar senators, including William Fulbright (D-AR), Charles Mathias Jr (R-MD), George McGovern (D-SD), and Paul “Pete” McCloskey (R-CA), to enter the study into the public record, all to no avail. But McGovern suggested that Ellsberg provide copies of the documents either to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Ellsberg knew Sheehan in Vietnam, and decided that the Times reporter was his best chance for making the documents public. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 333; Moran, 2007] Ellsberg originally gave copies of the documents—later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers”—to Phil Geyelin of the Washington Post, but the Post’s Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee decided not to publish any of the documents. Ellsberg then gave a copy to Sheehan.
Documents Prove White House Deceptions - The documents include information that showed former President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a secret commitment to help the French defeat the insurgents in Vietnam. They also show that Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, had used a secret “provocation strategy” to escalate the US’s presence into a full-blown war that eventually led to the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident. The documents also show that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, had planned from the outset of his presidency to expand the war [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] , and show how Johnson secretly paved the way for combat troops to be sent to Vietnam, how he had refused to consult Congress before committing both ground and air forces to war, and how he had secretly, and illegally, shifted government funds from other areas to fund the war. Finally, the documents prove that all three presidents had broken Constitutional law in bypassing Congress and sending troops to wage war in Vietnam on their own authority. [Herda, 1994]
Times Publishes Against Legal Advice - The Times will begin publishing them in mid-June 1971 (see June 13, 1971) after putting Sheehan and several other reporters up in the New York Hilton to sift through the mountain of photocopies and the senior editors, publishers, and lawyers argued whether or not to publish such a highly classified set of documents. The management will decide, against the advice of its lawyers, to publish articles based on the documents as well as excerpts from the documents themselves. [Moran, 2007]

Entity Tags: Paul McCloskey, Washington Post, Phil Geyelin, RAND Corporation, New York Times, Johnson administration, Kennedy administration, Charles Mathias, Jr, Ben Bradlee, Anthony Russo, Neil Sheehan, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry A. Kissinger, George S. McGovern, Katharine Graham, J. William Fulbright, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein manages to land a meeting with a low-level employee of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP); like the other employees he and his colleague Bob Woodward have interviewed, she is frightened (see August, 1972), but more willing to speak out.
Meeting - The employee insists that they meet for lunch in a public restaurant frequented by CREEP personnel, so that she will not seem as if she is meeting clandestinely with a reporter. Bernstein asks if she is not being overdramatic, and she responds: “I wish I was. They know everything at the committee. They know that the indictments (see September 15, 1972) will be down in a week and that there will be only seven. Once, another person went back to the [district attorney] because the FBI didn’t ask her the right questions. That night her boss knew about it. I always had one institution I believed in—the FBI. No more.”
Does Not Think Story Will Come Out - She also went back to the DA, she says, but has no faith that the story will ever come to light. “It’ll never come out, the whole truth. You’ll never get the truth. You can’t get it by reporters just talking to the good people. They know you’ve been out talking to people at night. Somebody from the press office came up to our office today and said, ‘I sure wish I knew who in this committee had a link to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.’ The FBI never even asked me if I was at the committee over the weekend of the break-in. I was there almost the whole time. [Robert] Odle [CREEP’s personnel director] didn’t tell them everything he knew. He kept removing records. I don’t know if he destroyed them or not. He would tell everybody to get out of the room and then close the door. Then he’d leave with the records.… The whole thing is being very well covered up and nobody will ever know what happened.”
Names Named - As Bernstein walks her back to her office—again, to avoid the appearance of trying to hide her contact with the press—she adds: “Okay, I’ll tell you, but it won’t do any good. And don’t ever call me, or come to see me or ask any questions about how I know. LaRue, Porter, and Magruder. They all knew about the bugging, or at least lied to the grand jury about what they know. And Mitchell. But Mitchell is mostly speculation. Take my word on the other three. I know.” Frederick LaRue, Bart Porter, Jeb Magruder, and John Mitchell are all former White House officials who moved over to work for CREEP.
Discovered - Later that afternoon, Bernstein receives a phone call from the woman, who is near hysteria. “I’m in a phone booth,” she says. “When I got back from lunch, I got called into somebody’s office and confronted with the fact that I had been seen talking to a Post reporter. They wanted to know everything. It was high up; that’s all you have to know. I told you they were following me. Please don’t call me again or some to see me.” That evening, Bernstein and Woodward go to her apartment; she refuses to open the door. Shortly thereafter, CREEP director Clark MacGregor calls Post executive editor Ben Bradlee to complain that Bernstein and Woodward have been harassing his employees. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 60-62]

Entity Tags: Frederick LaRue, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Clark MacGregor, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeb S. Magruder, Robert C. Odle, Jr, Herbert L. Porter, Committee to Re-elect the President, John Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage.Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage. [Source: Southern Methodist University]The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell, the former attorney general and former head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), personally controlled a secret Republican “slush fund” used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democratic Party (see Early 1970). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Mitchell had authorized expenditures from the fund beginning in the spring of 1971, while he was attorney general. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 98-103] The fund was originally conceived by White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, who in 1972 came up with what he called “Operation Gemstone,” a $1 million plan to carry out a series of covert and often illegal actions against President Nixon’s political enemies (see January 29, 1972). Mitchell scaled back the budget to $250,000 (at first) to launch a scaled-down version of Gemstone. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Mitchell personally approved a number of withdrawals from the fund, which swelled in size from around $350,000 to $700,000 at any given time. Four others besides Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund. One is Maurice Stans, the former commerce secretary who is now finance chairman of CREEP; the fund was kept in a safe in Stans’s office. A second is Jeb Magruder, the former manager of CREEP who is now deputy director of the organization. A third is a senior White House official involved in the campaign, and the other is a campaign aide based outside of Washington. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972] (Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are all but convinced that the “senior White House official” is H. R. Haldeman, but they cannot get anyone to go on record to confirm their assumption, and therefore do not print Haldeman’s name in the story.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 100]
Mitchell's Explosive Reaction - Mitchell is outraged by the allegations. When Bernstein calls to confirm the story, he explodes: “Jesus!… All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham [Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post] is gonna get caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I’ve ever heard.” (The actual quote, which Post executive editor Ben Bradlee cleans up for public consumption, is, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her t_t caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”) [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105; Woodward, 2005, pp. 72] Mitchell continues: “You fellows got a great ball game going. As soon as you’re through paying Williams [Edward Bennett Williams, whose law firm represents the Democratic Party, as well as the Post], we’re going to do a story on all of you.” When Bradlee hears of Mitchell’s reaction, he asks if Mitchell was drunk. When Bernstein replies that he doesn’t believe so, and Bradlee confirms that Bernstein properly identified himself as a reporter, Bradlee tells Bernstein to print Mitchell’s reaction. CREEP spokesman Powell Moore tries to persuade Bradlee not to run the Mitchell quote, saying that it wasn’t fair to run the quote because Bernstein woke Mitchell up, and therefore Mitchell’s “composure [was] not guarded.” Bradlee refuses to delete the quote. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105-108]
CREEP Denials - Moore later states that neither Mitchell or Stans knows anything about “any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.” One of the planners of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), G. Gordon Liddy, withdrew well over $50,000 from the fund. Although records of the fund’s disbursements have been destroyed, other sources indicate that some of the other recipients of the fund include Magruder; Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, CREEP’s scheduling director; several White House officials; and other unidentified persons not officially part of either CREEP or the Nixon administration. Magruder denies ever receiving any such funds. The General Accounting Office has said that such a fund is a “possible and apparent” violation of a new, stricter campaign finance disclosure law. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972]

Entity Tags: Edward Bennett Williams, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, Powell Moore, General Accounting Office, Katharine Graham, H.R. Haldeman, Herbert L. Porter, Maurice Stans, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Ron Ziegler.Ron Ziegler. [Source: San Diego Union Tribune]The White House, the Nixon re-election campaign, and Republican supporters begin publicly attacking the Washington Post over its Watergate coverage.
'Character Assassination' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler says, when asked about the Watergate conspiracy: “I will not dignify with comment stories based on hearsay, character assassination, innuendo or guilt by association.… The president is concerned about the technique being applied by the opposition in the stories themselves.… The opposition has been making charges which have not been substantiated.” Ziegler later calls the Post reports “a blatant effort at character assassination that I do not think has been witnessed in the political process in some time.”
'Political Garbage' - The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) attacks what he calls “political garbage” printed about Watergate: “The Washington Post is conducting itself by journalistic standards that would cause mass resignations on principle from the Quicksilver Times, a local underground newspaper,” and accuses the Post of essentially working for the Democrats. (Six months after his attacks, Dole will say that the credibility of the Nixon administration is “zilch, zero.” Years later, Dole will apologize to Post reporter Bob Woodward for his comments.)
CREEP Accusations - Clark MacGregor, the chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), holds a press conference to say, “The Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate—a charge the Post knows—and a half dozen investigations have found—to be false.” (MacGregor fields angry questions from the gathered reporters, some of whom bluntly challenge his credibility and his truthfulness, with stoicism, refusing to answer any of them, and instead sticking with his prepared statement.) MacGregor demands to know why the Post hasn’t investigated apparent campaign “dirty tricks” carried out against the Nixon campaign. Like Dole, MacGregor accuses the Post of collaborating with the Democrats, and even charges that Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern encouraged former defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the press (see March 1971).
Post Thinks Campaign Orchestrated by White House - Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, examining the statements by Ziegler, Dole, and MacGregor, is certain that the entire attack was orchestrated by the White House and perhaps by President Nixon himself. Bradlee issues a statement saying that everything the Post has reported on Watergate is factual and “unchallenged by contrary evidence.” He tells reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that “this is the hardest hardball that has ever been played in this town,” and warns them to keep out of any compromising situations that could be used by the White House to challenge their credibility. After Nixon’s landslide presidential victory (see November 7, 1972), the attacks continue. Senior White House aide Charles Colson says, “The charge of subverting the whole political process, that is a fantasy, a work of fiction rivaling only Gone With the Wind in circulation and Portnoy’s Complaint for indecency.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 161-166; Woodward, 2005, pp. 83-84]

Entity Tags: Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Washington Post, Richard M. Nixon, Ron Ziegler, Republican National Committee, George S. McGovern, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Nixon administration, Carl Bernstein, Clark MacGregor, Daniel Ellsberg, Committee to Re-elect the President, Charles Colson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

H. R. Haldeman.H. R. Haldeman. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward runs into difficulty with his FBI source, W. Mark Felt, the infamous “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Woodward wants information connecting Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, to the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970), but Felt, apparently afraid of crossing Haldeman (see October 19, 1972), refuses to provide anything specific.
Origin of Error - Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, attempt to secure confirmation of Haldeman’s role in Watergate through the treasurer of the Nixon campaign’s secret fund (see September 29, 1972), Hugh Sloan. The reporters misinterpret Sloan’s cautious statements as indirect confirmation that Sloan had testified to the FBI of Haldeman’s involvement. Additionally, they misinterpret guarded “confirmations” from two other sources. On October 25, the Post publishes a story about Sloan’s supposed assertions.
'All Hell Broke Lose' - Sloan’s attorney denies that his client ever made such an assertion in his testimony (Sloan will later confirm that Haldeman was indeed in charge of the secret fund, but he never testified to that fact). As Woodward later writes, “All hell broke loose.” Woodward and his partner Carl Bernstein, both clearly upset, offer to resign from the Post, an offer that is refused. The White House celebrates the error, calling into question every story Bernstein and Woodward wrote for the Post; Republican supporters such as Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) join in. Post executive editor Ben Bradlee—who stands by the story—will later say that the erroneous story is his personal low point in the history of the entire Watergate coverage.
Repercussions - Felt is furious with Woodward for the erroneous story. They may have lost Haldeman, Felt says, and worse, have spooked other sources that might otherwise have come forward. “You’ve got people feeling sorry for Haldeman. I didn’t think that was possible.… You put the investigation back months. It puts everyone on the defensive—editors, FBI agents, everybody has to go into a crouch after this.” The reporters write another story admitting the error about Sloan’s testimony, but saying that Haldeman did indeed control the secret campaign fund. Woodward even quotes Felt, identifying him as “one source,” an unprecedented breach of the procedures they have established in using Felt as a “deep background” source. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 173-196; Woodward, 2005, pp. 88-92]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Washington Post, Hugh Sloan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ben Bradlee, H.R. Haldeman, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, Carl Bernstein, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After learning that the White House will soon make a dramatic Watergate admission, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets clandestinely with his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). Felt drops a bombshell. “You’d better hang on for this,” he says. “Dean and Haldeman are out—for sure” (see April 30, 1973). John Dean is President Nixon’s White House counsel and one of the key figures in the Watergate conspiracy. H. R. Haldeman is Nixon’s chief of staff and closest confidante. “Out. They’ll resign. There’s no way the president can avoid it.” Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein inform Post editor Ben Bradlee of Felt’s revelation (avoiding any identification of Felt). Bradlee is reluctant to print such an explosive story based on one “deep background” source, no matter how reliable. The story does not go to print. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81] Felt’s story is accurate as far as it goes. The day before, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst had informed President Nixon that Dean and former campaign deputy Jeb Magruder testified, and that they named Haldeman, White House aide John Ehrlichman, and former campaign chief John Mitchell as co-conspirators. Dean went even further, demanding complete immunity and threatening to implicate Nixon if he was not given legal protection. Kleindienst says he will have to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation because of his close relationship with Mitchell (see April 19, 1973), but deputy attorney general Henry Peterson will keep Nixon informed of any and all events that transpire. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 586-587] It is not clear if Felt knew that Mitchell and Ehrlichman had also been implicated; in any event, he does not inform Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Kleindienst, Nixon administration, John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Carl Bernstein, Henry Peterson, Bob Woodward, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Ben Bradlee, Jeb S. Magruder

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon formally asks for and receives the resignations of two of his most senior advisers, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 16-17, 1973 and April 24, 1973), along with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In addition, he fires White House counsel John Dean, who has begun cooperating with Watergate investigators (see April 6-20, 1973).
Replacements - Kleindienst is replaced by Defense Secretary Elliot Richardson, whom Nixon tasks with the responsibility for “uncovering the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal. Richardson will be given “absolute authority” in handling the Watergate investigation, including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government’s case (see April 30, 1973). Dean is replaced temporarily by Nixon’s personal lawyer Leonard Garment.
Additional Resignation - Also, Gordon Strachan, the general counsel to the United States Information Agency (USIA), resigns. Strachan is a former aide to Haldeman, and, according to a USIA statement, resigned “after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations.”
Lawmakers' Comments - Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) says of the resignations: “[A] lack of grace in power has led to a fall from grace. This rotten vine of Watergate has produced poisonous fruit, and all nourished by it should be cast out of the Garden of Eden.” House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) says the resignations are “a necessary first step by the White House in clearing the air on the Watergate affair.… I have the greatest confidence in the president and I am absolutely positive he had nothing to with this mess.” Representative John Moss (D-CA) says the House must prepare itself to deal with the possibility of impeachment, but “before we even suggest impeachment, we must have the most uncontroverted evidence.” In their letters of resignation, Haldeman and Ehrlichman promise to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of Watergate. [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]
Reaction at the Washington Post - Knight Newspapers reporter James McCartney later writes an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on the Post’s Watergate coverage, which describes the reaction in the Post offices to the news: “For a split second [executive editor] Ben Bradlee’s mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight.… ‘How do you like them apples?’ he said to the grinning Simons [managing editor Howard Simons]. ‘Not a bad start.’” As reporters and employees begin gathering around, Simons murmurs: “Don’t gloat. We can’t afford to gloat.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 310]

Entity Tags: United States Information Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Washington Post, Richard Kleindienst, Leonard Garment, Ben Bradlee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Gordon Strachan, John Moss, Elliot Richardson, Howard Simons, Hugh Scott, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, James McCartney, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the offices of the Washington Post.Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the offices of the Washington Post. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward writes a memo to his editor, Ben Bradlee, largely based on his meetings with his FBI background source, “Deep Throat” (FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt—see May 31, 2005). The memo is full of material that will soon come out in either Senate testimony or the media, but also contains some information that Woodward cannot sufficiently confirm to allow him to write a news report. One of the most explosive items Woodward writes is the line, “Dean talked with Senator Baker after Watergate committee formed and Baker is in the bag completely, reporting back directly to White House.” If this is true, then according to former White House counsel John Dean, now cooperating with the Senate investigation, then the ranking Republican senator on the committee, Howard Baker (R-TN), is a White House “mole,” providing information directly to the White House about the committee’s deliberations, discussions, and future plans. The memo also reports that President Nixon personally threatened Dean and that another White House aide, Jack Caulfield, threatened Watergate burglar James McCord by saying “your life is no good in this country if you don’t cooperate” with the White House efforts to keep the Watergate conspiracy secret. The list of “covert national and international things” done by the Nixon re-election campaign were begun by campaign chief John Mitchell: “The list is longer than anyone could imagine.” According to Felt, “[t]he covert activities involve the whole US intelligence community and are incredible.” Felt refuses to give Woodward “specifics because it is against the law. The cover-up had little to do with the Watergate, but was mainly to protect the covert operations.” Felt has also told Woodward that Nixon himself is being blackmailed by one of the Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt (see June 20-21, 1972), at a total cost of around $1 million; the blackmail scheme involves just about every Watergate-connected figure in the White House. One reason the White House “cut loose” Mitchell was because Mitchell could not raise his portion of the money. Felt also told Woodward that senior CIA officials, including CIA director Richard Helms and deputy director Vernon Walters, are involved to some extent. Dean has explosive information that he is ready to reveal, but “plumber” G. Gordon Liddy is willing to go to jail or even die before revealing anything. Finally, rumors are running through the White House and the law enforcement and intelligence communities that Nixon is having “fits of ‘dangerous’ depression.” Some of this information will later be confirmed and reported, some of it will remain unconfirmed. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 317-321; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Felt also warns Woodward that he, fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein, and others at the newspaper may be under CIA surveillance and may even be in personal danger. The reporters confirm much of what Felt provided in a discussion with a Dean associate the next day. But both reporters and the Post editors worry that the new information might be part of an elaborate White House scheme to set up the reporters with false, discreditable information. In the following months, information elicted in the Senate committee hearings verifies everything Felt told Woodward, except the warning about being possibly wiretapped by the CIA. That is never verified. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 317-321]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Washington Post, W. Mark Felt, John Mitchell, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Dean, Howard Baker, E. Howard Hunt, Vernon A. Walters, Richard Helms, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 232]
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 146-147] At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 153-156; Washington Post, 6/1/2005] In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 158-159]
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 167-215; Washington Post, 6/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, W. Mark Felt, Vanity Fair, Ronald Reagan, Carl Bernstein, Weather Underground, Winston Lord, Chase Coleman-Beckman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Washington Post, Laurence Lynn, Fred F. Fielding, Hartford Courant, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Mann, J. Edgar Hoover, John D. O’Connor, Joan Felt, Josh Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray, Leonard Garment, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee tells Vanity Fair that he thinks it is likely that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is the person who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to Post reporter Bob Woodward (see November 14, 2005). The magazine quotes Bradlee, now the Post’s vice president at large, as saying, “That Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption.” Bradlee denies making the statement in a Post article, saying: “I don’t think I said it.… I know who his source is, and I don’t want to get into it.… I have not told a soul who it is.” Bradlee says he did not learn the name of the source from Woodward, and Woodward says he never informed Bradlee of his source’s identity: “He is not in the management loop on this. Maybe he was alerted from somebody else, if he in fact did learn” the source’s name. Vanity Fair says the reporter who wrote the article featuring the Bradlee quote, Marie Brenner, is traveling in India and is unavailable for comment. [Washington Post, 3/14/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Bradlee tells a New York Times reporter that Armitage’s identification as Woodward’s source is “an inference that could be drawn.” He tells the Times reporter, “Woodward is not my source for any knowledge I have about the case.” [New York Times, 3/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Vanity Fair, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Marie Brenner, Valerie Plame Wilson, Washington Post, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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