The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat by Bob Woodward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"Why were you Deep Throat? What was your motive? Who are you? Who were you?"
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men - to me one of the rare books that really deserve to be bestsellers - portrayed the painstaking journalistic and political process that eventually exposed the so-called Watergate affair and led to President Nixon's resignation from office in August of 1974. As a first-class non-fiction suspense it was one of the most fascinating reads of my life. Mr. Woodward's The Secret Man is in contrast a rather quiet work with much narrower scope. Although the author once again recounts the events that exploded into the Watergate Affair, he focuses more on the Deep Throat persona. The author insists (and Mr. Bernstein confirms it in a sort of an afterword, titled A Reporter's Assessment) that the book had been written before the identity of Deep Throat was publicly revealed.
The story begins - in a strong novelistic beginning - with the first meeting between the author and Deep Throat, that is Mr. Felt, in the late 1969 or early 1970, a meeting that happened in the West Wing of the White House, where both men were summoned on separate and unrelated business. Since they had to wait for quite a long time they engaged in a conversation and from these accidental beginnings an acquaintanceship had grown that lasted for many years to benefit both men. Coincidence shapes people's lives, the reader is told and led to think that - without that accidental meeting - the Watergate affair might have never been fully exposed and the political history might have been quite different. Although indeed most of what happens in people's lives is driven by chance the meeting is such a clever device powering the story in literary sense that a cynical skeptic that I am might doubt whether it happened in exactly that way.
In fact, there is great storytelling stuff in this book. Some of it - particularly the stunning phone conversation between the author and senile Mr. Felt on January 4, 2000 - is so good from a literary point of view that it is almost hard to believe: "too good to be true," one would almost like to say. Yet it might be true and it is a perhaps more scary to realize how people die years before their bodies quit. But I digress.
Two aspects of the book seem to be the most important. First, the author's quest to understand Mr. Felt's motives of acting as Deep Throat. Mr. Woodward points to Felt's strong feeling of allegiance to the FBI code of honor, oath of office, and his respect to the ethos of J. Edgar Hoover as potential reasons for Deep Throat's actions. But he also mentions, however slightly, Mr. Felt's personal daemons, and alerts to the possibility that it was vengeance for being twice spurned as the potential FBI director that motivated Deep Throat. I appreciate that the author does not strongly point in either direction as to the motive.
And second: in persecuting political opponents the Nixon's White House was clearly violating the law. Mr. Felt's divulging of mechanisms of these violations was most likely illegal too. Was his violation of some laws excused by the violations of law that he was trying to expose? A worthwhile read.
Three and a half stars.
View all my reviews