Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Of Larry Brown, Deep Throat and guessing games

Trying to fend off speculation about whether he's coming to Cleveland, Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown attacked the anonymous sources claiming he's on the move.
''Now I heard there was 'two league sources,'" Brown said, according to ESPN's Web site. "Who are the league sources? Why would somebody write that instead of being up front and saying who it is? Why would you do that? Don't just come out and throw things.''
His complaint about anonymous sources -- or, in this case, semi-anonymous sources -- is pretty interesting since it came as the all-time top anonymous source has finally been revealed.
I'm talking about Deep Throat, of course, the nicknamed source Woodward & Bernstein used in their Watergate investigation. Vanity Fair is publishing a story saying that Mark Felt, a former FBI man, has admitted to being Deep Throat, and Woodward & Bernstein have finally confirmed it.
You can argue about how much Felt had to do with breaking open Watergate. But he certainly helped make Woodward & Bernstein into stars, the sort of stars who end up going beyond reporting to wider celebrity. Their investigation became the glamorous stuff of movies,with Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein (and Hal Holbrook stealing the show from both of them as Deep Throat). I've met both of them at different times, both because of TV projects. (Woodward, for one, co-wrote ''Under Siege,'' a 1986 TV-movie that anticipated what terrorism on U.S. soil might lead to.)
But beyond its impact on Watergate, the Felt revelation has already prompted at least one piece saying that Deep Throat proves the importance of anonymous sources. Although that will not comfort Larry Brown, there's some merit to it.
Sometimes you just can't get information any other way. What we have to ask is whether the information we're getting is important enough to keep the source secret -- and whether that secrecy distorts the information we're getting.
The current accounts of Felt make clear that during Watergate he was a disgruntled FBI employee -- rejected as a possible successor to J. Edgar Hoover. Would Watergate stories have been read differently if Woodward & Bernstein indicated their source had an ax to grind with Nixon? You can imagine what today's TV talkers would to with that nugget.

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