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Hero or Traitor?

Mark Felt admits to being Deep Throat

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 01, 2005.

One of the reasons I do this commentary on Wednesday mornings as late as possible is to avoid doing a piece on outrageous gas prices when, say, Yellowstone just erupted or some horror just occurred in Iraq. But, it’s tourist season at Yellowstone and I wouldn’t regret the decline in breeding Winnebagos, and there’s always some horror from Iraq.

My home station airs this on Wednesday afternoon and most other stations run it before the weekend, so I like to play it close. Not today. I’m recording this on Tuesday afternoon. This means that just a few hours ago, and twenty-four after I finished swearing at the recording software, no doubt France declared Ronald McDonald a member of their Academy, Ireland passed Prohibition, the International Olympics Committee declared Texas Hold ‘Em a recognized Olympic sport for 2008, and President Bush admitted an error. All likely because of my change of schedule.

Still, big news today. Deep Throat has admitted himself, and as you no doubt know Mark Felt was long a suspect. Felt was the FBI’s number two man under Director Gray after J. Edgar Hoover’s death, and he was a powerful and resourceful man. He’s ninety-one, and if he’s going to get any credit for this – or suffer any attack – it’s best to bring it out now, or at least that was the theory of his family in the new Vanity Fair magazine.

For those too young to know or too old to recall, Deep Throat was the informant to reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandals. He didn’t tell all he knew but steered Woodstein, as Woodward and Carl Bernstein were called, in the right directions. “Follow the money,” Deep Throat told them. They did, to Mexico, to Nixon’s re-election committee, and to Bebe Rebozo, Nixon’s Cuban friend and confidante. President Nixon tried to play the FBI off against the CIA under the guise of national security to save his butt for a stupid break-in that didn’t and couldn’t have affected the election of 1972 at all. He claimed national security issues. But the FBI knew better, and Felt turned against Nixon.

Deep Throat was obviously a person with the info, the access, to everything the reporters needed. He didn’t exactly reveal anything, himself. He encouraged them and kept them on message. Still, there were those then and there are those today who consider him a traitor to the nation. A traitor because he brought down the President, and in the middle of a war we were losing abroad and social chaos at home. These were exciting and meaningful years. But in a contest between President and country, country won with Mark Felt.

One of the problems of a functioning democratic republic is that it requires a military or at least a security branch. And oaths are taken to defend the nation. And other oaths are taken. West Point, for example, has as its motto “Duty, Honor, Country” without illuminating duty to what, whose honor, and why do those two come before the country they’re to protect? In military academies with religious certainty, scandals break out every few years that are juvenile and anti-democratic in both content and intent. You’re not to rat on your fellows, although you’ve taken an oath to do just that. You always support your own, even if your own are doing ill. Hazing and illegal but tolerated brutal treatment seems designed, under the guise of toughening up the soldier, to rather inflict another line of allegiance that easily could remain different from the formal oaths taken. More than mere sadism.

In short, does duty to the unit supercede, sometimes, duty to the country? You listen to some military officers speak and it’s often hard to tell. That’s probably normal, and one reason we retain a less efficient military than, say, Israel. Because it’s too easy to plan a coup with only one military branch.

I don’t know what Mark Felt took for an oath. As law enforcement, he swore to uphold the Constitution. And confronted with his President saying the FBI shouldn’t trace this strange money trail in Mexico because it would foul up a CIA operation, which was easy enough to expose as false through informal but existing channels, he apparently said goodbye to fidelity to his President, and put the Constitution above it. I’d like to think that, rather than playing a political game for some advantage or other, but Felt never profited from his role. He was always on the GOP hit list, and they forced him out and charged him on other issues until Ronald Reagan pardoned him, a move perhaps in the same nature of Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. It put it all behind us, for the most part.

It’s only thirty years since Watergate, and in another twenty it will all come out. Fifty years and every participant is dead, and like war material, a half century is considered enough. Watergate was scary because it showed how easy it is for a democracy to be led by the nose by dedicated groups of small men. When one stood up – sorta - and did the right thing – kinda - it all fell apart and most of the truth came out. All we wanted to hear, anyway. It’s not a heroic tale, really. Like Oscar Schindler, Mark Felt showed that great good doesn’t always require dramatic and public action. Sometimes all that is needed is not acquiescing in doing the worst.