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Following 'Follow the Money'

June 15, 1997|Daniel Schorr | Daniel Schorr won three Emmies as CBS' chief Watergate correspondent and a place on the Nixon "enemies list." He is now senior news analyst for National Public Radio

WASHINGTON — A quarter-century after the break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel that started President Richard M. Nixon on the road to ruin, I have uncovered an intriguing mystery.

It is about Bob Woodward's famous high-level source, "Deep Throat." Not about his (her or their) identity, which the Washington Post's Woodward has managed to keep hidden all these years, even from publisher Katharine Graham. It is about the authenticity of the electrifying things Deep Throat was quoted as telling Woodward during their meetings in that underground garage.

The question arose recently when I was writing about President Bill Clinton's campaign-funding problems and wanted to refer to Deep Throat's famous advice, "Follow the money. Always follow the money."

Woodward has said this was the line that propelled him and Carl Bernstein into tracking down campaign checks laundered in Mexico, bags of cash in the hands of the Watergate burglars and the White House "slush fund" managed by Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and campaign chairman John N. Mitchell.

To make sure I had the line right, I went back to the Woodward-Bernstein book, "All the President's Men." To my amazement, I couldn't find it. I had three researchers read the book--and they confirmed it wasn't there. Eventually, I checked the motion picture, supposedly a faithful rendering of the book. And there it was, spoken by Hal Holbrook, playing Deep Throat in the murky shadows of the garage.

When I called Woodward, at first he said it was simply impossible that Deep Throat's most famous line was not in the book. But gradually he realized it was not, and said this was "inexplicable."

William Goldman, who wrote the screenplay, had described in an essay "how hard I slaved to get it right," because, in dealing with "material that actually changed the course of history, I felt insane pressure to have it as dry-dust authentic as I could."

I called Goldman who, like Woodward, at first insisted the line had to be in the book, and eventually realized it wasn't. Finally, he said, "I can't believe I made it up. I was in constant contact with Woodward while writing the screenplay. I guess he made it up."

Over several weeks, I talked two more times to Woodward, who continued to express his bafflement. He acknowledged he also could not find the "money" line in his exhaustive notes of the Watergate investigation, which quoted the meetings with Deep Throat almost verbatim.

Woodward said he could no longer rely on his memory as to whether Deep Throat had said the line. He was inclined to believe Goldman had invented it. Goldman said he would have been proud to be the author of the most famous line of the era. But he wasn't. "It had to be Woodward," he insisted.

Whoever said that inspired line "Follow the money," which has entered the political and journalistic lexicon, it was an invention. What other lines--and characteristics--of Deep Throat were invented to add what Gilbert and Sullivan would call "artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative"?

Why does it matter 25 years later? Because the history of Watergate and Nixon's downfall is incomplete without knowing who was so highly placed as to be privy to intimate White House and campaign secrets, and yet so bent on Nixon's destruction.

If Deep Throat is partly fiction, we are farther behind than we thought in solving that puzzle.

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