Thursday, June 02, 2005

It Felt like Deep Throat

     I suppose by now everybody has heard about the true identity of Deep Throat, the erstwhile anonymous imformant who helped bring Nixon's Watergate coverup to light 20 years ago. Frankly, the outing of W. Mark Felt, a top FBI official at the time, is anticlimactic. It would have been much more exciting had it been Gerald Ford or George Bush or Al Haig or Ben Stein. That would have added a lot of drama to the story. Diane Sawyer, Pat Buchanan, William Rehnquist, and Pope John Paul II were candidates, albeit unlikely ones. They all would have added a level of drama and intrigue to the case. With Felt, it's just your average disgruntled employee whistleblower case.
     Given that, I'm surprised by the the amount of vitriol being spewed in his direction by the Right. They call him a traitor and trash him for not being more loyal to his President. Besides, they say, it was only a little break-in and bugging of a rival Presidential candidate's party headquarters. It's not like Nixon got a BJ out of the deal. (Now that's an impeachable offense!) They also say that he doesn't deserve to be held up as a hero because he personally had issues with Nixon.
     Well, if the only whistleblowers that were allowed to tell the truth were ones that liked the people they were ratting out, no corruption would ever be uncovered. But I guess that's the point, huh? Felt was in line to replace J. Edgar Hoover as the FBI chief, but a Nixon loyalist was promoted instead. For all of Hoover's faults, (and there were many - Hoover was not a good man) he kept the FBI independent of the executive and legislative branches. It was the nation's police force, and it was not a private eye hired to the White House, even if it did have a corrupt sherrif. When Hoover died, Felt, like the rest of the FBI, feared that Nixon would politicize the agency. This plus his being passed over for promotion may have spurred him to reveal secrets to Woodward and Bernstein. Of couse, Felt wasn't exactly wrong about that - L. Patrick Gray, the Nixon loyalist in charge of the FBI, was leaking FBI info to the White House so they could avoid prosecution. He himself was implicated in Watergate.
     As to giving FBI secrets to the public, that's an echo of the Bushies primary complaint about Abu Ghraib. Forget the wrongdoing, they say, attack the messenger! Its a repeat of elementary schoo, where the biggest lesson we learned on the playground was that tattletales were the worst sort of evildoers and that bullies were just doing what bullies do. Felt worked for the FBI, true, but he also worked for the United States, and when the head of the FBI was engaging in not only illegal activity but activity coutnerproductive to the United States, where else was Felt to go? I have to note that Felt was not proud of being Deep Throat. In a 1999 interview, Felt revealed that he disliked what Deep Throat did even as he felt it necessary. Also keep in mind that Felt didn't singlehandedly "bring down the President." He just kept two reporters informed of the progress of the FBI investigation - progress that would never otherwise be reported because Nixon's buddy was running the show. Eventually, other sources proved more damaging, including Nixon's own tape recordings. Woodward and Bernstein, and by extension Felt, managed to keep the scandal in the spotlight long enough for the police to do their jobs. It's tempting to blame Felt for "bringing down a sitting President", but it's criminally negligent to ignore the complicity of his boss. Had Gray not supressed evidence and illegally fed information to the White House, the conspiracy would have been uncovered earlier.
     Interestingly, the day after Felt outed himself, a story appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a Georgia prison guard whistleblowing about prison abuse. Tommy Cardell, a devout Christian in his own words, is risking alientation and personal harm to speak out against fellow law enforcement officers about criminal abuse.
"[The Code of Silence is] for street gangs and criminals," he said. "That's not something for the police officer to uphold." "If an officer makes a mistake and you can help him get back on the right road ? you don't run out and blow the whistle," he said. "But if you have a group of people and they're doing illegal stuff, and they're trying to involve you in it ? I wouldn't want to be part of a group of people who are breaking the law."
If it makes sense for a rural prison officer, doesn't it also make sense for our national police force? I'm not calling Felt a hero. But I'm not calling him a criminal, either. He did what he felt he had to do. And history has shown that he probably did the right thing, as unpopular as it was (and is). It's just a little disappointing that the mystery ends this way. At least we have the 18 1/2 minute gap on Nixon's tapes....

16 comments:

ORF said...

I'm just bummed because it was always kind of cool to speculate about who he was and furthermore, Woodstein used to say they'd reveal him only after his death, which would have been like opening a time capsule or something sweet like that. Hmmm...time capsules. We used to make those all the time in grade school...I oughta do that sometime.

Ben said...

Felt is definitely not a hero, his motives are way too cloudy, but I have no problem with the truth being uncovered, and I don't consider him a traitor, either.

I don't know much about Watergate, but from what I've been reading the last couple of days, it seems that Nixon probably didn't know about the burglaries until after they happened, but he was deep in the cover-up. Is that right?

sideshow bob said...

ORF- don't you know that all those grade school time capsules go straight in the dumpster?

Mike said...

Nobody is trashing him for not being loyal to Nixon. I've been listening to talk radio about this and no conservatives are defending Nixon in all this. Our outrage is directed at the media for treating this guy like a hero.
We're outraged because this guy was the number two guy at the FBI. He swore to uphold the rule of law. He went against that. He denied a man due process and leaked information to the press to have him brought down in the court of public opinion. There was an on-going grand jury investigation at the time that he could have reported to. But he abused his power to leak confidential information to the press. We can't have government officials acting like this to bring people down. And mind you this isn't the only instance of this man abusing his power. He was convicted of civil rights abuses in his attack on the Weather Underground, a radical left anti-war party that was planning to commit terrorist acts to protest the Vietnam War. Ronald Reagan pardoned him. For this reason I don't consider his actions as being partisan. I think he just resented Nixon and the Whitehouse.
And finally, at least the prison guard you mentioned had the courage to stand up in public and identify himself rather than leak information to the press to protect his job.

Scott said...

Felt got involved with Woodward before the independent counsel was appointed. In fact, his leaks to the Washington Post probably are what caused enough of an uproar for the Attorney General to appoint the independent counsel on April 30, 1973, over 10 months after Felt went to the WaPo.
Keep in mind that a new Attorney General had been appointed on April 30, since the old one was implicated in the Watergate scandal and never really investigated it. And of course the head of the FBI was also implicated.
Funny you should say the prison guard had the courage to stand up in public. What do you think public is, anyway? He went to the newspaper. The newspaper investigated and went public. How's that different from Felt and the Washington Post? That's what the media is - an outlet to go public. Mike, today, we're the media, or at least part of it. If you want to go public these days, you don't stand in the town square and yell. You get your story printed in the newspaper or shown on national TV news.

Mike said...

When I said he went public, I meant he wasn't afraid to have his name printed in the paper. He didn't hide behind the cloak of the "anonymous source". That took courage. The honorable thing for Felt to do would have been to resign, go to the Washington Post and say "I'm Mark Felt and I have a story to tell."
Having top officials leak secret information to reporters in dark underground garages is the stuff of John Greisham novels. We can't allow our law enforcement officials to act like that. Only in America can a person like this be called a hero and get a book deal.

ORF said...

I think it's important to keep in mind that Nixon's ship was already full of holes. Felt's weren't the only set of loose lips responsible for sinking it. And you should be careful, Mike, because you're starting to sound an awful lot like you ARE defending Nixon by condemning Felt. The reason he's getting a book deal is not because people think he's a hero but because his story is so sensational at this point. Deep Throat is legendary and now someone's going to capitalize on it.

ignerens said...

Mike, I don't see how would it be honorable for Felt to resign if he believed that he was doing nothing wrong.

On whether or not he should have identified himself, I could care less. But it's arguable.

Mike said...

Are you guys telling me you support this type of covert action by our law enforcement officials? Do you want the FBI probing in politicians lives and "leaking" sensitive select information to the public? Oh wait, Bill Clinton used the FBI to illegally have political opponents investigated for dirt, so you probably do support this type of activity. But anyway, if Felt had come forward and told his story, it may not have gone on for as long as it did.

But my beef isn't really with Felt in all this. He did what he did. My beef today is with the media calling this guy a hero. His motives were not honorable. He didn't want to see justice done. He just wanted to bring down the man who denied him the job he wanted. Bob Woodward has said as much.

Scott said...

Maybe yes and maybe no. Certainly he didn't like having a boss who felt the FBI's role was to serve the President, especially when he thought he should have that job. And Felt was a protege of Hoover, who was a documented SOB. But not all heroes started with noble ambitions. Sometimes being a hero happens despite the original motivation. I believe the Christian term is "Prodigal Son".
Of course Felt may not be a hero either. Time will tell how history writes of this story in 50 or 100 years, if it does at all. Nixon may end up being one of those presidents kids forget when trying to memorize the list of Presidents. In that case Felt will be nothing more than a footnote of history.

Mike said...

he's already a footnote to me, which makes his new crown of the hero so irritating.

Mike said...

And BTW, your reference to the Prodigal Son is out of context. The moral of the Prodigal Son is even if you turn your back on God for years, when you come back to him and ask for forgiveness he will welcome you with open arms. The Prodigal Son was not a hero. His father was.

Scott said...

Hero or not, you still welcome the son back. You don't, as G. Gordon Liddy the convicted Watergate criminal did, call him a traitor.
Fat In Spanish wrote an awesome short post about the backlash against Felt and he links to an incredible Daily Show video on the topic.

Mike said...

But the son asked for forgiveness. He didn't come back after taking his inheritance and abandoning his father for years and say, "Treat me like a hero." I haven't heard Felt ask for any forgiveness. Just the opposite, he wants to be rewarded and get a book deal.
This is why nobody believes Democrats when they quote the Bible. They take things out of context and sound dumb to those of us who read it on a regular basis. Until you all figure that out you're better off not trying to sound religious.

Karla said...

Thank you for linking to my husband's story at the AJC about inmate abuse at the prison. I found your blog after doing a search on the 'net for places his story is showing up. I have to chuckle, 'cause some sites I've discovered are sites I'm not sure he wants his name mentioned. Yours is an interesting site, however.

I wanted to respond about two comments made.

Mike said: "And finally, at least the prison guard you mentioned had the courage to stand up in public and identify himself rather than leak information to the press to protect his job."

and

Scott said: "Funny you should say the prison guard had the courage to stand up in public. What do you think public is, anyway? He went to the newspaper. The newspaper investigated and went public. ... That's what the media is - an outlet to go public...."

Let me just say briefly that you will never hear in a news story the WHOLE story.

Tommy tried to report his situation INTERNALLY, within the Department, and the result was that his reporting was getting swept under the rug and he was being personally harassed. The system was protecting itself. Reports were not being handled impartially and were actually being handled by the accused!

It was not until he was fired on May 12 that he reported to the AJC 1) because he was fired unjustly, and 2) because after 4+ months he was not getting anywhere staying within the Department to report what he had witnessed. The AJC was his last resort as he had no weight within the Corrections Dept. anymore in reporting illegal activities after he was fired.

When the AJC called Tommy to get his story, that was Day 1. On Day 2, the Commissioner got involved. On Day 3, the GBI got involved. On Day 4, 3 suspensions of officers were made. On Day 5, 2 more suspensions. And just last week, 7 officers have been terminated. Tommy has gotten further in 1-1/2 months with a NEWSPAPER than he did in 4 months with several agencies who SHOULD HAVE taken care of the matter.

My point is that sometimes it takes a newspaper and their investigative skills to get the truth out that the accused try to keep covered up. Sometimes a newspaper can be your ally, as it has been in our situation.

I'm proud to be Tommy's wife and proud that he has the courage to stand up for what is right. No matter what anyone thinks, it DOES take a certain amount of courage to speak out. We both are aware of the personal danger we may be placed in due to his speaking out, but we will still stand courageously, and I will support him in his efforts to report the wrongdoing he has witnessed.

I apologize for my POST in your "Comments" section, but I wanted to give you and your readers a perspective from the inside of this situation you mentioned on your blog.

Scott said...

Karla, Thank you so much for bringing your first-hand perspective to the conversation. I never imagined I'd be able to relay this message to your husband, but please let him know that I, for one, as a Georgian, am very proud of Tommy Cardell. Doing the "right thing" is often talked about, but true examples are far too rare. It's unfortunate that it sometimes takes extreme measures to change the status quo, but I feel thankful that people like your husband are there when it's the public that needs protecting.