The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster), 249 pages, $31.75 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Thirty-one years later, the identity of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's super-source remained the biggest Watergate secret still unresolved. Then Woodward was scooped by Vanity Fair when Deep Throat outed himself to the magazine.
The Secret Man is Woodward's attempt to grab back the story he let slip through his fingers. As a result, this thin book feels like it was stitched together in 10 days and rushed into bookstores - which it was.
Deep Throat was Mark Felt, the FBI's second-in-command when the appalling treachery of Nixon's White House was manifested by the 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex.
Woodward, who had been a lieutenant with naval intelligence, knew how to snuggle up to people who might one day help him. He developed a symbiotic relationship with the aging G-man: the journalist got great stories and Felt got even with an administration he believed was Nazi-like.
Or perhaps Felt was peeved at being passed over for the directorship of the FBI when J. Edgar Hoover dropped dead on the eve of the Watergate investigations.
Problem is, by the time Woodward got around to asking Deep Throat what made him do it, strokes and old age had wiped out most of Felt's memory banks.
Woodward told this story decades ago in the classic journalistic suspense story All The President's Men, co-written with Carl Bernstein, and much of the Felt material appeared in a lengthy article he wrote for the Washington Post after the Vanity Fair story came out.
But this book offers an interesting and well-told glimpse into Woodward's struggles with his own feelings about his secret source.
Unfortunately, his recollections of his youthful sleuthing on the scandal only emphasize how far he's come from that hungry journalist who took on the most powerful men in the world.
Today's Woodward is more of a stenographer for power than a challenger of it.
And that is a tragedy.
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