Bob and Carl's imaginary friend

Posted: Feb 23, 2005 12:00 AM

I have a request to make of William Rehnquist, Bob Dole, Henry Kissinger, Robert Bork, George Bush Sr., Al Haig and a host of other Washington graybeards. While you're getting your affairs in order, could you please prepare an affidavit - or, even better, sworn video testimony - to be released posthumously, clarifying whether you are Deep Throat?

Let's back up a bit. As we all know, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein pretty much brought down the Nixon administration by exposing the Watergate cover-up. They then cemented their status as iconic American journalists with the book "All the President's Men," which was made into a near-hagiographic film of the same title, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

"All the President's Men," both film and movie, were huge successes. What made them so, besides the engaging subject matter of high government misconduct, was a thrilling cloak-and-dagger plot. And central to this was the mysterious character known only as Deep Throat. In the film, but not the book, it was Deep Throat who advised the reporters to "follow the money" in order to unravel the tangled web of lies spun by the White House. He was also the shadowy figure in a trench coat who allegedly warned Woodward that the duo's very lives were in danger, probably from the CIA. The implication was that Richard Nixon, the man who couldn't orchestrate a "third-rate burglary," was going to have the CIA terminate two Washington Post reporters.

Woodward and Bernstein have long promised that they will reveal the identity of this super-source on the occasion of Deep Throat's demise. Speculation and anticipation in Washington have been rising of late as the health of various potential candidates has deteriorated. Professional Watergate veteran John Dean recently wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times claiming that Mr. Throat is very ill and that his obituary has already been written.

Here's the first problem: Nothing is easier than pinning a crime on a dead man. Here's the second problem: I don't think Deep Throat exists.

I'm not alone. Recently, Fox News media analyst Eric Burns revealed that the late, great historian Stephen Ambrose had told him there never was a Deep Throat. Burns' evidence was second-hand at best. He said Ambrose had shared an editor with Woodward and Bernstein - the legendary Alice Mayhew - and she had told him that Deep Throat was a composite of various sources. Mayhew told Ambrose that the first manuscript of "All the President's Men" contained no references to Deep Throat and that she told them the book needed a stronger plot device. D.T. was the result.

This version corroborates that of David Obst, Woodward and Bernstein's former literary agent. In his memoirs, "Too Good to Be Forgotten," he confirms that the first draft of the book didn't mention Deep Throat and that Bob Fink, the researcher who organized the reporters' huge pile of sources, notes and articles into a workable manuscript, was stunned to discover the appearance of Deep Throat in later versions.

Obst also runs down several of the implausible details about Deep Throat in the book. Woodward was supposed to have signaled to Throat that he needed to talk by putting a cloth-topped stick in a flowerpot and moving it to the back of his balcony. If Throat saw the signal, they would meet at a prearranged underground garage. Inconveniently, however, the pot couldn't be seen from the street. In other words, this major Washington figure was supposed to drive to Woodward's building, get out of his car, and walk down Woodward's alley every single day. That's not very secretive behavior for someone trying to stay secret.

A similar problem is Woodward's claim that Throat would secretly mark page 20 of Woodward's home-delivered New York Times with a hand-drawn clock marking the time of their next meeting. But Woodward's Times was delivered to the building's lobby, writes Obst, "unmarked and stacked in a pile" before 7 a.m. How did Deep Throat figure out the right paper? And why would a super-secret, high-profile source devise a system that required regularly skulking in a public lobby before dawn?

Anyway, there are more questions and more answers to all of this. But I think history deserves a full accounting. Presumably, if Deep Throat exists he is aware that he will be named when he dies. So, gentlemen, why not get your side of the story on paper - or video - now? If you suspect you might be fingered for doing something you didn't, you have even more reason to get your version squared away.

Watergate prompted a generation of preening journalists to lecture America from a pedestal. The least Deep Throat can do - or, the least the leading Deep Throat suspects can do - is to let us know if the journalists belonged on that pedestal in the first place.

Correction: In a recent column I wrote that Howard Dean is "a vocal advocate for gay marriage." He is not. He is officially opposed to gay marriage. But he is a vocal opponent of any attempts to prevent gay marriage. I regret the error.