Noonan: Felt had his reasons

Sorry to have gone all but AWOL in the past few days due to intense teaching and editing duties at our SIJ 2005 journalism boot camp here in Washington, D.C. Let me jump in here for a moment to urge you to check out the lively exchanges on the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc’s post on Mark Felt, ethics, modern journalism and a host of other topics — with guest appearances by whistleblowers, Clinton administration fans, Nixon critics (on the left and right) and folks offering many, many other points of view.

Who knows, the debate may even circle back around to journalism!

Meanwhile, I would also like to point readers toward the new column by Peggy “friend of this blog” Noonan over at The Wall Street Journal. She has lots of questions about the granting of hero status to Felt. Here is one of the most interesting paragraphs:

(Felt’s) motives were apparently mixed, as motives often are. He was passed over to replace J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI by President Nixon, who apparently wanted in that place not a Hoover man but a more malleable appointee. Mr. Felt was resentful. He believed Nixon meant to jeopardize the agency’s independence. Here we have a hitch in the story. The liberal story line on the FBI was that under Hoover it had too much independence, which Hoover protected with his famous secret files and a reputation for ruthlessness. Mr. Felt was a Hoover man who joined the FBI in 1942, when it was young; he rose under Hoover and never knew another director. When Hooverism was threatened, Mr. Felt moved. In this sense Richard Nixon was J. Edgar Hoover’s last victim. History is an irony factory.

You don’t have to agree with Noonan on everything to enjoy her romp through the moral minefields in this case. And she stresses one major truth — the journalism side of this story is not over.

Amen to that, sister. Here is my question: Does anyone know if Felt is or was a smoker?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • TJIC

    Felt was apparently a smoker, but stopped before the Deep Throat sessions. I believe that I read that at Slate.

  • JG

    Tmatt, what might be your fascination with determining if Felt was a smoker? I noticed this is the 2nd time you asked this question; was there something in the orginal scoop that implied Deep Throat was a smoker?

  • Beacon

    As I recall, ‘All the President’s Men’ (and maybe the book?) depicted Deep Throat as a chain smoker. Was this a fictional diversion by the authors?

  • Bruce Geerdes

    The Slate article by Timothy Noah is @ . Hopefully the blog software won’t filter that out! If it does, the article is called “Deep Throat, Antihero”.

    Noah notes the discrepancy of Felt quiting smoking in 1943 and the chain-smoking in “All the President’s Men”. Quote:


  • Bruce Geerdes

    Bah, here’s another attempt at the address and quote without any “funny” characters.


    Now that we know Felt was Deep Throat, I have a few bones to pick with Woodward and Bernstein. One is that, in All the President’s Men, Deep Throat is described as a heavy smoker. But Felt quit smoking in 1943. I suppose Woodstein would call this necessary misdirection. I call it conscious fabrication, however trivial. Also, a November 1973 Woodward and Bernstein Post story sourced anonymously to “White House sources” is described in All the President’s Men as being sourced to Deep Throat. Yet Felt was not a “White House source.” It’s conceivable that Deep Throat was an additional, unacknowledged source on the story, but it’s also possible that Woodward and Bernstein were misleading readers about where they got their information. Which was it, gentlemen? Finally, why did Woodward, in a 1979 Playboy interview with J. Anthony Lukas, flatly deny that Deep Throat was anyone inside the “intelligence community”? The FBI, where Felt worked, is most definitely part of the intelligence community.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The fact that Felt was No. 2 to Hoover so long and in the FBI for so long, and then is passed over to end Hoover’s “reign of terror” certainly makes Noonan look right about Nixon being Hoover’s last victim as carried out by vengeful Felt.
    It is interesting how Hoover-hating liberals have suddenly become shills for his style of operation as carried out by Felt

  • Joe

    So did religious conviction play any role in Felt’s actions? If so (or not) does it warrant any mention in Vanity Fair or all the other stories?

    Given the purpose of this blog, the absence of media mention of faith-based reasons, or lack thereof, for Felt’s actions merits criticism.

    Additionally, I think a story should be done by interviewing religious leaders of various stripes and asking them what they would advised Mark Felt to do or not do, had he been a member of their faith community and come to them for advice in 1973.

    Given the purposes of this blog, I hope this authors will prompt some members of the Religion Journalism association to pursue this story line.

  • David Sumner

    Charles Colson was interviewed on a Christian radio station this weekend. The interviewer asked him what he went to prison for. He said “For giving an FBI file on Daniel Ellsburg to a reporter.” Basically Charles Colson said he went to prison for doing what Mark Felt is hailed as a hero for(by the media)–releasing classified FBI information to the media.