John O’Connor Jumps the SharkRoundup
tags: books, Watergate, FBI
Mark Feldstein, the Richard Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland, is a journalism historian. He has written about media coverage of Watergate and is the author of Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture (2010).
Some people don’t know when to leave well enough alone.
In 2002, John O’Connor, a San Francisco trial lawyer, got lucky. He discovered that a young acquaintance was the grandson of W. Mark Felt, the FBI executive long rumored to be “Deep Throat,” the anonymous Watergate source of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. O’Connor asked to meet the 89-year-old retired G-man and tried to get him to open up about his still-secret role in Watergate. But Felt had dementia and denied being Deep Throat: “An FBI agent doesn’t act like that.”
Undeterred, O’Connor lobbied Felt’s daughter, who prodded the old man. Eventually, Felt relented after being persuaded that going public could “help raise some tuition money” for his grandsons. O’Connor revealed Deep Throat’s identity in a 2005 article for Vanity Fair and then spun his article into a 2006 book, A G-Man’s Life, which borrowed heavily from Felt’s 1979 memoir, ghost-written by Ralph de Toledano.
That would have been the end of the story for most people. But the whole exercise left O’Connor nursing a grudge against Woodward, and the litigator is now displaying it for all to see in a new book, Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism.
O’Connor should have quit while he was ahead. His Vanity Fair article and previous book about Felt were already painfully thin on new Watergate facts because of the FBI veteran’s mental infirmity. O’Connor’s latest literary effort—billed as a “shocking exposé”—is a convoluted and embarrassing mish-mash of sour grapes, conspiracy theorizing, and conservative diatribe.
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