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THE NATION

In Revealing Deep Throat, One Minor Technicality

History: John Dean was to publish his theory about the Watergate informer online next week. But his subject is denying it persuasively.

June 12, 2002|JOSEPH MENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the latest round in Washington's greatest guessing game builds to a crescendo on Monday's 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, the award-winning online magazine Salon plans to enter the Deep Throat fray with a definitive 40,000-word accusation by scandal veteran John W. Dean III.

Or maybe not.

The suspect fingered in Dean's electronic book as Bob Woodward's secret source not only denies the charge but has provided San Francisco-based Salon with some pretty good evidence to the contrary.

As Dean tries to sort through the arguments, Salon has warned some business partners that it might miss the June 17 publication date it announced in April. The Web site's main page had no mention of the book Tuesday.

"Anything can happen, but right now we're still planning to publish on 6/17 as planned," said Salon Managing Editor Scott Rosenberg. "This has certainly been a complex story." Dean, who has made two previous guesses about Deep Throat, acknowledged that his book may miss the anniversary date.

"It may or may not," he said in an interview Tuesday from his Beverly Hills office. "If we don't make it by the 17th, we'll make it one day."

Dean is far from alone in the Deep Throat parlor game.

Several books pushing one theory or another have been published since President Nixon's resignation in 1974. Two years ago, former Nixon White House Counsel Leonard Garment wrote a book naming Republican strategist John Sears as Deep Throat. Sears denied it.

And Former Chicago Tribune investigative reporter William Gaines has said he will publish a list of half a dozen candidates and the evidence for each this month. Woodward and his Washington Post colleague Carl Bernstein have kept mum. Woodward has said he will spill the beans after Deep Throat dies.

Dean said two months ago that he had spent 20 years researching his theory, evidently supplanting his 1982 guess of Alexander M. Haig Jr., an aide to Henry A. Kissinger when the break-in occurred, and his 1975 statement identifying Watergate prosecutor Earl J. Silbert as the culprit. Both denied it.

Like Garment a former White House counsel to Nixon, Dean's 1973 congressional testimony helped lead to the president's resignation. He served six months in jail for his role in the cover-up.

Dean has written for Salon in the past, and the struggling Internet media company has staked its credibility on the book project.

"On the 30th anniversary of the June 17, 1972 Watergate break-in, John Dean and Salon.com will unmask the real Deep Throat," magazine editor-in-chief David Talbot wrote to the Web site's readers on May 2.

Dean said that may still prove true. "I'm still on top of it. It's not over till the fat lady sings," he said.

Salon hasn't said how much it will charge for Dean's electronic book. It has been trying a variety of ways to turn a profit, cutting staff and salaries and selling subscriptions for access to premium articles on its site. Salon has published at least three books in the past.

Facing a liquidity squeeze, the company in March raised a badly needed $500,000 investment from Adobe Systems Inc., which makes programs for reading electronic books and other documents.

But shares in Salon Media Group Inc. traded Tuesday at just 11 cents on the Nasdaq Small Cap Market. If the stock stays below $1, it may be forced to move to over-the-counter trading.

Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.

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