Michael Miner: Review of Max Holland's "Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat" (Kansas, 2012)

Roundup: Books

Michael Miner has been a Chicago journalist since 1970. After eight years as a Sun-Times reporter and several months traveling in Europe, he joined the Reader as a writer and editor in 1979, yet his connection with this paper goes back to 1971, when he contributed an article to its first issue. At the Reader, Miner has won three Lisagor Awards from the Chicago Headline Club for his media criticism.

...“Deep Throat” was the mysterious source introduced by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in All The President’s Men, a book that was celebrating their Watergate reporting for the Washington Post even before President Nixon resigned. We’ve known since 2005 that Deep Throat was the late Mark Felt, deputy associate director of the FBI at the time of Watergate. Now there’s a book, Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat, by investigative journalist Max Holland, that speculates shrewdly on Felt’s motives for leaking to Woodward (and not only Woodward), finds them cynical and opportunistic rather than noble, judges Woodward to be a shade obtuse and opportunistic, and leaves me (if no one else) wondering if we’d all have known years earlier than we did who Deep Throat was if we’d really wanted to know. As the newspaper man says at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” One measure of America’s reluctance to surrender the Deep Throat legend might be that the publisher Holland finally found for Leak was the University of Kansas Press....

...[W]hat were Felt’s interests? This is the question Holland continued to wrestle with, and Leak provides his answers. Holland believes Felt was not driven by a patriotic passion to expose lawlessness at the highest levels of government. Nor was he determined to focus culpability on the White House in order to protect his FBI from being dragged down by the scandal. And he wasn’t avenging himself against Nixon for having passed him over as J. Edgar Hoover’s successor by instead naming assistant attorney general L. Patrick Gray as acting director of the FBI.

Holland argues that Felt still wanted Gray’s job, and set out to get it by “trying to prove to the White House, through anonymous leaks to the media, that Gray was dangerously incompetent and incapable of running the Bureau. Felt was supremely confident that because of his extensive counterintelligence experience, he could keep his hand invisible.” Felt was wrong. Gray could not imagine that Felt, his loyal right-hand man, was actually undermining him, but at the White House it became apparent someone in the FBI was leaking and that someone was probably Felt. According to Holland, Nixon shrank from firing him because Felt knew too much about the government’s illegal operations to alienate. Even so, in May 1973, just 11 months after the Watergate break-in, Felt resigned under fire....

comments powered by Disqus