by Larry Smith
It’s been 42 years since the Watergate break-in that eventually forced US President Richard Nixon from office, after an investigation that has been described as one of the greatest achievements of modern journalism.
But that didn’t happen - thanks to the secret help of an official nicknamed Deep Throat (after an infamous 1970s porn film). This anonymous source encouraged Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to pursue the story, which led to Senate hearings, and finally to the resignation of the president.
We now know that the source was Mark Felt, former deputy director of the FBI. Until he revealed himself in 2005, Felt was the most famous anonymous person in America. But his reliability was also legendary. Former Post editor Ben Bradlee told the Public Broadcasting Corporation recently that of the 400 Watergate stories he published, only one panned out badly.
In the early 1970s Tough Call was studying journalism at the University of Miami, enjoying the tail end of the counterculture revolution. Despite all the hoo-ha about Watergate, it was the Vietnam War that occupied the minds of most American college students at the time. They faced the draft after graduation – a fate considered the same as death.
But Watergate was nevertheless a watershed in American history: “1972 was a time when no one could imagine a president of the United States breaking the law,” as one forty-ish commentator put it. “We were trusting and believed what we read and heard back then.”