The death of Deep Throat

Mark Felt, 95, died today.

I wondered for years who Deep Throat was. I remember paging back through my worn copy of All the President’s Men, trying to piece together all the possibilities. I loved it when newsmagazines and journals revisited the topic and speculated on the identity of the world’s best-known, yet least-known, whistleblower. I always hated it, though, when someone inevitably proposed the idea that Deep Throat was actually a composite of several anonymous sources. That just nullified the romance of the whole thing (which is possible only if, like me, you weren’t living through the whole situation as it actually unfolded).

When Mark Felt revealed the truth about his secret identity in a Vanity Fair article in 2005, I almost couldn’t believe it. I had pretty much convinced myself we’d never know who Deep Throat was.  I had read that Bob Woodward promised to reveal the identity of his famous shadowy source only upon the source’s death or decision to out himself. But I guess I never really believed it, not until it happened.

The Washington Post has an article today that poses this question: could there ever be another Deep Throat? Could a 2008 Deep Throat get away with what the early 1970s Deep Throat did? I have to say, I don’t know. Newsweek features a whistleblower on its cover this week: Thomas Tamm, the man from the Justice Department who ducked into a Metro station to call the New York Times from a phone booth and tip the paper off to the National Security Agency’s illegal wiretapping program. And yet, even the cover asks “Is he a hero or a criminal?” He’s no longer even working at the Justice Department, and some are calling him “treasonous” for revealing secrets that could affect our nation’s security. Yet, others ask if what was being conducted was illegal and unconstitutional, how could it be criminal to shed light on that?

It’s easy to romanticize Deep Throat and his actions in the soft rosy glow of the rearview mirror. Woodward and Bernstein, too. Perhaps it’s not so easy when the administration that authorized another program that generated controversy is still in power, and the long-term effects are still unknown.

I do know this…I’ve rarely used anonymous sources in my own work. It’s often fraught with peril. And of course, I’ve rarely needed to, given the nature of most of the stories I’ve written. I once used anonymous sources on a story about teenage alcohol use, but I was able to verify the sources’ authenticity, and my editor agreed it was okay, under the circumstances. But other than that, I really haven’t…and haven’t wanted to, honestly. But would I, if I were handed very sensitive information on a matter of great national importance? Would I be afraid, given that journalists who publish whistleblower stories are now looked upon with great suspicion, too?

Advertisements

About jenniferlarsonwrites

I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. I have a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor's degree in English from Rhodes College. I'm a born-and-bred Southerner who spent a few years in Southern California, a rabid baseball fan and a would-be grower of tomatoes. You can also visit me at LinkedIn or on Twitter at @JenniferLarson.
This entry was posted in Journalism, Random musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s