Politics & Policy

The Big Secret?

The Ultimate Reveal is just another excuse for media navel-gazing.

I still don’t get it. If the Felt family had shopped a book to various publishers revealing that Mark Felt was, indeed, Deep Throat, and if People magazine had the story but decided to take a pass on it, how could the big secret remain such a big secret?

Everyone I know in the media is a blabbermouth. And almost everything else gets out from an editor on the way out to a married publisher having an affair with an editorial assistant.

What’s more, we are now hearing that lots of people knew or guessed correctly: Bernstein’s ex-wife, the writer Nora Ephron, and his son Jacob Bernstein, now a reporter at Women’s Wear Daily, who may have spilled the beans to a pal at camp. And more than a decade ago James Mann in The Atlantic and more recently Tim Noah in Slate fingered the right guy.

Heck, even New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams, who more typically reports on the doings of her Yorkies, wrote in her column a couple months ago that it was Felt. Cindy, always the realist, declared, “I don’t totally know if anyone gives a hoot anymore.”

Many Americans don’t remember the Watergate drama. Let’s face it, you have to be in your 50s to have followed it day by day. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, says when he got the phone call about someone wanting to talk about Deep Throat, his assistant had no idea who Deep Throat was. Says Carter, “I think people under 30 think you’re talking about a porn movie.” Not surprising, then, that the occasional speculations produced little more than a yawn up until last week.

What changed everything was the fact that the Washington Post was scooped on its very own story–its most important story ever–by Vanity Fair. And so the Ultimate Reveal updated Watergate from a story about wrongdoing in high places–a part of presidential history–to a story about media. And there is absolutely nothing the media loves more nowadays than a story about itself.

It made every front page and led every broadcast. After some coy hesitations, last week Bernstein and Woodward began bouncing from one TV talk show to another. It was, suggested Alessandra Stanley, the New York Times’s witty television critic, as if Sonny and Cher or Simon and Garfunkel were back together again. There they were on Good Morning America and Today, on CNN and Larry King, the gentlemanly Woodward and the roguish Bernstein, reveling in the past and re-recording their greatest hit. There were numerous guest appearances by Ben Bradlee as well.

Virtually every newspaper in Great Britain on the day after the revelation carried Woodward’s own bylined story of how he knew what he knew and when he knew it. And that was followed by journalists’ reminiscences and score-settlings, recalling who took Bernstein and Woodward’s stories seriously at the time and who didn’t. British tabloids have always known that, whenever possible, reporters should be part of the intrigue and drama of the story.

I am sure that many of the editors, reporters, and producers in today’s newsrooms wanted to become journalists after seeing Woodward, Bernstein, and Ben Bradlee so attractively played by Redford, Hoffman, and Jason Robards in All the President’s Men. I know journalism schools were flooded with applicants after the movie came out.

So I’m not really surprised that media has made such a colossally big deal about Deep Throat’s identity finally being confirmed. At a time when the latest Pew poll finds that the public has less and less respect for journalists, last week’s revelation gave newspaper editors and television producers who may be feeling a bit misunderstood and beleaguered a chance to recall some major glory days, to go on and on about Woodward and Bernstein’s impeccable ethics in not revealing their source, and to unsubtly highlight the value of attack-dog style journalism.

As for Mr. Felt, he seems to have gotten less than he bargained for, at least so far. Publisher Judith Regan turned the family down, she now says, because she didn’t think he was all there and could verify his claims. But didn’t her company publish Bernie Kerik’s book, which was full of stories that, she has said, she now doesn’t think were true?

And People magazine claims it didn’t want to pay his family for his story. That strikes me as odd too, since they make deals with celebrities all the time, at least for photos. Didn’t People recently pay Julia Roberts for the pictures of her with her newborn twins? And Julia didn’t exactly change the course of history.

Well maybe the Felts, like Woodward and Bernstein, will finally cash in, too. But as for finding out that Mark Felt was indeed the one, it did remind me–and probably every executive in America–that no one is more potentially dangerous than a disgruntled, passed-over employee.

As for Mr. Felt’s motives, I think it was T. S. Eliot who once wrote: “The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed, for the wrong reason.”

Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.

Myrna BlythMyrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...


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