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June 3, 2005

“Deep Throat” Times

Roy Meachum

Everybody’s played the game: Where were you when….? For years it was about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, man’s first step on the moon and, of course, the Kennedy assassination. I’ve never been asked the question about Richard Nixon’s farewell to Washington. But I remember.

Appropriately, I was spending that quiet August day reading Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book that became the film “All the President’s Men.” I lived at the time in the Fairfax Hotel, owned by Tennessee Gores, but of the Republican branch. Daughter Louise Gore made a failing run for Annapolis’ top job; along the way she beat another wannabe GOP governor, Larry Hogan.

A few years later, Larry and wife Ilona moved their growing brood to Frederick, about the same time I came up from Bethesda. He and I had never met, but we became more than simply friends as the result of working temporarily together at the National Emergency Training Center. We’ve remained fairly close for over 20 years.

Maryland’s Rep. Lawrence Hogan had earned my admiration for standing on his feet to become the first GOP member of Congress to call for Mr. Nixon to step down. His political courage may have cost him the State House. Certainly there was a considerable slice of the Republican Party that thought he had sold out. Given his staunch notion of duty and ethics, I now know, the former FBI agent had little choice.

Larry wrote an Email Tuesday, telling me that Mark Felt had revealed himself as Mr. Woodward’s “Deep Throat,” the nearly mystical character that confirmed The Washington Post’s reporting on Watergate and its aftermath. My friend has also shared nearly unanimously negative reactions to Mr. Felt’s public confession. I understand.

The gist of the objections seems to center on the duplicity displayed by the bureau’s second-in-command in using material developed in investigations to collaborate with the press. At the least, it is being said, he should have resigned because he found the Nixon White House’s tactics totally unacceptable to his professional standards.

On the other hand, it can be argued, at considerable risk to his future, Mr. Felt needed to stay on if the country were to be saved from a regime intent on the ruthless use of power for partisan and personal gain.

In the event, as has been pointed out, while The Post reporters’ Pulitzer Prize-winning stories created a public will that justice must prevail, the direct cause of Mr. Nixon’s fall was the “secret” audio tapes that recorded White House conversations.

The point can be made: If the president and all his men were really so ruthless, then surely they would have destroyed the tapes. A counterpoint points out that they simply never thought they would be caught or the recordings subpoenaed by the joint congressional investigative committee, as they were.

Hubris was the word in ancient Greece for the form of self-destructive behavior. It’s a bitter fit than “mad” in the proverb “Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.” Those two years between the bungled burglary of the Democratic Watergate headquarters and Richard Nixon’s tearful farewell, the Washington atmosphere was heavily laden with madness, especially in my hotel.

The Fairfax’s Jockey Room hosted most of the notable players in the unreeling tragedy, especially Attorney General John Mitchell, who wound up with Louise’s sister, after his time in jail. The adjoining bar provided a comfortable atmosphere for folks like Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee and lesser Republican fry like the man who befriended me; he was eventually prosecuted for questionable fundraising out of a townhouse that gave his case its name.

If you’re wondering what I was doing in such company, I should explain Grady Gore was in the process of selling his hotel. Under the circumstances, he was offering “theatrical rates,” so called because bargain prices were set to accommodate actor’s pockets, rarely overflowing with coin. Since I was working in television in those days, I seemed to qualify. Actually, across the hall lived a mysterious Greek gentleman, a journalist said to be on the lam from the military junta that ran his country. No show biz there.

Whereas Larry Hogan was close to the center of the Watergate maelstrom, I was way out on the edge; I didn’t return to covering politics until the year after Richard Nixon decamped for California. At my distance, curiosity was muted about who really played Deep Throat for The Post reporters; I idly assumed it was probably Henry Kissinger. The secretary of state came with the requisite attributes: he was ambitious, manipulative and highly addicted to the media, as I found on a couple of occasions.

In light of the rhubarb kicked up by Mark Felt coming forth, it is interesting to speculate what would have been said if Mr. Kissinger had indeed been the secret source. Some 30 years later, frankly, I find most of the Deep Throat stories on the watery side, making journalistic soup with potato peel scraps.

But I envy Larry Hogan and his colleagues for the passion of their reaction. And I must admit, a considerable spurt in population has occurred since the days when North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin was the nation’s unlikely golden hope; he chaired the investigation, which might have turned out differently if the Democrats had not controlled the Hill.

But that kind of thinking can only set off other trains of thought and that’s quite enough for now.

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