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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Media Response

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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Washington Post reviewer and history professor William L. O’Neill lambasts the Watergate book Silent Coup (see May 6, 1991). O’Neill writes: “Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974) is represented as a tissue of lies, except when something in it can be made to support Silent Coup’s theories, at which point it becomes an important source.… Most of the ‘new’ material is based upon interviews during which informants seized every opportunity to make themselves look good while contradicting their own past statements, each other, and the known facts. When all else fails the authors fall back upon supposition, innuendo, and guesswork. Their documentation is pathetic.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 11/1991]

Entity Tags: William L. O’Neill

Category Tags: 'Silent Coup'

To promote the book Silent Coup (see May 6, 1991 and May 9, 1991 and After), convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy “calls out” fellow Watergate defendant John Dean on a Cleveland radio show. Liddy dares Dean, the former White House counsel, to file a lawsuit against the book, as Dean has threatened (see May 7, 1991). On the air, Liddy leaves a message on Dean’s home answering machine, saying: “You have promised to sue me and Len Colodny and Bob Gettlin [the authors of the book]. Let’s get this suit started, John. We want to get you on the stand, under oath, yet again (see June 25-29, 1973).… Come on, John, I’m publicly challenging you to make good on your promise to sue.” On the same message, radio host Merle Pollis makes a veiled sexual innuendo about Dean’s wife Maureen, who according to the book, was involved in a prostitution ring: “[T]his new book, however, reveals some things about Maureen that irk me. I didn’t want to think of her in that way, and it makes me very sad, and it also makes me feel, well, never mind.” Before Liddy goes off the air, he gives out Dean’s home phone number to Pollis’s radio audience, resulting in a storm of phone calls that drive Dean to disconnect the phone. Maureen Dean screams aloud when she plays back the message and hears Liddy’s voice. The Deans decide that they will indeed sue Liddy, the authors, and the publisher of the book, “but,” Dean will later write, “on our terms, not theirs.” Dean refuses to respond to Liddy’s baiting, and instead will “spend the next eight months collecting evidence and preparing the case.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiv-xxv]

Entity Tags: Merle Pollis, Robert Gettlin, Leonard Colodny, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, Maureen Dean

Category Tags: 'Silent Coup'

The Columbia Journalism Review gives a decidedly mixed review to the recently published book, Silent Coup, by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin (see May 6, 1991). Reviewer Steve Weinberg notes that the book “mixes superb and shoddy research, sound reasoning with logical inconsistencies, clear writing with incomprehensible passages.” The book lacks verifiable sourcing. Thus, Weinberg notes, the book “cannot be dismissed out of hand, but it cannot stand on its own.” Weinberg details the competing claims for the book:
bullet Some Watergate figures, most notably convicted burglar G. Gordon Liddy, support the book. (Weinberg observes that the book contradicts many of the claims advanced in Liddy’s Watergate biography, Will. Weinberg is apparently unaware that Liddy secretly co-authored the book—see May 9, 1991 and After.) In contrast, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, cited as a shady intelligence asset in the book, calls it “untrue and pathetic.” Woodward’s partner in the Watergate investigations, Carl Bernstein, dismisses the book as a “lunatic” piece of work. Former White House chief of staff Alexander Haig, accused in the book of fomenting the coup that forced Richard Nixon out of the presidency, calls the book “a scandalous fabrication.” Former White House counsel John Dean, named the “mastermind” of the Watergate conspiracy, calls the book “absolute garbage” (see May 6, 1991).
bullet The book was discredited by the Washington Post the day it was published (see May 1991) and again five weeks later (see June 1991). Eminent historian Stephen Ambrose dismissed the book out of hand in a New York Times review. But other, equally reputable reviewers and media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and the more ideologically conservative National Review praised the book. [Columbia Journalism Review, 11/1991] The Post called it one of “the most boring conspiracy books ever written” despite its “wild charges and vilifications,” and the Times observed the book showed “a stunning ignorance of how the government under Mr. Nixon operated.” Samuel Dash, the chief counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, called the book “a fraud… contradicted by everything on the White House tapes and by the evidence.” [Washington Post, 7/23/1997]

Entity Tags: Stephen Ambrose, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Steve Weinberg, Samuel Dash, Robert Gettlin, Columbia Journalism Review, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Carl Bernstein, Leonard Colodny, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, Bob Woodward

Category Tags: 'Silent Coup'

Spiro T. Agnew, the Republican vice president who resigned his office after pleading no contest to tax evasion charges (see October 10, 1973), dies of leukemia in his home state of Maryland. Former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan recalls Agnew’s “raw political courage” for serving as “the voice of the silent majority” during the Nixon administration, and says: “Of all those caught up—on both sides—in the American tragedy of 1973-1974 [Watergate], Spiro Agnew was one of the good guys.… At a time when the establishment was craven in pandering to rioters and demonstrators, Spiro Agnew told the truth.” Buchanan helped write some of Agnew’s most inflammatory speeches (see 1969-1971). Other Republicans also laud Agnew, even though for twenty years Agnew has had virtually no contact with any of his former Republican confrerees. “Spiro Agnew earned the support of millions of his countrymen because he was never afraid to speak out and stand up for America,” says Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), the Republican candidate for president. “He minced no words when patriotism and military service were ridiculed.” And former President George H.W. Bush says of Agnew: “He was a friend. I loved his family.” Former Democratic senator and World War II veteran George McGovern, whose courage and patriotism was harshly attacked by Agnew during the 1972 presidential campaign, says, “Some of the things he said during his lifetime were extreme and regrettable, but nonetheless I mourn his passing.” Former Nixon speechwriter Vic Gold is perhaps the most rhapsodic, saying of Agnew, “He was the John the Baptist of the Reagan revolution.” [New York Times, 9/19/1996; Knight Ridder, 9/19/1996] Reporter Sandy Grady is less forgiving. “Agnew was a small-time pol who became the most blatant crook to sit one heartbeat away from the presidency,” he writes. “He was a demagogue ranting ghost-written bile that split Americans amid the war and fires of the ‘60s. But political peers, sensing in Agnew’s tumble their own fragility, always treated Spiro as gently as a museum vase.” [Knight Ridder, 9/19/1996] Historian Allan Lichtman observes, “He will always stand as one of the symbols of the corruption that undermined the Nixon administration.” Fellow historian Joan Huff, author of a biography of Nixon, dismisses Agnew as “a tiny blip in history.” [Greensboro News & Record, 9/19/1996]

Entity Tags: Joan Huff, George S. McGovern, Victor (“Vic”) Gold, Allan Lichtman, Spiro T. Agnew, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Sandy Grady

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford Relations with Media, Vice President Spiro Agnew

G. Gordon Liddy discussing the lawsuit from Ida Maxine Wells.G. Gordon Liddy discussing the lawsuit from Ida Maxine Wells. [Source: Associated Press]Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) secretary Ida Maxine Wells, whose DNC office was burglarized as part of the Watergate conspiracy (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), sues convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy for defamation of character. “It’s definitely deja vu,” says Wells, who is now the dean of liberal arts at a Louisiana community college. Wells is suing Liddy, now a conservative talk radio host, over comments he made in speeches in 1996 and 1997. Liddy told his audiences that Watergate was really about a ring of prostitutes being run out of the Watergate offices of the DNC. (Liddy was behind a widely discredited 1991 book, Silent Coup, that made similar charges—see May 6, 1991.) Liddy said that Wells kept pictures of a dozen scantily-clad prostitutes in her desk drawer, presumably to display to potential clients. Wells has filed the suit before; a judge threw it out, but an appeals court reinstated it. The first time the suit went to trial, it resulted in a hung jury. A circuit court has allowed Wells to refile the case. Liddy’s lawyers are using a First Amendment freedom of speech defense. If Wells wins, Liddy says, “people will not be able to talk about this theory anymore. And it’s a theory that makes sense to a lot of people.” No one should be prevented from “speaking out about history, particularly when he’s repeating the published literature.” Liddy’s attorneys are advancing Liddy’s claim that the burglary was an attempt to “get sexual dirt to use against the Democrats.” One piece of evidence they show jurors is a documentary about Watergate that originally aired on the A&E network that claims no motive for the burglary has ever been confirmed. The documentary includes an interview with one of the Washington, DC police officers who arrested Liddy, Carl Shoffler, who says in the interview that he found a key to Wells’s desk in the pocket of one of the burglars. “We wouldn’t be sitting around again with all the puzzling and all the mysteries had we taken the time to find out what that key was about,” Shoffler said. Shoffler has since died. [Associated Press, 1/1/2001; Washington Post, 6/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Democratic National Committee, Carl Shoffler, Ida Maxine Wells, G. Gordon Liddy

Category Tags: 'Silent Coup', Watergate Burglary

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

Category Tags: 'Deep Throat'

Former FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, who resigned under fire during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973), appears on ABC’s This Week to respond to the recent revelation that his then-deputy, W. Mark Felt, was the notorious informant “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Thirty years before, Felt had lied to Gray when asked if he had leaked information to the press (see October 19, 1972). Gray, whose health is in serious decline, airs decades’ worth of pent-up grievances against both Felt and the Nixon administration, which he says left him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s words—see Late March, 1973) after he admitted giving information about the Watergate investigation to White House staffers (see June 28, 1972 and July 21, 1972). He felt “anger, anger of the fiercest sort” after hearing Ehrlichman’s words, and adds, “I could not believe that those guys were as rotten as they were turning out to be.” He was justified in burning key White House documents instead of turning them over to the FBI (see Late December 1972), he says, because the documents were unrelated to the Watergate investigation. Learning that Felt, his trusted deputy, was “Deep Throat” was, Gray says, “like [being] hit with a tremendous sledgehammer.” Gray says that if he could, he would ask Felt: “Mark, why? Why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t we work it out together?” Gray says he now realizes that he could not stop the FBI from leaking information to the press because Felt was in charge of stopping the leaks. “I think he fooled me… by being the perfect example of the FBI agent that he was.… He did his job well, he did it thoroughly, and I trusted him all along, and I was, I can’t begin to tell you how deep was my shock and my grief when I found that it was Mark Felt.” Two weeks after the interview, Gray will die of cancer. [New York Times, 6/26/2005; Roberts, 2008, pp. 151] After Gray’s death, his son Ed Gray will call his father “the only wholly honest” man involved in Watergate. [Associated Press, 7/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Ed Gray, ABC News, Federal Bureau of Investigation, L. Patrick Gray, W. Mark Felt, John Ehrlichman

Category Tags: 'Deep Throat', Political Subordination of FBI, CIA

Vice President Dick Cheney, formerly the chief of staff for President Gerald Ford (see November 4, 1975 and After), says, “Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the ‘70s served, I think, to erode the authority… the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area.” Cheney says that he and George W. Bush have restored some of “the legitimate authority of the presidency” that was taken away in the aftermath of Watergate. “I think the vice president ought to reread the Constitution,” retorts Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean comments that Bush and Cheney’s behavior “reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.” [Toronto Star, 12/21/2005; Werth, 2006, pp. 348]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Howard Dean, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, George W. Bush, Democratic National Committee, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy

Category Tags: 'Silent Coup'

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