Friday, December 19, 2008

Infighting Warrior

W. Mark Felt, better known as Deep Throat, the anonymous source behind the Washington Post's Watergate stories in the 1970s, died yesterday. We at GW Law School take special note. Felt graduated from GW Law School in 1940.

When Felt revealed his identity in 2005, the most interesting thing, I thought, was the reason behind his decision to inform. He didn't expressly say so, but it seemed to me that Felt acted partly out of patriotism and a sense that the President and his top aides were wrongdoers who deserved to be denounced, and partly as a tool of bureaucratic infighting. Felt was the No. 2 official at the FBI, and the President and the administration were, he believed, subverting the Bureau's investigations in the Watergate breakins. And there was possibly a touch of personal revenge: Felt had been passed over for the post of FBI Director in 1972.

It was a fascinating insight into how reporters do their work. Where do they get the anonymous sources for those blockbluster stories? The Deep Throat experience suggests that, whatever controversial policy the administration is pushing, whatever crime it's committing, there's somebody, somewhere on the inside, who doesn't like it and who would blow the whistle on it. A combination of noble desire to do the right thing, plus bureaucratic desire to win the policy war, plus perhaps a bit of personal desires as well, opens someone up. The reporter's job is to find that person.

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