Another Bulletin From the Deep Throat Desk

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
July 26 1999 11:32 AM

Another Bulletin From the Deep Throat Desk

Chatterbox just received via snail mail an intriguing bundle of news clippings from Jack Limpert, editor of the Washingtonian magazine, and a believer, along with James Mann of the Los Angeles Times and the late Richard Nixon, that Deep Throat--the mysterious Watergate source whom Bob Woodward has never identified--was probably W. Mark Felt, the No. 2 man at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (See "Deep Throat Revealed [Again]" and "Deep Throat Revealed [One Last Time].") To recap: Chatterbox last month celebrated the 27th anniversary of the Watergate break-in by reminding readers that much of the mystery appeared to have been solved by James Mann in a little-noticed article published in the Atlantic Monthly seven years earlier. (The damn thing still can't be found in the Atlantic's Web archive.) Mann established, mainly by passing along private conversations he'd had with Bob Woodward when the two worked together at the Washington Post, that Woodward had all but announced Deep Throat worked at the FBI. (Incidentally, Howard Kurtz of the Post recently informed this column that Chatterbox's earlier Nexis search should have turned up an item he, Kurtz, wrote in 1992 about Mann's Atlantic piece that questioned Mann's ethics in ratting out Woodward.)

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Mann was more sure that Deep Throat was a G-man than he was that the G-man in question was Felt. When Chatterbox last examined this question, he considered the theory put forth by CBS News, in its 20th-anniversary Watergate documentary, that Deep Throat was L. Patrick Gray, who briefly ran the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover died. While Chatterbox found the CBS News theory provocative and intelligent, he didn't find it wholly persuasive. Now Limpert's care package has Chatterbox thinking about Felt again.

Limpert was a Felt man long before James Mann wrote his Atlantic article (which, nonetheless, offered up a lot of hard evidence that Limpert wouldn't have been privy to). Two of the clippings Limpert this week sent Chatterbox are "Capital Comment" columns he wrote for the June and August 1974 issues of the Washingtonian that finger Felt as the likely Deep Throat. Limpert doesn't say in the clippings how he arrived at his hypothesis, but in his cover note to Chatterbox, Limpert explained, "the source for the pieces was Frank Waldrop, who was absolutely wired to the FBI." Waldrop, the former editor of the Washington Times-Herald, which was folded into the Washington Post in 1954, died two years ago at age 92. During Waldrop's last years, he remained a very knowledgeable observer of the Washington scene; indeed, Chatterbox himself used Waldrop as a source from time to time, and always found his memory and powers of analysis razor-sharp. As someone who was basically put out of business by the Washington Post, Waldrop would certainly have had the motive to demystify its greatest journalistic coup. If Waldrop thought Mark Felt was Deep Throat, Chatterbox thinks that hypothesis is worth very serious consideration.

A difficulty with the Felt Hypothesis is that Woodward identified Deep Throat as a heavy smoker. Felt gave up smoking in 1943. In an earlier dispatch, Chatterbox said it was "possible the heavy-smoker bit was a phony novelistic detail that Woodward got wrong or invented." Apparently this thought has also occurred to at least one editor at the Washington Post. Here's Limpert in the August 1974 Washingtonian:

An editor at the Post told us: "Woodward disguised Deep Throat. Woodward tried not to lie, but he tried to keep people off the track as much as possible. For instance, Woodward made a lot of Deep Throat smoking cigarettes, but I had the feeling that Deep Throat doesn't smoke."

Not knowing who the Post editor in question was, it's hard to assess whether that editor's "feeling" that Deep Throat didn't smoke was based on inside knowledge of the Post's Watergate reporting. Still, it's interesting.

An especially gripping part of Limpert's August 1974 Washingtonian piece is a reprinted snippet from the transcripts of the White House tapes dated Feb. 28, 1973. It's an exchange between Nixon and John Dean focusing on the possibility that Mark Felt is squealing:

Dean: Now, about White House staff and reporters and the like, and, now, the only, the only person that knows--is aware of it--is Mark Felt, and we've talked about Mark Felt, and uh--I guess, uh--

Nixon: What does it do to him, though? Let's face it. You know, suppose that Felt comes out and unwraps the whole thing. What does it do to him?

Dean: He can't do it. It just--

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