John Dean and Deep Throat.

John Dean and Deep Throat.

John Dean and Deep Throat.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
May 1 2002 6:54 PM

Salon and John Dean's Deep Throat Candidate Revealed!

They'll probably say it was someone in Ehrlichman's office. They'll probably be wrong.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

John Dean and Salon magazine will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the June 17 Watergate break-in by publishing an eBook called The Deep Throat Brief. In it, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Leah Garchik and the Associated Press, Dean will attempt to unveil Deep Throat, the anonymous source who, according to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men, helped the Washington Post crack the Watergate case. (The "Deep Throat" nickname derived from the pornographic movie of that title, whose star, Linda "Lovelace" Boreman, died last week in a car crash. Unlike today, during the 1970s it was possible for a joke about fellatio to be incorporated into mainstream politico-journalistic discourse.)

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Chatterbox will of course dig into Dean's book when it comes out to assess his evidence. But the precedent for former Nixon administration officials claiming to solve the Deep Throat mystery is not encouraging. Two years ago, former Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment published an otherwise engaging and insightful memoir called In Search of Deep Throat that made the mistake of identifying Republican strategist John Sears as Deep Throat. The ink was barely dry before Woodward and Bernstein, whom Garment had neglected to consult on this hypothesis, stated publicly that Sears wasn't Deep Throat, whereupon Garment started flinging nasty and unfounded accusations their way. (See "Len Garment Kills the Messenger.") Dean himself has previously identified two separate individuals as Deep Throat. In 1975, he argued that it was Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert, and in 1982, he fingered Nixon chief of staff Al Haig. This time, Dean will likely identify as Deep Throat someone who worked under domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman. Chatterbox deduces this from an article by John Bebow in the March American Journalism Review that says Dean has been working closely with William Gaines, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for the Chicago Tribune who now teaches at the University of Illinois. Gaines has been assembling a Deep Throat database by cross-referencing newspaper stories, government documents, old D.C. phone books, biographies, etc. "Ehrlichman's office comes up every time," Gaines told AJR, though he added that he didn't consider Ehrlichman himself a suspect. (Ehrlichman died three years ago, so there would be no reason for Woodward and Bernstein to keep his identity secret.)

In the absence of additional evidence, Chatterbox continues to believe that Deep Throat didn't work at the White House at all—that instead, Deep Throat worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which, in the immediate aftermath of J. Edgar Hoover's death in May 1972, was caught up in a power struggle with the Nixon White House. James Mann, who worked closely with Woodward at the Post during this period, recalls Woodward talking frequently about "my friend at the FBI." Mann combined this with lots of other evidence in a 1992 Atlantic piece that, 10 years later, remains the definitive word on the subject. The likeliest person at the FBI to have been Deep Throat was W. Mark Felt, the deputy associate director (that is, No. 3 guy), who wanted to be named Hoover's successor but wasn't. Felt is now in his late 80s and living in California. He has repeatedly denied (including to Chatterbox) that he was Deep Throat. But Bernstein's ex-wife, Nora Ephron, has long believed that Felt was Deep Throat. So did Nixon—to whom this question was no mere intellectual exercise. Felt is the default assumption of any serious Deep Throat scholar, and has been for nearly 30 years. To unseat him will require a lot more evidence than Chatterbox guesses Dean to possess.