Felt Good: Woodward and Bernstein Visit ‘Deep Throat’

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Iconic Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein paid their first joint visit to their famous source ? known for three decades only as “Deep Throat” ? in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Sunday, a first meeting for Bernstein and a poignant reunion for Woodward.

William Mark Felt Sr., the former No. 2 at the FBI who helped the famous Washington Post reporters write stories that led to the toppling of the Richard Nixon presidency, is 95 years old now and suffers from Alzheimer?s.

The Santa Rosa meeting was like coming “full circle,” Woodward said.

Woodward and Bernstein spoke of the visit in a rare joint appearance Monday night at the Lesher Speaker Series in Walnut Creek, where they engaged in a wide-ranging discussion on everything from Watergate to media bias to Barack Obama?s pending presidency. The story behind their work on the Nixon administration?s deceit and ultimate unraveling were the most riveting, however.

The reporters declined a request for a follow-up interview on their meeting with Felt.

But during their appearance on stage, Woodward warmly described the two-hour visit with Felt as like a family reunion.

Surprisingly, Bernstein had never met Felt before Sunday.

Felt was Woodward?s source; the two men met when Woodward worked as a communications officer in the U.S. Navy.

Felt showed signs of dementia during the two-hour visit but had some moments of “extreme clarity,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein also told the audience that Deep Throat never really provided new information but confirmed details they received from other sources. Felt would often tell them whether they were on the right or wrong track, he said.

The meeting this week_more than three decades after Watergate scandal unfolded_was probably a significant moment of closure for the pair, said Alicia Shepard, NPR ombudsman and the author of “Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate.”

But it is sad that neither man met with Felt before Alzheimer?s savaged his memories, she said.

“Mark Felt was clearly a crucial part of their lives and it has always struck me as very sad that Woodward waited so long to reconnect,” Shepard said. “And it is hard to think that Carl had never met him, someone who had been so influential in his life.”

Felt angrily spurned Woodward after the journalists published their famous 1974 Watergate investigation book “All the President?s Men,” Shepard said.

Felt was particularly angry, she said, about his moniker, “Deep Throat,” a play on the journalist?s term “deep background” and a famous porn film title from 1972. An editor suggested that alias for the reporters? source, according to Woodward.

Shepard said Woodward eventually reconnected with Felt for his July2005 book, which he had been working on for some time, called “The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate?s Deep Throat.”

“But by that time, Felt could barely remember what had happened in the Nixon administration,” Shepard said. “It?s really sad that (Woodward and Bernstein) didn?t get a chance to meet with him when he was cogent.”

Why Felt helped Woodward is a mystery that will never be solved, she said.

“We will never know, and Felt is not lucid enough to answer,” she said.

The public learned Deep Throat?s real name in June 2005 when Felt lifted the veil of secrecy in a Vanity Fair article. Felt?s identity had been the subject of massive speculation for years and the topic of numerous articles and academic papers.

Journalists sometimes grant confidentiality to sources who provide them information even though they may face professional or even personal risk. Woodward and Bernstein?s example helped establish source protection as one of a journalist?s most sacred responsibilities. In an interview with the Contra Costa Times prior to their Monday performance, Woodward and Bernstein described Felt?s decision to go public as an anxious time.

They had, after all, protected their source?s name for 33 years.

The reporters had vowed to keep the secret until after Felt?s death or they were sufficiently assured of his desire to come forward.

“It was a very emotional day,” Woodward said.

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