'Deep Throat' Dead At 95

W. Mark Felt, who as anonymous source "Deep Throat" helped bring down President Richard Nixon, died in his sleep in Santa Rosa, California Thursday. He was 95.

The Washington Post said he died quietly:

According to his daughter Joan, her father "was fine this morning" and he was "joking with his caregiver." She said he had a big breakfast before saying that he was tired, and went to sleep.



"He slipped away," she said.

Felt steered the Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their reporting on a break-in at the Watergate building, helping the reporters understand how the burglary was connected to a deeper conspiracy that went to the top of the executive branch.

By the time he was dubbed "Deep Throat," by Post editors, Felt was a bitter, spurned Justice Department deputy. He'd been passed over to lead the FBI, even though he had effectively been running the bureau under an ailing J. Edgar Hoover. Nixon appointed a loyalist instead. And when Woodward came knocking on his door one night, Felt decided to cooperate, establishing an elaborate routine for arranging clandestine meetings. (Nixon's aides still came to suspect him of leaking information to the press.)

Nixon was eventually forced to resign thanks to the newspaper articles, hearings, investigations, and other information that emerged after Felt guided the president's criminal wrongdoing into the public eye.

Woodward then guarded Felt's identity for three decades, until Felt revealed himself in Vanity Fair in 2005.

While Felt had been lurking in the shadows, journalism remade itself around Watergate-style reporting, embracing anonymous sources of often impure motives, just as Woodward and Bernstein had done. That change will be as big a part of Felt's legacy as Nixon's resignation.

It's been a controversial shift, particularly as anonymous sourcing has spread far beyond the standards set by Woodward and Bernstein, to even the most pedestrian news stories in the most prestigious news outlets. The internet has carried anonymous sourcing to further extremes, with sources anonymous even to the reporters they communicate with, and information floated speculatively, as rumor, with no prior attempt at verification.

Felt encouraged more reporting by Woodward and Bernstein, not less. He provided information on a "deep background" basis that, on its face, required more investigation. He doesn't get blame for the evolution of newsgathering any more than he gets full credit for ending Nixon's presidency. But, as with Nixon, he was a damned important catalyst.