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Who was Deep Throat?

White House staff members were sent to prison after information was passed to reporters by an anonymous source known as Deep Throat.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 05 August 2014
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Deep Throat was an anonymous source within the United States government who passed information to reporters at the Washington Post in the 1970s. This information pertained to the Watergate scandal, an explosive political scandal which later resulted in the resignation of President Nixon, as well as prison terms for some White House staffers.

The identity of Deep Throat was kept secret for 30 years, until a 2005 Vanity Fair article finally exposed his identity, with his consent. Before Deep Throat was revealed, speculation about his identity was rampant among American political historians. The infamy of the Watergate case has led to the use of “Deep Throat” as a generic term for an anonymous source in a controversial case.

The Watergate scandal began in June 1972, when a crew of men were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel. The men seemed unusually well equipped, and many of them turned out to be linked to the Nixon administration. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating the case, which caught the eye of the media since it involved high profile political figures. As the case progressed, it became clear that it represented gross misuse of power, and that the White House had probably engaged in obstruction of justice. The excellent journalism of the Washington Post contributed to increased public awareness of the issue, and ensured that the case would be kept in the limelight, rather than shuffled to the back page.

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The Vanity Fair article and accompanying interviews revealed that Deep Throat had been William Mark Felt, who was Associate Director of the FBI at the time of the Watergate scandal. Felt had access to unique information surrounding the case, and was used to confirm facts and fill in information gaps. He approached Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, offering to provide information which would enhance their reporting of the Watergate scandal, and the two eagerly agreed.

The title “Deep Throat” for Felt has been linked to the 1972 pornographic film of the same name. It may also be a pun on “deep background,” an American journalistic term for a source which agrees to provide information, but not to go on the record. In other words, Deep Throat was not directly quoted by the Post in their expository articles on Watergate, but information which he provided was used to track down other potential sources which could be quoted. Deep Throat expanded the background information on the case, giving the two journalists a greater depth of knowledge.

The reason's behind Deep Throat's decision to leak information to the Post are unclear. Some historians have suggested that Felt was angry about being passed over for the position of Director, and seized an opportunity to get his revenge. Others have indicated that Felt's leak was part of a larger struggle between the FBI and the White House. The FBI often felt severely constrained by the White House, and Felt's revelations led to more autonomy for the Bureau. It is also possible that Deep Throat simply felt morally obligated to supply the information, in the interest of the greater good for the American people.

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