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THE NATION

Mystery of Deep Throat Lives Despite Buildup

Watergate: Nixon aide John Dean said he would identify the elusive news source 30 years after the break-in, but he could only narrow the field.

June 18, 2002|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Thirty years after the Watergate break-in, the identity of Deep Throat--the White House insider who helped bring down President Richard Nixon--remains a mystery.

Although former White House counsel John Dean has spent 25 of those years trying to unmask the man who was a source for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, he failed Monday to identify Deep Throat in a 158-page e-book published by Salon, an online daily magazine.

Deep Throat--whose identity has been carefully protected by the reporters, as well as by former Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee--was a key character in the best-selling book and movie "All the President's Men." Yet little about him is known, except that he had access to high-level information and met with Woodward in garages and other remote locations from 1972 to '73, offering damning insights into Nixon.

In the concluding chapter of "Unmasking Deep Throat: History's Most Elusive News Source," Dean offered four possibilities from the Nixon White House: speech writer Patrick J. Buchanan, press secretary Ronald Ziegler and aides Ray Price and Steven Bull. But he said more research is needed for a final identification.

"We are closer than we ever have been," Dean wrote, "and clearly within striking range."

His e-book, however, failed to live up to its billing. As the 30th anniversary of the White House-sponsored break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters approached, Dean was said to be on the verge of an identification. Yet several candidates issued persuasive denials, causing him to stop short of naming any one person.

For their part, Woodward and Bernstein have kept mum. They and Bradlee have said they will not identify Deep Throat without his permission while he is alive. But they have said, many times, that their source was a real person--not a composite--and that he offered crucial information for their reporting.

Asked about Dean's theories, Woodward told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday: "You're going to get a kind of deep silence from us on this subject."

Dean has conceded that he has a personal interest in revealing Deep Throat's identity. The former White House aide, who suspected that he was being set up by Nixon's White House team to take the blame for the Watergate cover-up, testified against his ex-boss in dramatic 1973 hearings. He told Nixon there was a "cancer" on the presidency that had to be rooted out, and his testimony paved the way for the president's resignation in 1974.

"I'd truly like to chat with, and tip my hat to, the one person who will go into history outranking me on Richard Nixon's final enemies list," he wrote.

Gathering Clues

In winnowing his list, Dean said, he carefully screened "All the President's Men" for clues, in addition to examining several statements made over the years by Bradlee.

Based on the tidbits gleaned, Dean concluded that Deep Throat was a well-read but occasionally rowdy man who drank scotch, smoked constantly, had a heavy 5 o'clock shadow and was either a bachelor or trapped in an unhappy marriage. He deduced the latter from the fact that Woodward met with Deep Throat in the middle of the night and that this would have been uncharacteristic behavior for a happily married man.

Dean checked Deep Throat candidates against these and other traits. He also documented their comings and goings from 1972 to 1974 to see if they could have met with Woodward on the dates mentioned in the book.

An elite list of well-known personalities was thus eliminated, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, White House aides Diane Sawyer and Alexander Haig, and former FBI Director L. Patrick Gray. Dean has promised to continue issuing updates on his research until the mystery is solved.

It is not clear, however, whether a majority of Americans care.

Although the Watergate scandal profoundly altered history, nearly two-thirds of the respondents in a new ABC poll said they didn't know enough about the break-in and cover-up to tell the basic facts to another person.

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