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New book explores origins of Watergate's Deep Throat

By Jennifer Tisdale

Cover of Max Holland's "Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat."
Cover of Max Holland's "Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat."

Author and journalist Max Holland accessed the Ransom Center’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Watergate Papers while researching his book Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat (University Press of Kansas, 2012), which is now available. Holland describes his work at the Center:

The genesis of Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat began when I read a news item in 2007 about the opening of materials relating to Mark Felt in the Woodward and Bernstein Papers at the Ransom Center. Having done research in archives for years, one thing I’ve learned is that newly opened papers invariably contain new insights into a historical event, no matter how much it has already been written about.

I wasn’t disappointed after perusing the collection.

The single-most important documents, of course, were Bob Woodward’s typewritten notes from his encounters with W. Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat. Other Woodward notes from contemporaneous interviews with L. Patrick Gray III and Donald Santarelli were useful too. Early drafts of All the President’s Men, particularly those portions about Deep Throat that were excised from the published book, illuminated the Woodward/Felt relationship. Finally, an interview that Carl Bernstein and Woodward conducted with the late Howard Simons was vital for my book, since he was the only Post editor I could not interview myself.

In the galleries: Bob Woodward's typed notes about his meeting with Deep Throat

By Courtney Reed

Bob Woodward's typed notes about his meeting with Deep Throat.
Bob Woodward's typed notes about his meeting with Deep Throat.

Between 1972 and 1976, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke one of the biggest stories in American politics. Beginning with their investigation of a burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex, Woodward and Bernstein uncovered a series of crimes that eventually led to the indictments of 40 White House and administration officials and ultimately to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. While reporting on the scandal for The Washington Post and for their subsequent books, Woodward and Bernstein kept all of their notes and drafts. The result is a meticulous record of the Watergate scandal from beginning to end, providing a behind-the-scenes perspective into the nature of investigative journalism, the American political process, and the Nixon presidency.

Bob Woodward’s secret source about the Watergate scandal, famously referred to by the reporters and their editors as “Deep Throat,” was identified as FBI Associate Director Mark Felt in 2005.

In his typed notes from an early morning parking garage meeting on October 9, 1972, Woodward simply refers to the exchange with Felt as “interview with x.” These notes can be seen in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century, on display through July 31.

Woodward’s notes with Felt were used for the October 10, 1974 Washington Post story that exposed the Watergate burglary as part of a larger plan. The notes, marked up with spelling corrections and asterisks, quote Felt saying, “no names but everyone in the book.”

Soon after winning the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting in May 1973, Woodward and Bernstein signed a contract with Simon and Schuster to write a book about Watergate. Working nights and weekends while still covering the scandal for The Washington Post, the reporters tried several approaches, including telling the story from the burglars’ perspective. In an early outline of the book, the reporters briefly describe a day in the life of many of the major conspirators. Eventually Woodward and Bernstein decided to tell the story of their own investigation of the break-in and cover-up.

In 1976 the film version of Woodward and Bernstein’s 1974 book, All the President’s Men, was a box office success. In the publicity surrounding the film, Woodward and Bernstein received as much notoriety as the stars who portrayed them, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.