The Laurel roots of Watergate's 'Deep Throat'

Laurel Leader

In the 1976 film, “All the President’s Men,” Hal Holbrook memorably portrayed an anonymous source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal who was whimsically nicknamed “Deep Throat” by a Post editor. The importance of Deep Throat’s contributions to the Post’s coverage, combined with the enigmatic, shadowy portrayal in the film, made uncovering his identity a decades-long national mystery.

But in the film, there was a brief clue about Deep Throat’s identity that spoke to Woodward’s relationship with him. Starting with that clue and working through numerous books and articles published before and after former FBI official Mark Felt revealed himself to be Deep Throat, it appears that Laurel played a significant role in developing the Woodward-Deep Throat relationship.

The Film Clue

It’s interesting that in the book on which the film was based, written by Carl Bernstein and Woodward, there was no mention of how Woodward came to rely on Deep Throat as a source. In the film version, when the reporters seemed to come to a dead end, Woodward (portrayed by Robert Redford) makes a call in a phone booth on 17th St. NW, with the Old Executive Office Building in the background. It’s the first instance of Deep Throat’s appearance in the film, even though viewers only hear his voice through the phone in the scene.

Woodward: “I want to talk about Watergate.”

Deep Throat: “We’re not going to talk about that subject.”

Woodward: “Well, we talked about Wallace.”

Deep Throat: “But this is different.”

Woodward: “That was about the shooting of a man running for president.”

Deep Throat: “This is different.”

Woodward: “How?”

Deep Throat: “Not about this story—don’t call me again.”

[CLICK]

We talked about Wallace?

For obvious reasons, Felt avoided any discussion about his relationship with Woodward in his book, “The FBI Pyramid,” published in 1979. He did, however, write about the White House’s obsession with the source of the leaks and the various people suspected, including himself. In the book, Felt falsely declared, “I never leaked information to Woodward and Bernstein or to anyone else!”

In a 2005 Post article, under the headline, “How Mark Felt Became ‘Deep Throat,’” Woodward recalled the first tip he received from Felt in 1972. The FBI believed that Vice President Spiro T. Agnew had been receiving cash bribes for years, extending back to his days as Baltimore county executive and governor of Maryland. Woodward passed the tip to an experienced reporter and, two years later, an investigation into the bribes led to Agnew’s resignation as vice president.

The Laurel Source

In Woodward’s book, “The Secret Man,” published in 2005, the same year Felt revealed his identify, Woodward recounts how they met and how Felt became a sort of mentor to the young reporter. The first time Felt became an anonymous source for Woodward’s own writing was on May 15, 1972, after presidential candidate Alabama Governor George Wallace was shot at the Laurel Shopping Center by Arthur Bremer.

Woodward was part of the team at the Post trying to find out who shot Wallace in Laurel. The team was led by City Editor Barry Sussman. Under his direction, the Post’s Watergate coverage won a Pulitzer Prize.

In his 1974 book, “The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate,” Sussman wrote, “Long before Watergate, I knew that Bob Woodward had extraordinary drive and skill, and that he had several most unusual contacts. On May 15, 1972, hours after George Wallace was shot in a Laurel, Maryland shopping center just sixteen miles from the center of the District of Columbia, we at the Post still had not learned the name of the man who shot the Alabama governor. Woodward mentioned to me that he had ‘a friend’ who might be able to help. It was the first time I remember hearing Woodward speak of his ‘friend.’”

In his book, Woodward wrote, “In the following days I called Felt several times. He very carefully pointed me in the right direction—gave me leads—as we at the Post tried to find out more about Arthur Bremer.”

Another book, “Leak—Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat,” by Max Holland, declared, “In May 1972, when Arthur Bremer shot Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center, Felt had given Woodward valuable information from the FBI’s investigation, enabling Woodward to write some A-section stories.”

By his own admission, Woodward was careless in protecting his source the first time he made reference to him. On May 18, 1972, three days after the shooting in Laurel, the Post ran a story written by Woodward under the headline, “Bremer’s Car Called Motel on Wheels.” The story noted, “High federal officials who have reviewed investigative reports on the Wallace shooting said yesterday that there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that Bremer was a hired killer” and “At least 200 FBI agents still were following leads across the country and have found no indication of a conspiracy in the Wallace shooting, federal sources here in Washington said.” In the 2005 article, Woodward wrote, “Felt chastised me” for not concealing the source better.

In subsequent articles about Bremer, with Felt as a source for information, Woodward referred to the FBI official as “a reliable Justice Department official,” a “spokesman,” and a “source.” The articles provided personal information about Bremer, reported on his travelings as he stalked both Wallace and Nixon, and speculated if Bremer had also been targeting Sen. Hubert Humphrey, a former Vice President.

One month after Wallace was shot, the Watergate break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters occurred. The events in Laurel jump-started a relationship that led, for the first and only time, to a president of the United States resigning from office.

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