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Deep Throat Chokes

Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald brings to our attention a forthcoming book that ought to be a blockbuster but perhaps won’t for the simple reason that it’s being issued by an academic publisher—the University Press of Kansas—rather than a typical New York trade publisher that would get the author on the Today Show, etc.  I should add quickly that the University Press of Kansas is an excellent academic press, ranking right up with Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins as one of the premier university presses around.  But they usually do purely academic titles.  The forthcoming book Garvin flags, Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat, by Max Holland, is a clear departure from UPK’s usual fare.

Felt, as everyone knows, was the long-secret figure who leaked key details to Woodward and Bernstein in the Watergate affair.  He’s regarded as the ur-whistle blower of modern times, and a hero of right-thinking people everywhere.  Not so fast.  Holland’s book blows some big holes in Felt’s reputation, as Garvin explains:

Less than a month before the Watergate break-in, the top FBI job had come open for the first time in 37 years with the death of J. Edgar Hoover. Enraged that he hadn’t gotten the job, Felt saw Watergate as an opportunity to shatter the career of the man who did, Nixon’s friend L. Patrick Gray.

Felt began systematically leaking material from the FBI’s Watergate investigation. He knew Nixon, whose paranoia about leaks was legendary in Washington, would figure out that the source was somewhere in the FBI. Gray would be blamed, lose his job (he hadn’t yet been confirmed by the Senate and was officially only acting director) and Felt would be the logical replacement.

Felt played the Washington media like a mighty Wurlitzer, planting his leaks not just with the Post but Time magazine, the Washington Daily News and anybody else who would take them. As his scheme began to work, with Nixon pressing Gray hard to plug the leaks, Felt stood smugly by as other FBI officials were demoted or threatened with the loss of their jobs.

Contrary to the heroic myth that he always pointed reporters in the right direction, Felt’s leaks were often either carelessly inaccurate or maliciously false. Felt told the Post that “an out-of-channels vigilante squad” at the White House was wiretapping reporters as part of the Pentagon Papers investigation. Actually, the taps were directed at national-security leaks from U.S. arms negotiations with the Soviets, they had ceased long ago, and they were conducted by the FBI itself at the direction of Henry Kissinger. Most outrageous of all, Felt falsely told the Post that the man he was trying to get fired, L. Patrick Gray, was holding onto his job by blackmailing Nixon.

Leak goes on sale March 6.

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