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Book Review – Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat

Synopsis:  Through the shadowy persona of Deep Throat, FBI official Mark Felt became as famous as the Watergate scandal his leaks helped uncover. Best known through Hal Holbrooks portrayal in the film version of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernsteins All the Presidents Men, Felt was regarded for decades as a conscientious but highly secretive whistleblower who shunned the limelight. Yet even after he finally revealed his identity in 2005, questions about his true motivations persisted.

Max Holland has found the missing piece of that Deep Throat puzzleone thats been hidden in plain sight all along. He reveals for the first time in detail what truly motivated the FBIs number-two executive to become the most fabled secret source in American history. In the process, he directly challenges Felts own explanations while also demolishing the legend fostered by Woodward and Bernsteins bestselling account.

First Line:  What motivated W. Mark Felt, a.k.a. “Deep Throat,” to leak to a cub reporter at Washington Post?

Random Quote:  There are grounds for believing that Felt was playing a tricky double game here.  He consistently urged Gray to keep the investigation moving, and not let be derailed by trumped-up claims of CIA involvement.  Yet he knew that doing so ran counter to White House wishes and that the acting director would likely pay the price for not being able to contain the FBI’s probe.

Review:  I cut my teeth as an unrepentant left-wing political person on Watergate.  I was ten years old when the scandal broke.  My parents were in Wisconsin for the summer while my mother put in a second semester at the University of Wisconsin at Madison for her Master’s in Library Science.  I was in Seattle staying with my grandparents for the summer.  It was a great summer and a big part of it was Watergate, oddly enough.

You have to understand that my family is very passionate about three things:  food, books, and politics (the order shifts depending on the events of the day).  When I say “passionate about politics,”  I mean that we watch and read everything we can get our hands or eyes on; discuss, analyze, and argue at length; and many of us are politically active in more pragmatic ways.  I volunteered in my first campaign when I was 8 or 9 going door-to-door for a school board candidate in Memphis who was friends with my parents.

President Richard Nixon

When Watergate erupted, time stood still – or at least revolved around only that.  My grandmother and I watched the hearings live in the afternoons and then on repeats when my grandfather came home.  My father was doing the same thing in Wisconsin (watching twice) and he and his mother were talking constantly about what was happening right there in front of us.

There was a lot I didn’t understand about what was going on, but I knew enough to understand that the President had done a deplorable thing and that Barbara Jordan was the most amazing woman I’d ever seen or heard.  She was breathtaking and a role model for her intelligent communication, focus, clarity, and utter doggedness in seeking the truth.

Later in my life I read the appropriate books and studied the events through an adult’s eyes.  I’m not sure Watergate was very healthy for me – formative though it was.  After all, the first President I remember in my life was Nixon (I was a baby in 1963).  I think those events helped to shape three things that influence how I think about politics:  the Presidency is almost always a role filled with corruption, many politicians would sell out their mothers to gain power (I’m looking at you, Gerald R. Ford), yet the people as a group have an amazing ability to affect change in how things work.  I suppose this made me a bit cynical about our democracy as a whole, yet it influenced me to remain committed to change at a grassroots level where change is more likely and, ultimately, more effective for the feet on the actual ground.

Max Holland’s book sheds new light on Mark Felt, the “Deep Throat” of Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting and book.  Here was the guy with the cigarette and the scratchy whispering voice in the parking lot at night talking to people he shouldn’t have.  He was the original Smoking Man from X-Files, of course.  I’ve never really thought about his intent because I’m not sure it’s possible to know it and intent is often many different things.  People have their own reasons and they are many and I can imagine a lot of things about those reasons, but I can’t fathom them because, guess what, I’m not the person I’m trying to fathom.  I also think actions matter more than intent.  Your intent when you gave that girl you just started dating may have been completely honorable – an ode to her beauty or whatever, but if she thinks you gave them to her so you could get laid – you’re probably not going to get laid.  It’s all intent, actions, and interpretations.

Representative Barbara Jordan – 1976

Leak is a very intelligent and well-researched book that shed new light on many aspects of Watergate for me.  Of course Mark Felt wasn’t an avenging hero of democracy out to right all the wrongs in his superhero trench coat.  How could he have been only that?  To read and hear more about why he did what he did, to have more light shed on the various parts of the story is inherently valuable.  This is also an extremely well-reported book.  In this day and age much of our reporting is canned because it’s mechanisms are owned by large corporations.  A scandal like Watergate will never happen again because we don’t have independent news outlets anymore – certainly not in the mainstream.

As journalism has moved away from print and into other media it’s left a huge vacuum which is driven by ratings and, let’s face it, who got a blow job where is a lot more salacious than a campaign office break-in – that wouldn’t lead on any network – among other things it doesn’t bleed.  The depth of journalism, of research, of fact-checking make this book a great reminder of what good reporting looks like and that is an inherently valuable thing.  Hats off to Mr. Holland for making me think more about something that I’ve thought a lot about.  You just never ever have all the angles covered.

FTC Disclosure:  Copy received from publisher as part of the author’s virtual book tour through TLC  Book Tours

Publishing Information:  University Press of Kansas – March 29, 2012

Format:  Hardback


Reading Challenges:  Non-Fiction, Non-Memoir

About Max Holland

Max Holland is editor of the website Washington Decoded, contributing editor to the Wilson Quarterly and The Nation, and author of The
Kennedy Assassination Tapes: The White House Conversations of Lyndon B.
Johnson Regarding the Assassination, the Warren Commission, and the
. He received the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for a forthcoming book on the Warren Commission.
Visit his website at, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on Facebook.

Maxs Tour Stops

Monday, June 4th: Crazy Liberals and Conservatives
Wednesday, June 6th: Strategists Personal Library
Thursday, June 7th: The Future American
Friday, June 8th: Marathon Pundit
Monday, June 11th: What Would the Founders Think?
Tuesday, June 12th: Catholic Bandita
Tuesday, June 12th: Padre Steve
Wednesday, June 13th: Litbrit
Wednesday, June 13th: Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, June 14th: Boiling Frogs
TBD: Millard Fillmores Bathtub

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