Unveiling name of infamous Deep Throat now an academic pursuit

PBy Anna Haigh

Daily Pennsylvanian
University of Pennsylvania

pHILADELPHIA, Oct. 4 – Bob Woodward, the Washington Post journalist who broke the Watergate scandal, is still keeping the identity of famed source Deep Throat secret. But students at the University of Illinois think they’ve solved the mystery.

More than 40 journalism students have worked on an intensive project to discover the identity of Deep Throat as part of a class that began in the fall of 1999 offered by Professor William Gaines at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The story was even featured on Dateline this summer and in newspapers across the country.

Deep Throat was an anonymous insider at the White House who disclosed important information to Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein. Their subsequent reports on the Watergate break-in and illegal activities within the White House led to the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974.

Woodward and Bernstein continue to keep the identity of Deep Throat secret, prompting years of speculation even from Watergate participants and insiders. In a talk here at Penn earlier this week, Woodward would only comment that Deep Throat is “a man, he’s alive… the story will be told sometime… not tonight.”

“It’s obvious if you know the answer… which I do,” he added. Woodward said he will continue to keep Deep Throat’s identity secret until the source dies or otherwise releases Woodward from his original promise.

Woodward has also acknowledged that Deep Throat was a smoker and a Scotch whiskey drinker.

The Illinois class’ final list of possible Deep Throat identities includes Stephen Bull, a special administrative assistant; Fred Fielding, a White House lawyer; Gerald Warren, a presidential spokesman; Jonathan Rose, an attorney for White House relations; David Gergen, speechwriter; Raymond Price, head speechwriter for Nixon; and Pat Buchanan, a special assistant to Nixon and later a presidential candidate himself.

When polled by Dateline, students agreed that Buchanan was their top choice, although research still continues and Gaines himself has not named his own top suspect.

“We contacted Bob Woodward but he would not comment,” Gaines said in an e-mail, adding, “we believe we have it right if Woodward and Bernstein have been truthful in the account of their dealings with Throat.”

The class offers students a unique opportunity to gain valuable investigative reporting skills with an award-winning journalist.

Not just a college professor, Gaines teaches with better than average credentials, having won two Pulitzer Prizes for his investigative reporting at the Chicago Tribune in his more than 30 years at the paper.

Gaines and the students combined three years of progressive work by using a process of elimination and a large database created by Gaines to compile a list of 72 top suspects and narrow the field down to seven contenders.

Students worked together using sources such as old newspapers and phone books, published autobiographies of participants in the scandal and 16,000 pages of FBI investigative reports on Watergate and Nixon tapes and papers.

University of Illinois senior Jessica Heckinger was involved in the investigation for a semester and called Gaines “amazing” and the experience “mindblowing.”

Heckinger described long hours listening to Nixon tapes and the class’ appreciation of receiving one of the most helpful sources — an original manuscript of Woodward’s first book, All the President’s Men.

The manuscript contained scattered notes by Woodward that hinted at the identity of Deep Throat, leading the class to conclusions that helped narrow the field of suspects.

Heckinger frequently contacted Pat Buchanan because of his position at the White House and was surprised to receive a postcard from him this summer after he was named a top suspect.

“Basically, the only defense he had was he had no motive and he quit smoking in… February of ’72,” she said, adding that she believes he is probably Deep Throat.

Fellow class member William Brumleve, a senior at the university, agreed with Heckinger and the rest of the class.

“Personally… I’m really not sure. The class came up with Pat Buchanan, I have no reason to think it’s not,” he said, also noting that Buchanan was the only suspect who “never publicly denied it.”

The list of the class’ top seven suspects was released this summer on the Finder’s Guide to Deep Throat, a site run by Gaines detailing the long process and the eventual results of the class.

Penn History Professor Bruce Kuklick argued that the results of the class’ work and the continuous speculation about Deep Throat’s true identity is unimportant, calling the issue “trivial” and “silly.”

“This search for one person… is not a fruitful way to look at what was happening,” he said, adding that he believed Woodward created one source “out of various pieces of evidence… 10 different guys who are telling different parts of the story.”

However, the students who have worked closely on the project disagree.

“Doesn’t everyone want to know?” Brumleve asked.