Watergate conspiracy theories that still won't die.
Finally, the reckless Deep Throat guesswork plays havoc with history. The premise of the fabrication and composite and silent coup theories is that accepted history is counterfeit, that the truth about the past can be ferreted out not by studying official records, but by seeking out what remains hidden—which, in conspiracist thinking, is always hidden deliberately. (They are Marxist historians, it might be said—devotees not of Karl but of Chico, who once said, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?")
In my book Nixon's Shadow, I labeled the more outré researchers of this sort "Watergate deniers," just as Holocaust revisionists are now more properly termed Holocaust deniers. Although the severity of Watergate obviously pales next to the horror of the Holocaust, and the campaigns to gainsay the two events are quite different, the two groups share certain habits of mind. Both hold that history—or, as they would have it, "official" history—is a lie. Both use one or two unsolved riddles or mistakes to write off the existence of actual events and established truths. Both erect their cases on rickety logic and meager evidence, yet lobby with sufficient ardor to gain themselves a hearing.
Now that we know for certain that Mark Felt was Deep Throat, it would be nice if such insidious speculation could be retired. But, alas, a conspiracy is by its nature impossible to disprove, and as I write, the signs are appearing that this news has only reignited it. It's a sad irony. Watergate, after all, was that rare historical drama in which skeptics, paranoids, and amateur sleuths didn't need to twist the facts in order to find a conspiracy. The secret plot was being hatched in the Oval Office itself.
David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers and author of three books of political history, has written the "History Lesson" column since 1998.
Photograph of Mark Felt by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.