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Honoring 'Deep Throat'

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In his column Wednesday, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, asked the question: Would Deep Throat be a hero in 2005? He suggested that most people would say yes. Deep Throat, after all, was the anonymous source who led journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to the information that exposed what became known as the Watergate scandal during the early part of President Richard Nixon’s second term. That information, and the dogged pursuit of the story by the Post, also exposed the complicity of John Mitchell’s Justice Department and led to Nixon’s resignation in disgrace in 1974.

Deep Throat was in the news, of course, because the source — one of American journalism’s best kept secrets — revealed himself on Tuesday. He is W. Mark Felt, former deputy director of the FBI. According to a Washington Post editorial, Felt, who is 91, revealed his role in part “because of his family’s belief that he deserves to be honored for his actions while he is alive.�

For all those Americans who believe honesty trumps blind loyalty, Felt deserves a nod of approval and recognition. We’re among those who hold Felt’s actions in the highest regard.

Felt, it should be known, was no flaming liberal. The Post noted that he was a dedicated servant of the FBI, who was convicted and later pardoned for authorizing illegal acts in pursuit of leftist radicals in the early 1970s. But corruption within the White House was too much for Felt’s conscience when he saw Nixon’s staff try to silence and interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the burglary of Democratic Party headquarters in June 1972 and, according to the Post, when he witnessed Nixon attempt to gain control of the FBI for political purposes.

At the risk of being fired or prosecuted, Felt went undercover, meeting with the Post’s two reporters in 1972 and 1973, which led to reports that eventually exposed the extent of corruption within the Nixon White House. Felt’s action was courageous and worthy of honor precisely because it went against the very nature of his job and of his oath in office. He knew that many within the bureau would consider such a breach of confidence  as treachery.

Yet, he made the decision to be that anonymous source because he believed that exposing the truth of a corrupt administration was far more important than keeping silent. Looking at Felt’s decision 33 years later, few will question (except those of the extreme far right) that it was the right thing to do.

But Kurtz asks whether the country would make the same assessment in today’s politically-charge climate. If the president were George W. Bush, not Richard Nixon, and the media climate was that of 2005, with the in-your-face bias of extremist radio jocks and broadcast studios like Fox News, would Americans consider an anonymous source a hero if that information exposed corruption inside the Bush administration?

And, if not, why not? If exposing truth is the highest public good — over loyalty when such loyalty is dishonest — then surely a modern-day Deep Throat would be hailed as a hero.

The question is asked, however, because the evidence suggests otherwise. We are living in a society in which Americans are too willing to believe that which is not believable; too willing to turn a blind eye to abuses in the name of patriotism; too willing to criticize opponents of the Bush administration, even though the facts support many of their criticisms.

Is there corruption within the current administration? No proof is on the table. More to the point, however, is whether anyone inside the administration today would expose that corruption as did Felt in 1972. On that question there is a great deal of doubt.

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