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HOW HE SEES IT Deep Throat: Is he a hero or scoundrel?



Published: Sat, June 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



It is rare for a secret to be kept for more than a matter of minutes, let alone a generation. Yet, that is precisely what occurred in regard to the identity of Deep Throat, the code name given by reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to the identified source whose information proved essential in their relentless pursuit of a story whose revelations contributed to the downfall of a presidency and set in motion fundamental changes in the American political process.

We now know that Deep Throat was W. Mark Felt, who was at the time of the Watergate scandal the second highest official of the FBI. In a final plot twist worthy of the saga he helped to spawn, Vanity Fair magazine released an article from its July issue reporting that Felt has in recent years confided to his family and friends, "I'm the guy they used to call 'Deep Throat.'" The confirmation of this claim by The Washington Post several hours after the story broke makes it clear that Mr. Felt is indeed Deep Throat.

Now that his identity has been revealed, attention can finally be paid to the complicated yet ultimately more important question of assessing Felt's legacy and coming to terms with the meaning and implications of his actions. Is he an authentic American hero, whose willingness to sacrifice power and prestige on a matter of principle contributed to the rescuing of American democracy from an administration rife with corruption and contempt for the rule of law? Is he a scoundrel claiming the mantle of virtue and rectitude to explain behavior motivated by anger at having been passed over for a position of power that he coveted? How do we understand his decision to keep his identity as Deep Throat a secret all these years? Is such behavior a reflection of guilt and ambivalence, or a manifestation of a discomfort with the limelight often associated with those deemed to be authentic heroes? To whom did Mr. Felt owe his supreme allegiance and loyalty as the time that the Watergate saga occurred -- to the administration he ostensibly served, or to a core set of principles he was duty-bound to uphold and preserve?

One-dimensional discussion

Unfortunately, the initial discussion I have heard of these issues has been predictable, one-dimensional and lacking in nuance. To those generally sympathetic to Richard Nixon and his presidency, Felt is a snake who committed the ultimate act of disloyalty to the president and the country he served. His actions are devoid of honor and integrity, and the path he chose completely lacking in justification by any coherent set of moral standards. Those whose views of the Nixon presidency and its legacy are less benign seem unburdened by doubt or hesitation in assigning to Mr. Felt the highest of intentions and the purest of motives.

We Americans tend to like our heroes to be larger than life, lacking in the human flaws plaguing the rest of us, and committed to core values and principles which never become compromised by the exigencies of the human condition. We expect them to be above the petty and unflattering behavior that even the best among us are capable of, and to be authors of a life capable of withstanding constant scrutiny. When those to whom we assign the label of hero disappoint us, as they inevitably must, we recoil from them in a fit of anger and hurt in search of someone truly worth of our adulation and respect.

Perhaps one of the most profound lessons to be learned from the revelation of the identity of Deep Throat is that one need not be perfect to be thought a hero, that heroic actions are almost always motivated by a variety of complicated motives, and that a society that truly desires to have heroes must be willing to create the conditions which allow them to emerge. W. Mark Felt is neither the pure hero his partisans are depicting, nor the scoundrel who betrayed his president in a fit of anger an quest for immortality. He is, however, a public servant whose instinct to do the right thing and awareness of all that was at stake impelled him towards behavior that was heroic at a juncture in our nation's history when such actions were as urgently needed as they were rare. For this, he surely deserves the eternal respect of a grateful nation.

X Rabbi Simeon Kolko is the spiritual leader at Beth Israel Temple Center in Warren. He will be leaving at the end of the month for a new position in Vestal, N.Y.




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