FishbowlNY TVNewser TVSpy LostRemote AgencySpy PRNewser GalleyCat SocialTimes

LATer: Deep Throat Didn’t Really Matter

This afternoon, CNN interviewed Jack Nelson, who was the LAT’s bureau chief during the days of Watergate.

He argued that Deep Throat’s importance in the whole story has been greatly exaggerated, primarily because of the drama of the book and movie “All the President’s Men.” Nelson quoted former Post editor Barry Sussman: “over the years, an anonymous, bit player, a minor contributor, has become a giant.”

Full transcript after the jump.


Rush Transcript:

PHILLIPS: Well, among the journalists who didn’t have Deep Throat to turn to but who stayed on the story start to finish, Jack Nelson. He’s D.C. bureau chief for “The Los Angeles Times.” He joins me now on the phone.

Jack, before I get to Barry Sussman and your beliefs with regard to just the importance that Mark Felt played during this time, when you were with the “L.A. Times” during the Watergate scandal, were you wishing that you did have someone like Deep Throat or a source like that, talking to “The L.A. Times,” or did you have sources that you felt were just as good?

JACK NELSON, FORMER “L.A. TIMES” REPORTER: Well, we had sources. If you talk about whether “just as good” you have to — that’s conceding that Deep Throat was all that good a source. And I don’t necessarily buy that.

But the fact was — and I’m a great admirer of Jeffrey Toobin. Woodward and Bernstein and the “Washington Post” did one hell of a job uncovering Watergate. There’s no question about that.

But there were other stories — there were other papers digging on that story. And one of them was “The Los Angeles Times.” And it was myself and Ron Ostro and Bob Jackson. And we stayed on that story.

It just happened that these two young guys got out there and knocked on more doors than we did and happened to break more stories than we did.
But there were other stories. “TIME” magazine, “Newsweek” did some stories on it, “Chicago Tribune.” There were other papers that were after the story. It was just that these guys got out there and got in front of it.

But let’s get back, though, to — to Deep Throat. Jerry — Jeffrey Toobin seems to accept it as a fact that he was a very important source.

PHILLIPS: But you disagree with that right, Jack?

NELSON: Well, I do — I do disagree with it. And I disagree with it mainly because Barry Sussman, who was the editor in charge of the Watergate coverage, and he knew everything that was going on. He wrote something in 1997, on the 25th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. He wrote something that he put on the Internet.

And he said this — he said he gets asked this question all the time, who is Deep Throat? He said, “That’s the power of the myth. Over the years, an anonymous, bit player, a minor contributor, has become a giant.” And he said, “The fact is that, whoever this was, whether it was Mark Felt or whoever it was,” he said just did not have that much of importance in covering the — in uncovering the whole Watergate scandal.

Now, so you ask, how did this myth get perpetuated?

PHILLIPS: Well, probably the movie “All the President’s Men,” right?
That’s what kept it going.

NELSON: “All the President’s Men.” That’s exactly right. Until that — until that movie, you didn’t hear anything about a Deep Throat. And I think it was a dramatic device, and I think it played right into the whole thing of this big myth.

You know, Bradlee, Ben Bradlee, the editor, and Bob Woodward both have said, of course, that they’re never going to say who he was and everything, but Barry Sussman makes this point. He says that the “Post”
editors routinely knew who the sources were.

But he said one day, about three months after the break in, Woodward came to him with a relatively minor story with an unusual request: “Said he’d tell me who the source was if I really wanted to know, but in this instance he would rather not.” He said, “I had no problem with that.”
But to my recollection, that was the start of the Deep Throat Watergate involvement.

PHILLIPS: So Jack, if we talk about this myth of Deep Throat, like you say Barry Sussman writes about, the more importance — I guess the greater importance of Deep Throat, do you think that the achievement of Woodward and Bernstein was sort of lessened by this? And other reporters like you and Ostro and others for “The L.A. Times”?

NELSON: Well, that’s sort of interesting. That’s the point that Sussman makes, that if it was true that Deep Throat was all this important, just feeding information to Woodward, then maybe what they did was not so important.

But he denies that. He said what Woodward and Bernstein did was just great reporting and that there was no single source like that. And he makes a very good case for it, I think.

He also said, you know, suppose Deep Throat was important as the myth has it. Does anyone believe for a minute that Bradlee, not exactly a shrinking violet, would have been content to sit in the dark, while Nixon hater used to dive bomb and strike the White House very few days (ph)?

He said one thing about it was Deep Throat was very important, would Bradlee wait until long after the last Watergate headline was written to get — to find out his name. He claims it wasn’t until ’75 he found out his name. He said that would be stupid, wouldn’t it? Bradley has his share of critics but I haven’t heard anyone say he’s stupid.

PHILLIPS: Good point. And also in ’99, Felt even came forward and gave a quote to the Hartford paper, “I would have done better, if indeed, I were Deep Throat. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Interesting point.

But let me, Jack, finally, ask you this: Woodward and Bernstein still saying they’re not going to come forward and confirm that Mark Felt, indeed, is Deep Throat. Do you find that interesting?

NELSON: Well, I find it’s very interesting that both these journalists who were intimately involved in this story, which their own editor says created this myth, are not willing to go on the record on it. I find that extremely interesting.

I also think it’s interesting that Sussman made one other point. He said “The Post” managing editor at the time, Howard Simons, the driving force behind the Watergate coverage, never asked who Deep Throat was. Neither did a third editor, Harry Rosenfeld. They didn’t ask for the same reason that he didn’t ask. It’s because Deep Throat was basically unimportant to our coverage. Now, that’s what Barry Sussman, the Watergate editor said, and I think he makes a strong case.

PHILLIPS: Jack Nelson, working that story for the “L.A. Times.”
Continues to work that story. Thanks for your time, Jack.

NELSON: Okey-doke.

PHILLIPS: All right.

Mediabistro Course

Freelancing 101

Freelancing 101Starting December 1, learn how to manage a top-notch freelancing career! In this online boot camp, you'll hear from freelancing experts on the best practices for a solid freelancing career, from the first steps of self-advertising and marketing, to building your schedule and managing clients. Register now!