Thursday, June 02, 2005

Deep Throat Was No Hero

The media and the blogosphere have been abuzz for several days over the revelation that Deep Throat was Mark Felt, the number two man at the FBI during Watergate. The Washington Post, in particular, is in the throes of a multi-day orgasm over its own excellence.

There's an undercurrent of controversy, however. There are those who don't think Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, was a hero at all. I'm one of them. Let's think about it for a few minutes.

Some people in our society are entrusted with "positions of special trust and confidence." Those words or their equivalent often appear in presidential commissions received by individual officers, oaths of office, non-disclosure agreements regarding classified information, and other individual undertakings that bind a person to extraordinary standards.

The responsibilities of positions like these are difficult to understand from the outside, and they often bear heavily on the people in whom this kind of trust has been placed. This burden likely includes a lifetime of working late hours, disappearing for days at a time, missing important family events, and losing contact with friends for reasons that cannot be explained. And the responsibilities never go away, not in a new career or in retirement. The law, professionalism, and personal morality require that some secrets go to the grave.

Mark Felt chose to violate the law, the standards of his profession, and his personal morality by conducting secret meetings in the dark with a reporter. During those meetings, he divulged information he was not permitted to reveal. It may have been because he was miffed at being passed over for the FBI Directorship, because he was protecting the status of his agency, because he felt that serious wrongs needed to be set right, or because he reveled in the thrill of being a "player." Even Bob Woodward isn't sure of his reasons.

The one person who was sure, Felt himself, knew he was wrong. That's why he did it clandestinely in the dark, and that's why he kept the secret for so many years. And from all reports, his mental state is such that even today it seems questionable that he would have come forward on his own.

Was Richard Nixon a corrupt President who needed to be purged from the White House? Yes. Would it have happened even if Mark Felt hadn't violated the trust placed in him? In all likelihood, yes. Did the sins of Nixon justify the sin of Mark Felt? No.

In order to believe that what Mark Felt did was right, you have to believe that the end justifies the means. If you believe that, then you must accept any violation of trust by anyone.

Sworn officers of the government may in rare cases find themselves in positions where the legal, professional, and moral standards they live under conflict with their consciences. There are honorable alternatives in those cases. Principled resignation with public statements, complaints to inspectors general, and recourse to Congress were all available to Mark Felt.

However, all of those alternatives require one to publicly take a stand. Mark Felt wasn't man enough to do that. Instead, he chose one of the least honorable courses of action--secret meetings in a dark parking lot with a reporter. Deep Throat was no hero.

15 Comments:

Blogger John Walter said...

If Felt did what he did out of real opposition to White House corruption, that would be one good thing. But all indications are that he could probably have cared-less about the rights and wrongs of the Watergate break-in and coverup.

I wonder if it is considered whistle-blowing if an investigator leaks information about an ongoing investigation? Is there any chance Felt could claim that the Watergate investigation would have come to nbothing had he not talked to reporters?

11:40 AM, June 02, 2005  
Blogger DC said...

Well said, Tom. I agree wholeheartedly.

1:09 PM, June 02, 2005  
Blogger sygamel said...

Considering what Nixon's team did to undo democracy -- steal opposition documents in order to secure success an election, an election interestingly Nixon would easily have won with or without the information unearthed at Watergate -- I do believe the revelation of Nixon's misdeeds was important to our democracy. The covert manner in which he did it, however, I too find cowardly.

1:30 PM, June 02, 2005  
Blogger sygamel said...

the final "he" refers to Mark Felt.

1:31 PM, June 02, 2005  
Anonymous dolphin said...

Turning someone in for breaking the law isn't wrong. Mark Felt had to make a decision. He could either pass the info on to the DOJ, be fired, and get to watch the DOJ cover the whole thing up, or he could notify the American people and watch justice be done. I think he made the right decision.

3:30 PM, June 02, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Well said, Tom. I agree with it all too!!

I believe Woodward didn't even need MF, though the Post did. Woodward knew all that stuff already but it helped to have someone else back it up.

3:35 PM, June 02, 2005  
Blogger OT said...

Amen. Right on Tom. It is difficult for me to watch this person come out of the closet with the express purpose of making his family some money before his demise. Blech.

4:01 PM, June 02, 2005  
Anonymous lisa said...

Good post Tom.

7:11 PM, June 02, 2005  
Blogger Anastasia said...

Hi Tom (thanks for the comment in my blog).

I totally agree with what you say. I was too young to directly experience the scandal relating President Nixon, but over the years I have read about it, have seen many documentaries over it and do remember at one point people suggesting Dianne Sawyer being 'Deep Throat'.

A few days ago, the story about Felt was broadcast here and it was interesting to see (and many should take note of the extent of lying that does occur) 'vintage' reel from another show that featured Felt. In it he was directly asked if he was Deep Throat and he denied it in a really convincing manner. I use the word convincingly, because there was no drama in the form of 'I did not have sexual relations with THAT WOMAN!' type of drama.

It was mind boggling to see that old footage, and then see him 'now' as he is openly admitting what he did.
Regardless of the years that have passed, his age and his 'grand-fatherly' look, it doesn't remove the stain of the lie. In many ways I found it scary to watch, because it only cements the high possibility of lying, raises the question of all the lies that have been told to the public (about everything that's happened these last few years) concerning world events or military decisions (etc).

10:49 PM, June 02, 2005  
Anonymous howard said...

I agree with most of what you said, Tom, but I'm not really clear on the whole trust issue.

If you trust me to keep your confidence, and subsequently you engage in an activity that I find reprehensible, am I wrong to break your confidence?

Even if I convey the information covertly, does that necessarily mean that I believe I'm wrong to convey the information? As a parallel, is a mob informant wrong to squeal on his former colleagues covertly, or to do so and then go into hiding? -the mob bosses he betrays would probably say yes, but in the real world, isn't there a point at which the wrongdoer's trust should be betrayed?

I don't necessarily think Felt did everything he did for honorable reasons, but I don't actually know otherwise. And I have a problem with the whole notion that being sworn to secrecy is its own moral value (to be placed above all others), which is what some talking heads have been suggesting over the past couple days. I'm not sure, but it sounds like you're saying the same thing.

2:25 AM, June 03, 2005  
Blogger Talking Tina said...

Lmao I thought Deep throat was Monica Lewinsky. ewps!

2:52 AM, June 03, 2005  
Blogger Gindy said...

The problem I had with the guy is that he did it all it all in secret rather than coming out and making his position know.

On the otherside of the coin, that was before my time and therefore all I can do is go by second had accounts of that period in history.

2:17 PM, June 03, 2005  
Blogger Sheri & SuZan said...

Great article! I personally feel that his actions would have been honorable if he would have left the FBI because of the corruption, then blow the whistle. Being he remained in his position leads one the think that it was for revenge.

5:27 PM, June 03, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks to all for your comments.

Two points are being made, in addition to the fact that in his mix of motivations, some definitely weren't heroic. One is that he knew something badly wrong was happening, and he had a moral obligation to do something about it. The other is that obligations of trust don't trump all other considerations. I agree with both.

Being an officer of the government in a position of special trust and responsibility is not the same as giving someone a personal promise or being faithful in a marriage. The stakes are much higher and the responsibilities much greater, even though the moral issues are similar. The legal and professional aspects are also much different. So what does a person in a position like this do when he can't square what he sees going on with his conscience? There are honorable alternatives. Felt obviously couldn't go to the Attorney General, although he might have been able to talk to Justice officials below that level. He clearly couldn't go to the White House, either. But he certainly could have gone to Congress, to other officials of the government, or to the press openly.

The reason we know the identity of a "whistleblower" is because the person steps forward and does the right thing. That often has adverse consequences, of course, although today there are quite a few protections for that person. The reason we didn't know the identity of Deep Throat is because he did it for questionable reasons, in the dark, in secret. The reason he hid all those years is because he knew he was wrong and he knew he would probably be prosecuted. The press loves that sort of thing, of course, but there's nothing heroic about it.

6:12 AM, June 04, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom,

If you graduated from Riverhead High School with me in 1961, then you know about whistleblowing because you did some yourself.

You made us all proud of you.

--Gene

8:29 PM, April 09, 2006  

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