Like Nixon, Like Bush?

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Overall, this critic found The Secret Man interesting for unexpected reasons, most importantly, because of the uncanny parallels between Watergate and President Bush’s present handling of an aide’s
deliberate disclosing of the identity of a CIA Agent. For history suggests that unless he fires the culprit as originally promised, he faces the prospect of mushrooming media coverage, a course which could come back to bite him in the end, especially if there’s a whistleblower walking around the wings of the White House

For years, everyone has known that someone with unusual access to the White House had brought down Richard Nixon. Nicknamed “Deep Throat� after a porno flick which was enormously popular at the time, this secret source furnished Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with extraordinary proof of the Administration’s involvement in a criminal conspiracy. For Tricky Dick and company had been behind a break-in at Democratic National committee headquarters at the Watergate office building in connection with the Republican presidential re-election campaign effort.

Once this whistleblower began leaking the truth to the Press, every successive attempt to cover-up their illegal activities only further compounded their culpability. As felonies and perjuries were revealed, Cabinet members and other Nixon cronies were carted off to prison one after another, though some were simply forced to resign in disgraced, even the utterly humiliated President, ultimately.  Well after the Constitutional crisis was averted and the door was slammed shut on the whole Watergate affair, speculation persisted about the unknown hero’s identity.

Who knows how many people still care now, over 30 years after the fact? For those who do, Woodward has finally been freed from his promise of confidentiality by his clandestine contact to publish The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. Turns out that the mysterious mole was none other than Mark Felt, then number two at the FBI. It is certainly a bit anticlimactic to learn that Felt was motivated not by a noble sense of ethics but by a personal vendetta. Stung by Nixon’s having replaced the recently-deceased Director, J. Edgar Hoover, with outsider L. Patrick Gray instead of him, this overlooked heir apparent reportedly rationalized sharing the classified files which would ruined many a career, including Gray’s.

Woodward divulges exactly how he and the disgruntled Felt arranged their meetings and managed to communicate covertly for so long without ever being discovered. However, more interesting than revisiting Watergate were other revelations in the book, such as the admission that arson charges against Sixties black militant H. Rap Brown had been fabricated by the government, and the implied identity of the never-married Hoover’s likely life-mate. 

Overall, this critic found The Secret Man interesting for unexpected reasons, most importantly, because of the uncanny parallels between Watergate and President Bush’s present handling of an aide’s deliberate disclosing of the identity of a CIA Agent. For history suggests that unless he fires the culprit as originally promised, he faces the prospect of mushrooming media coverage, a  course which could come back to bite him in the end, especially if there’s a whistleblower walking around the wings of the White House. 

Complete Title: The Secret Man; The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. By Bob Woodward with a Reporter’s Assessment by Carl Bernstein Simon & Schuster.256 pp. Hardcover, $23. ISBN: 0-7432-8715-0 Excerpt: “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat. Clearly, Felt was ambitious and wanted to be named FBI director. But that very month, February 1973, Nixon had named Pat Gray the permanent director, the month before Watergate. At his suggestion, we met at a bar in Prince George’s County.

Felt said that Pat Gray had pressured the White House into naming him to the permanent FBI directorship… Watergate was about to explode. For the next 18 months, the daily, graphic unraveling proceeded, including the Senate hearings, televised by all the networks, the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision ordering the President to turn over his tapes, and finally, Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974. But the mystery of Deep Throat, who had become a metaphor for the secret insider blowing the whistle, only grew with the years. Who was he? Why had he talked? And why had the secret been kept for so long?�

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