Review

In Search of Deep Throat

by Leonard Garment

To anyone over age 40, the term "Watergate" is by now as much a part of American history as "Valley Forge" or "Teapot Dome." It is the only event in our history that actually forced a sitting President to resign midterm.

A central figure in that wide-ranging web of mid-1970s scandal was an anonymous informant code-named "Deep Throat," who provided inside information, confirmation, and guidance to Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two dogged Washington Post reporters, whose hard digging kept the story of the now-famous burglary and political scandal alive until it finally blew up into a national disgrace. Deep Throat's identity has never been revealed by the two reporters, true to the journalist's code of absolute protection of sources. Woodward and Bernstein have pledged to break their silence only when Deep Throat dies --- and so far there has been only silence from them.

Leonard Garment became acting special counsel to President Richard Nixon after the Watergate story broke and during the two years or so that it dominated the news. He still held that title when Nixon resigned in August of 1974. In this book Garment retraces the tangled history of Watergate and names the man he thinks was Deep Throat. His candidate is John P. Sears, a former deputy special counsel to Nixon, who left the White House staff in 1969 but was still deeply involved and politically well-connected during (and after) the Watergate trauma.

Curiously, instead of building suspense toward a final revelation of his candidate's name, Garment reveals it on page two of his 270-page book and then backtracks to fill in the details. He seems uninterested in making a political "whodunit" out of the story. He gives the reader first a general scene-setting chapter, then a short but trenchant summary of the whole Watergate mess. Then he runs methodically through a list of no fewer than 24 other names that have been suggested as possible Deep Throats over the years. This section is fascinating, including as it does such bizarre suggestions as Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Ron Zeigler (Nixon's press secretary!), Melvin Laird, and Garment himself (he denies he's the right man).

By this time we are well past the book's halfway mark. Then follows a chapter detailing Garment's own efforts to nail down Deep Throat's identity. He finally brings Sears back onstage for the final 55 pages or so of his text, explaining why he thinks Sears fits all the available clues to Deep Throat's identity --- and dutifully recording that when he asked Sears (who once worked for him) about it, Sears vehemently denied everything.

The book is smoothly and engagingly written. Oddly enough, its main value may lie in areas only remotely related to its actual subject. It gives a vivid picture of the clashing personalities within the Nixon White House staff and the often unpredictable ways in which a Presidential staff works when under extreme stress. It also offers a fascinating attempt to explain "the larger puzzle of Richard Nixon," this man whose psyche and mind remain a mystery to many, admirers and detractors alike, seven years after his death.

Garment acknowledges all the well-known Nixon faults --- the ruthless vindictiveness toward enemies, the loathing of the press, the thuggish political instincts; but he also sees good qualities that he regrets were overtaken and overwhelmed by the man's dark side. He was, says Garment, "thoughtful, knowledgeable and sophisticated" and had a "poetic nature." Garment presents himself as a liberal  surrounded by ruthless conservative activists in the Nixon inner circle. At least he tries to present a balanced view of Nixon, neither liberal caricature nor conservative hagiography.

As I read this unfailingly interesting and civilized book, a thought drifted into my head that could perhaps only occur to someone who had lived through Watergate: Just suppose for a minute that Leonard Garment himself was indeed Deep Throat, as some have suggested. What more perfect diversionary tactic could there be for him than to write a book fingering someone else? It's just a vague thought, perhaps inspired by the deep and tangled web of conspiracy and deceit that was Watergate. But who knows?

Garment says that only four people know the identity of Deep Throat: Woodward, Bernstein, Ben Bradlee (their editor at the time), and Deep Throat himself.

Stay tuned.

Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com) on April 1, 2001

In Search of Deep Throat
by Leonard Garment

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • ISBN-10: 0465026141
  • ISBN-13: 9780465026142