Deep Throat: The Game Is Afoot

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
July 29 1999 4:42 PM

Deep Throat: The Game Is Afoot

Reporter David Daley of the Hartford Courant has found W. Mark Felt, the former FBI associate director believed by the late Richard Nixon and various other people to have been Deep Throat. (See "Another Bulletin From the Deep Throat Desk," "Deep Throat Revealed [Again]," and "Deep Throat Revealed [One Last Time].") Knowing that Felt had denied being Deep Throat before, Chatterbox wondered aloud earlier this week whether Felt would still deny it. Daley did better than wonder: In a story published in Wednesday's Courant, Daley tracked the 85-year-old Felt down in California and asked him if he was Deep Throat. "No, it's not me," Felt answered.

I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn't exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?

Chatterbox doesn't know what to make of Felt's claim that Deep Throat was "ineffective," but will set that aside for now. Daley's story, which was picked up by the Associated Press and MSNBC, broke the news that a 19-year-old from Port Chester, N.Y., named Chase Culeman-Beckman claims to have been told by Carl Bernstein's son Jacob that Deep Throat was ... Mark Felt. Culeman-Beckman says that 11 years ago he attended Hampton Day School Camp in Bridgehampton, Long Island with Carl Bernstein's sons, Jacob and Max, and that Jacob was the one who told him. According to Daley, Culeman-Beckman "said the young Bernstein told him the information came straight from his dad," who of course is one of the three people known to be party to the secret. (The other two are Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee.)

Chatterbox, who is increasingly drawn to the hypothesis that Deep Throat was indeed Felt, finds much to like in this story. As a father, Chatterbox knows that children tend to blab family secrets--and recalls that Joe Klein's authorship of Primary Colors came to light partly as a result of some things his kid talked about at school. And summer camp is a well-known crucible of intimacy. A paper that Culeman-Beckman has written on the subject tells the story most beguilingly:

I was in the "Herons" group along with about fifteen other 8, 9, and 10 year olds ... One Friday in July we went on a trip to Long Beach, Sag Harbor, and Jacob, Max and I ended up sitting in the sand precociously talking about politics. It was an election year and I was in favor of George Bush because he had gone to the Greenwich Country Day School where I was attending, while Jacob and Max were for Michael Dukakis, although I do not remember why. At some point, the conversation turned to Nixon and Watergate ... which I knew little, if nothing, about. During the conversation Jacob told me: "Deep Throat was Mark Felt, he's someone in the FBI. I'm 100% sure."

Still, it would be rash to consider Culeman-Beckman's paper (and Daley's story) dispositive. Most crucially, Culeman-Beckman does not back up Daley's reporting that Jacob Bernstein's information came from Carl Bernstein. Culeman-Beckman told Chatterbox that the context of the Deep Throat conversation was a discussion about Jacob Bernstein's dad. But when pressed, Culeman-Beckman admitted that Jacob Bernstein hadn't said that Carl Bernstein actually told him Deep Throat was Mark Felt. Culeman-Beckman just assumed that was how Jacob knew. "I think that would be the only way for an 8-year-old child to hear such a name," Culeman-Beckman told Chatterbox. But that isn't quite right. It's at least as possible that Jacob Bernstein got the idea from his mother, journalist-turned-movie-director Nora Ephron, who has stated publicly in the past her suspicions about Felt. ("I always thought it was Mark Felt, the third guy at the FBI," she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1993. "But Carl would never tell me. So I honestly don't know.")

Sure enough, today's New York Post has Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron both saying that Jacob was merely parroting his mother's Deep Throat hypothesis. Bernstein says that neither Ephron nor Jacob Bernstein knows Deep Throat's identity "any more than the man in the moon does," and that Jacob was "repeating his mother's guesswork." Ephron says that "Carl never told me who Deep Throat was, which was very smart because I would have told the whole world by now." (Ephron and Bernstein had a famously nasty divorce, chronicled in Ephron's novelHeartburn, later made into a movie with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.)

Incidentally, Culeman-Beckman's paper unearths a nifty Felt-related snippet from the White House tapes that Chatterbox didn't know about. As in the White House tapes excerpt Chatterbox previously cited, Felt is discussed as a probable leaker. This time, though, Nixon (who, among other things, will likely be remembered as America's last anti-Semitic president) expresses horror at discovering Felt to be Jewish. This conversation, dated Oct. 19, 1972, is even more Gothic than the last:

Nixon: Well, if they've got a leak down at the FBI, why the hell can't Gray tell us what the hell is left? You know what I mean?...

Haldeman: We know what's left, and we know who leaked it.

Nixon: Somebody in the FBI?

Haldeman: Yes, sir. Mark Felt. You can't say anything about this because it will screw up our source and there's a real concern. Mitchell is the only one who knows about this and he feels strongly that we better not do anything because--

Nixon: Do anything? Never.

Haldeman: If we move on him, he'll go out and unload everything. He knows everything that's to be known in the FBI. He has access to absolutely everything ...

Nixon: What would you do with Felt?

Haldeman: Well, I asked Dean ...

Nixon: You know what I'd do with him, the bastard? Well that's all I want to hear about it.

Haldeman: I think he wants to be in the top spot.

Nixon: That's a hell of a way for him to get to the top.

Haldeman: You can figure a lot of--maybe he thought--first of all, he has to figure that if you stay in as president there's a possibility or probability Gray will stay on. If McGovern comes in, then you know Gray's going to be out ...

Nixon: Is he Catholic?

Haldeman: (unintelligible) Jewish.

President Nixon: Christ, put a Jew in there?

Haldeman: Well, that could explain it too.

[Update, 8/4/99: After much pestering online and by phone, Chatterbox has finally gotten The Atlantic to post on its Web site Jim Mann's watershed Deep Throat piece. Click here and wonder no more about Deep Throat's place of employment.]

 

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