Don't believe that historical marker! The republic wasn't saved at the Deep Throat garage. | Bleader

Don't believe that historical marker! The republic wasn't saved at the Deep Throat garage.

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Bernstein and Woodward
  • AP Photo
  • Bernstein and Woodward
If Jesse Owens's name isn't safe on a Chicago public school, what chance did a mere parking garage outside Washington, D.C., have of surviving just because it provided the setting for a few minutes of stirring cinema?

What happened at the garage on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia, was a series of rendezvous between Deep Throat and Bob Woodward (but think Hal Holbrook and Robert Redford) as Woodward and his Washington Post sidekick Carl Bernstein investigated the 1972 Watergate break-in. There's a historical marker there now, and it says this:

Mark Felt, second in command at the FBI, met Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward here in this parking garage to discuss the Watergate scandal. Felt provided Woodward information that exposed the Nixon administration's obstruction of the FBI's Watergate investigation. He chose the garage as an anonymous secure location. They met at this garage six times between October 1972 and November 1973. The Watergate scandal resulted in President Nixon's resignation in 1974. Woodward's managing editor, Howard Simons, gave Felt the code name 'Deep Throat.' Woodward's promise not to reveal his source was kept until Felt announced his role as Deep Throat in 2005.

But the garage's days are numbered. Plans are to clear the area for new office buildings. I got the heads-up on this from Max Holland, the prominent debunker of Deep Throat mythology who a few months ago published Leak, a book casting a skeptical eye on Felt's motives for telling Woodward whatever it was he told him. Introducing Leak to Bleader readers, I wrote that Holland:

believes Felt was not driven by a patriotic passion to expose lawlessness at the highest levels of government. Nor was he determined to focus culpability on the White House in order to protect his FBI from being dragged down by the scandal. And he wasn't avenging himself against Nixon for having passed him over as J. Edgar Hoover's successor by instead naming assistant attorney general L. Patrick Gray as acting director of the FBI. Holland argues that Felt still wanted Gray's job, and set out to get it by 'trying to prove to the White House, through anonymous leaks to the media, that Gray was dangerously incompetent and incapable of running the Bureau.'

In Holland's words:

The portrait of Felt that emerges when we follow this thread does not resemble any of Bob Woodward's depictions. Felt held the news media in contempt and was neither a high-minded whistle-blower, nor was he genuinely concerned about defending his institution's integrity. He was not even hopelessly embittered—just calculating.

Perhaps the top of the marker, which now says "Watergate Investigation," should be altered to read "A Cunning Game Was Played Here."

When I heard from Holland about the garage's fate, I rooted around the Internet and discovered the marker was being debunked within days after it was erected in 2011 (even though it says 2008). Journalism professor W. Joseph Campbell, on his blog Media Myth Alert, claimed it wasn't true that what Felt told Woodward exposed Nixon's obstruction of justice. Felt volunteered very little, and nothing nearly that revealing. Nixon's obstruction of justice wasn't exposed until after the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the White House tapes in 1974.

Holland pointed out to me that the Post repeated the same canard in its story reporting that the garage will be demolished. He elaborated:

In truth, Felt did NOT tell Woodward about the single clearest (some would even say only) example (that Felt knew about) of the administration's effort to partially obstruct the FBI investigation . . . what would become known as the 'smoking gun' episode, i.e., the late June/early July effort to invoke CIA equities to prevent FBI tracing of campaign contributions laundered through Mexico. Nor did Felt ever disclose the obstruction of justice in a larger sense, i.e., the payment of hush money to those arrested in return for their silence, or Dean's destruction of the Hunt notebooks (Felt didn't know about these funds insofar as we know, or the destruction of the notebooks). So this assertion is problematic at least because it mischaracterizes what Felt did. The FBI agents involved in the investigation would take issue with the characterization that their probe was obstructed and anything less than extremely vigorous and thorough.

Furthermore:

Woodward's promise not to reveal his sources was kept until Felt announced his role as DT in 2005. As I argued in my book, Woodward violated nearly every stipulation of his deep background agreement w Felt when it was convenient for Woodward to do so . . .

And in a later e-mail he added:

To suggest that Felt helped Woodstein report on the 'obstruction of the FBI's Watergate investigation' is to create the impression they were reporting on the cover-up. Of course, they never did that until way later in 1973 and after the cover-up fell apart. Their reporting was about administration involvement in the crime.

An official for the firm that owns the garage building told the Post they hope to incorporate the marker in the new construction. If that's the case, get me rewrite!

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