By Sean Gonsalves - Cape Cod Times
06.07.05 - Last week's big news story provides us with an alluring phrase to muse over.
As you probably already know, "Deep Throat" was the key anonymous source for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the "Watergate" story that led to the downfall of President Nixon.
Woodward and Bernstein borrowed the phrase from the title of a popular porno flick of the 1970s, featuring Linda Lovelace.
The film brought in over a half billion dollars and, according to Lovelace's autobiography, she never saw a penny of that money. Even worse, in her autobiography Out of Bondage, she said the movie was actually a film of her rape because, she claimed, her husband at that time forced her to do the movie at gunpoint, according to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (Third Edition).
Porn history aside, "'Deep Throat' has become a synonym for any secret source, just as 'Watergate' -- the Watergate office-apartment complex in Washington, D.C., which housed the headquarters for the Democratic National Committee -- has for any Waterloo of a scandal. 'Gemstone,' the secret code name for the Watergate break-in, has been all but forgotten" (Word and Phrase Origins).
Predictably, when "Deep Throat" was revealed to be former FBI assistant director Mark Felt, a debate emerged about whether or not Felt is a hero or a modern day Benedict Arnold. It has also added fuel to the fiery ethical debate over news organizations use of anonymous sources.
In my experience, most reporters and editors don't like anonymous sources, for obvious reasons. And, as a rule, reporters don't use them without being able to corroborate what they're being told or shown by another source or source document.
No doubt, care must be taken when dealing with anonymous sources and should be used rarely. But I don't buy the argument that anonymous sources are never justified. Those that do argue against anonymous sources, I've found to be the same ones claiming there's a "liberal" bias in the media -- an intellectually dishonest charge made through huge conservative media outlets, as if the politics of reporters somehow carry more weight than those of editors, publishers, and advertisers (the primary source of news revenue), which is a bit like saying the politics of Wal Mart can be accurately ascertained by surveying their happy "greeters."
I like how Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school at Berkeley, puts it. "It is deeply ironic that the mother of all anonymous sources -- which precipitated some really tectonic changes in the American political scene, including the resignation of a president -- should be coming forward at a time when anonymous sources are being so impugned."
"I think it would be an incalculable loss to this country if all anonymous sources became forbidden, particularly in this era of governmental and corporate secrecy -- and I might add, ecclesiastical secrecy."
Now, this may sound silly to the true believers, but I actually think Americans can handle the truth, which is why, instead of focusing on Watergate we should be looking at Iraqgate.
"Potentially, the most important 'Deep Throat' in American politics today is the anonymous source who, several weeks ago, leaked the Downing Street Memo to The Times of London," says Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.
The memo, dated July 2002, reported that President Bush had already made the decision to order an invasion of Iraq, while straight-talkin' Bush was telling Congress and the world the exact opposite.
"We should remember that the Watergate story was at first viewed as a minor burglary, and most news editors treated it as meriting no more than sporadic back-page coverage," Solomon says.
But you didn't hear any of this from me. I wouldn't want to be considered someone who actually thinks that transparency is at the heart of democratic governance, which we are supposedly trying to create in Iraq right now.
(c) 2005, Cape Cod Times
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