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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Deep Throat Revealed
Aired June 5, 2005 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): The Deep Throat debate. Did Bob Woodward overdramatize the role of his secret Watergate source, former FBI official Mark Felt? Was the 91-year-old Felt a hero for leaking information that helped topple Richard Nixon, or a traitorous bureaucrat driven by personal motives? Did the Hollywood treatment given Woodward and Bernstein and Deep Throat turned journalism into a confrontational game that is far too promiscuous with anonymous sources?
We'll ask former "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradlee, former Nixon White House aide David Gergen, CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer, and other top journalists.
ANNOUNCER: Live, from George Washington University, this is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES: "Deep Throat Revealed."
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the lingering questions about the Deep Throat mystery. I'm Howard Kurtz.
From the moment "Vanity Fair" scooped "Washington Post" on its fiercely guarded secret about the man Bob Woodward used to meet in parking garages, everyone, it seems, has had an opinion on what Mark Felt did. But with Felt himself laying low, Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the ones hitting the airwaves to describe his role.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, WASHINGTON POST: He was what we always called the reluctant source. Somebody who did not come to us, somebody who would not say this is everything that's going to, this is what the story is, these are documents. He would only guide us and steer us.
CARL BERNSTEIN, WASHINGTON POST: He obviously felt an obligation to the truth. He felt an obligation, I think, to the Constitution. He realized that there was a corrupt presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Of course, there was one other person who knew Deep Throat's identity all these years, Ben Bradlee, "The Washington Post's" editor for more than 20 years, and now a company vice president, sat down with me on Friday.
KURTZ: Ben Bradlee, welcome.
BEN BRADLEE, FORMER EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Welcome to you.
KURTZ: You and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein protected Deep Throat's identity for 33 years. Not even a twinge of frustration that "Vanity Fair" got the story out first?
BRADLEE: You know, I don't have a twinge. I don't know what's happened to me. I'm -- as you quite well know -- very competitive. But you know, "Vanity Fair," the magazine isn't even out yet. That's not my kind of scoop.
KURTZ: But in retrospect, should Woodward have pushed Mark Felt a little harder to go public? Obviously, he was now prepared finally after all these decades to tell his story.
BRADLEE: Woodward is a very patient man. He can wait. He's writing a book, and he's always writing a book.
KURTZ: Even after "Vanity Fair" released that article to the world earlier this week, there was a debate at the "Post" for some hours -- you were involved -- about whether the "Washington Post" should confirm that in fact Mark Felt was Deep Throat. Were you concerned about, here's a guy who is 91 years old, suffered a stroke, did he really have the mental capacity to know what he was doing?
BRADLEE: Well, here was the problem: Woodward made a promise to Felt that he would never reveal his name. Woodward told me who Deep Throat was back 30 years ago, 33 years ago, and I gave my word to Woodward. So I had to really be freed by Woodward before I could get involved at all.
And we had a discussion about whether the fact that Felt himself went public with what he had put us under an oath of secrecy, whether that amounted to a release. I thought it did.
BRADLEE: And therefore we were free to talk. If he was talking, so could we, finally.
Now, as you well know, all over the airwaves this week, several former Nixon aides and Watergate conspirators have been attacking Mark Felt and saying that he betrayed the FBI and so forth, particularly Chuck Colson and G. Gordon Liddy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHUCK COLSON, FORMER NIXON AIDE: Mark Felt could have stopped Watergate. He was in a position of that kind of influence. Instead, he goes out and basically undermines the administration. I don't think that's honorable at all.
G. GORDON LIDDY, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I view him as someone who violated the ethics of the law enforcement profession.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRADLEE: Well, I...
KURTZ: What do you make of that criticism?
BRADLEE: Here's what I think: I don't think that the world has much to learn about moral probity from either Colson or Liddy. They have been to jail. They -- why should we pay any attention to them?
KURTZ: Let's recreate what it was like at that time, 1972, 1973. This is nearly a decade before I came to the "Post." You were staking the paper's reputation on some guy who was nicknamed after a porn movie, who was meeting a young metro reporter who had been there for a year in a parking garage. What made you so confident that the information was solid?
BRADLEE: Well, I wasn't -- I wasn't -- I was sure we had our reputation in Woodward and Bernstein's hands, but we knew them. They had been at the paper long enough to earn our confidence. On this particular story, they had not made a mistake. They had done really superb reporting. In the days after the arraignment of these burglars, they found the source of the new hundred-dollar bills in their pocket; they had found and identified and talked to H.L. Hunt. They had done superb work. How could I take the story away from him -- them?
KURTZ: And are you suggesting therefore that maybe because of the movie, in which Hal Holbrook played Deep Throat, that maybe Throat's role in all of this has been somewhat exaggerated over the years? Woodward and Bernstein did...
BRADLEE: Well, no. But...
KURTZ: Go ahead.
BRADLEE: I'm not really suggesting that, because I think his role was terribly important. But that movie has complicated the issue, because so many people have seen it, and they subconsciously confuse it with the truth. Deep Throat was vitally important to the "Post's" pursuit of this story, especially in the beginning, and I think later, when -- certainly after the hearings began in the Senate and certainly after the tapes revealed this unbelievable trove of information in which everybody was lying.
KURTZ: Why did you not insist at the time that Woodward tell you Deep Throat's name? BRADLEE: Well, I've had trouble explaining that. I'll tell you why I think is, that he was right all the time. I don't automatically ask everybody their source if -- once I have confidence in the reporter. And his bona fides was never questioned. He never made a mistake in advising them.
Later, after Nixon resigned, there began to be a sort of a groundswell of skepticism involving their sources. And I told Bob that I think it was time that I knew, and we walked down to McPherson Square, sat on a bench, and had a three-minute conversation, and I knew.
KURTZ: Well, more than a few people obviously over the years have wondered whether Deep Throat even actually existed, or was some kind of composite character. But you did know that he was a high- ranking FBI official at the time.
BRADLEE: I knew that he was a high-ranking Justice Department official.
BRADLEE: I didn't know the FBI. If he was high-ranking in FBI, even I could've figured it out. But...
KURTZ: At the time, when the Nixon White House was blasting the "Post," when most news organizations -- not all -- were either not reporting very aggressively on the story or just carrying the administration's denials when the Post Company's TV licenses were threatened, did you feel under a lot of pressure in sticking with this story?
BRADLEE: Yes, sir, I sure did feel under pressure, but not as much as people sometimes make out. There's pressure on a story that -- if a story gets up to the level of the White House, there's always pressure to be right. And I had many conversations with Bob and Carl, you know, essentially saying, "Are you sure you're right? Are we sure we're right?" And they assured me, and they proved it to me.
KURTZ: Up next, more of my discussion with Ben Bradlee on why the media's reputation has fallen so low since the days of Watergate. And ahead, Bob Schieffer and David Gergen, plus some questions from our studio audience and from you at home. Send your questions to email@example.com. Stay with us.
KURTZ: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. No discussion with Ben Bradlee would be complete without the movie that made him famous.
KURTZ: "All the President's Men" came out in 1976. You were famously portrayed by Jason Robards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JASON ROBARDS, ACTOR: Goddamn it, when is somebody going to go on the record in this story? You guys are about to write a story that says the former attorney general, the highest ranking law enforcement officer in this country, is a crook. Just be sure you're right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I never knew you could give such a great speech until I saw that movie. Did any of that go to your head? Did all of journalism get overly glorified at the time?
BRADLEE: Well, I'm surrounded by people who make sure that nothing goes to my head. I mean, I am married to somebody who is not easily impressed in this area. And you know that my friends here in the city room, I guess they were impressed that the story was as good as it was, but I didn't -- I didn't -- no, I'm...
KURTZ: You felt like your feet were still firmly planted on the ground.
BRADLEE: Yes. And that we were doing -- we were at last doing what we were put on this Earth to do, which is report a good story.
KURTZ: But now, what do you think about the impact on journalism because of the success and all the glory that Watergate brought to the news media? Did too many reporters get carried away relying on too many anonymous sources, some of whom didn't know what they were talking about?
BRADLEE: Well, I think that that -- there was a danger of that. And I suspect that a lot of young reporters who were attracted to the business faced that danger. But, you know, that's what editors are for.
KURTZ: But what about -- and have editors allowed too many sort of grade-C political flaps to be turned into "-gates"? Everything has to be a "-gate" these days, a big scandal. I mean, as you know, Ben Bradlee, a lot of people out there don't have the kind of respect for the press that they did back in the 1970s.
BRADLEE: Well, I think they've got more respect this week than they did last week. I think that's one of the lessons of the week, is that, A, that the press -- when the press says that they will protect a source, they will in fact protect a source. And when -- you know, it's awfully hard to beat the truth, to beat being right. And the fact of the matter is that Woodward and Bernstein were right. Deep Throat was right.
KURTZ: Some critics are saying these days that the Bush administration is as hostile to the press in some ways as the Nixon administration was. Do you buy that comparison? BRADLEE: I don't spend much time comparing them. I think all administrations come in and they don't trust the press, they don't naturally like the press and -- with some exceptions. I think Jack Kennedy was an exception.
KURTZ: He was an exception because he was your friend, or he was an exception because he genuinely liked reporters?
BRADLEE: No, he liked the press. He liked reporters, and he was really interested in the business.
KURTZ: Why do you think that Mark Felt, after all these years of denying that he had been Deep Throat, finally decided to come forward?
BRADLEE: I just don't know the answer to that question. I don't know him. I've never met him. I think that the -- probably you'll find the impetus came from the daughter, who felt that her father, at the end of his life, should get recognition for what she considered to be a patriotic act, and which I consider to be a patriotic act.
KURTZ: You mentioned your wife earlier, Sally Quinn. You didn't even tell her who Deep Throat was.
BRADLEE: I certainly didn't.
KURTZ: Are you now -- are you relieved finally that the secret is out and you no longer are one of the few people who has to protect it?
BRADLEE: Oh, you know, I suppose if I tried to measure it, it's going to be a little easier now. I don't have to worry about making some slip-up that will identify the person. But I don't -- life's still pretty much the same. And it's been pretty good this week.
KURTZ: Ben Bradlee.
When we come back, two very different perspectives on Deep Throat and Watergate from Bob Schieffer and from David Gergen.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. We're here with a studio audience at the George Washington University to talk about Deep Throat and Watergate, a story that utterly dominated American political life as it unfolded, whether you were a reporter or part of the administration.
We are joined now by two men who worked on the opposite sides of the street when the scandal broke. In Boston, David Gergen, editor at large at "U.S. News and World Report," who worked in the Nixon White House. And here in Washington, Bob Schieffer, anchor of "The CBS Evening News" and the host of "Face the Nation."
David Gergen, a few months ago you told me on this program that you were not Deep Throat, and for the record, I believed you.
Now, you said in interviews this week that you felt that Mark Felt acted dishonorably in leaking to the press. My question, could he reasonably have been expected to work within the system when the system was corrupt? When the Justice Department was headed by John Mitchell, when the White House under Richard Nixon was already interfering with an FBI investigation of this matter?
DAVID GERGEN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, you believed me when I said I wasn't Deep Throat; I hope you'll believe me when I say I don't think I said he acted dishonorably.
Let me make a couple of preliminary points. First of all, it was right that Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency. He was responsible for massive violations of the law, abuses of institutions of government, and the wreckage of many lives.
Secondly, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were enterprising reporters who did a marvelous job in reporting this story and deserve all the accolades they have received and more.
Having said all that, Howie...
KURTZ: And Mark Felt?
GERGEN: And Mark -- I don't think that because Mark Felt played a part in bringing down Richard Nixon automatically makes him an angel, as some people seem to assume. This was a fellow who -- we don't know quite yet what the circumstances were, and before we sort of mark him up as one of the heroes in this saga, we need to know more.
If he felt that he had no other recourse but to go to the "Post" and talk about this, then -- otherwise, you know, if he went anywhere else, it was going to corrupt and end his efforts, then I think that was the appropriate thing to do.
But if he -- on the other hand -- he -- on the other hand, if he was just evening scores -- and also, I think there is a case to be made that when you're a high up as a law enforcement officer, when you know about skullduggery and you've learned it through secret reports and you're under oath not to divulge that, to try to find other ways. He could have gone to the U.S. attorney and empaneled a grand jury.
KURTZ: I want to pick it up with Bob Schieffer, but first I want to pick a clip from "Face the Nation" that is so old that you were not the host of the program. This is 1976. Mark Felt appearing on the program, getting a question from "L.A. Times's" Ron Astro (ph). Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what I'm wondering is, whether you want to take credit at this time for helping unmask any of the Watergate cover-up?
MARK FELT, FORMER FBI ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR: No. No, I am not Deep Throat, and one thing I can say is, that I wouldn't be ashamed to be, because I think whoever helped Woodward helped the country, no question about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Mark Felt lied there. He's lied about his role until this week for 33 years. He did betray the FBI. He worked for the Bureau. Is he a hero, is he a patriot, or -- a whistle-blower?
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS ANCHOR: I think we all are. I really do. You know, I was listening to David talking about his motives. I don't think the motives are very important. I haven't met many angels in my career.
KURTZ: People have mixed motivations.
SCHIEFFER: People have mixed motivations. Most of the time, whistle-blowers, it's a combination. Are they doing something because they feel they got slighted, because they have a grudge, or is it for truly altruistic reasons they want to see a right/wrong?
I think the important thing is not what his motivation was, but what he did. He recognized that there were a gang of people who believed everything is fair and everything is legal if it is done in the name of the president. Had that cover-up succeeded, and I think it might well have succeeded without his help and guidance to Woodward and Bernstein, we would have become something in America that we have never been, and that is a nation where we are a government of men rather than a government of laws, and who knows where that could have led. I think we owe Mark Felt.
KURTZ: And how is life for you, Bob Schieffer, as a Washington reporter, somewhat younger than you are today, did you read these scoops from these two young reporters you had never heard of in "The Washington Post," and did that make it difficult to compete on the story?
SCHIEFFER: Well, like most of us in Washington, at first, we didn't really believe it. I mean, because it was so preposterous. Why would anybody break into the Democratic headquarters? Everybody knew that's where you kept campaign posters and where you had a bunch of college kids, like are here today, who are working as volunteers. There was nobody that we thought of that would be important enough in that headquarters that you should go in and spy on them.
So we all kind of disregarded the story. We didn't really believe it. It took a while for it to sink in on the rest of us, and once it did, we realized we had really been scooped.
KURTZ: It took some months.
Let's go to the audience now and take a question. Your name and question, please. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, thank you for taking my question. My name is David Spunt (ph) from Columbus, Ohio. And my question is, do you think that an anonymous Deep Throat source could take place in today's administration, or do you think that the cover would be blown much sooner?
SCHIEFFER: Yes. Yes, I think it could. And I think in this case, the idea that did he do the right thing by going to the newspapers, had he gone public, he might have got his head cut off in the beginning and that would have been the end of that. He couldn't really go to the people who were above him in his bureau because they were in on the conspiracy, as it turned out.
That left him no choice, I think, but to go to reporters.
SCHIEFFER: You know, we hear a lot of criticism of anonymous sources, and that privilege for newspaper reporters and television reporters has been and can be abused, but there is a place for the anonymous source. We saw in Watergate an example of what happens when you treat that kind of information and that kind of source responsibly. They didn't just accept everything he said, Howie, that's the important thing. They checked it out and then went with it.
KURTZ: All right. We'll go back to David Gergen after his break and get his thoughts on that.
Coming up, a look at the hour's top stories, and more with our guests, Bob Schieffer and David Gergen, on the lessons of Watergate.
And ahead, an all-star panel of reporters. Jackie Judd, Steve Roberts and Kelli Arena.
KURTZ: Welcome back to our special, one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES from the George Washington University. We're talking about Deep Throat revealed, and still with us, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer and former Nixon aide David Gergen, now with "U.S. News" and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
David Gergen, before I ask you my first question, a lot of people here were too young to have been alive during Watergate. I want to play a brief clip from a President Nixon press conference, to give the flavor of what the atmosphere in Washington was like in those days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Now, in this polarized era, David, of red-state and blue- state America, did the whole conservative resentment and anger toward the liberal press really date from those days of Watergate? Didn't President Nixon believe that the press in particular -- the press in general and "The Washington Post" in particular were out to get him?
GERGEN: I think some of the conservative resentment against the press started there, and it also came over the war in Vietnam, when there were many conservatives who were in favor of the war and thought that the press was responsible for bringing it too hasty an end and for defeat. I think that both of those judgments were misplaced, but nonetheless a lot of the judgment and the anger was fueled, and I think that ironically, both Vietnam and Watergate also brought such a distrust of government that I think that has helped later -- in later years to fuel the conservative movement overall as a political movement, that if you can't trust the government -- you know, the irony here is that a Republican president and -- resigning in disgrace created more distrust in government, which helped to elect Republicans later on.
KURTZ: Bob Schieffer, I asked Ben Bradlee this question earlier, we now have a Republican president who is not known for great love for the press and whose administration is often accused of engaging in excessive secrecy. Do you see any parallels to the Nixon days, or are we talking about two -- obviously no wiretapping, no abuses of the Constitution, but still?
SCHIEFFER: Look, this is a very disciplined administration. This administration doesn't like the press very much. This is an administration that is not ever going to do us any favors, as it were, but this is nothing compared to the Nixon administration. These people were trying to destroy us. These people were going to New York and talking to our bosses. They wanted to bring down the networks. And...
KURTZ: They had an enemies list.
SCHIEFFER: They had an enemies list. They were talking about sending somebody out to the Brookings Institution and blowing it up with dynamite to cover up breaking in which they contemplated doing before Watergate.
KURTZ: In fact, it's on one of the tapes, they're talking about blowing up.
SCHIEFFER: Yes. They were talking about trying to break in there to see if there were -- if there was information that would lead them to who had leaked the Pentagon Papers. This was a whole different deal, and we have not seen anything like it. I hope to God we never see anything like it again.
KURTZ: All right. Let's go back to the studio audience. Your name and question, please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Mary Elizabeth Haynes (ph), and I'm from Tiptonville, Tennessee. And my question is, how do you check the reliability of an anonymous source?
KURTZ: David Gergen, you've been on both sides of the fence, you've worked for four presidents, and you were also a journalist. How do you check the reliability of an anonymous source?
GERGEN: Well, one of the reasons I respect Woodward and Bernstein is that they -- is once they've talked to an anonymous source, they kept reporting the story and reporting the story before they put it in the newspaper, and I think that led to much more careful reporting than we sometimes see today when there's a rush to get something in print or on the air before you've really had a chance.
The competition today is so much more intense for viewers and for readers that there's a temptation to rush before -- and to go with a single source. That's what happened to "Newsweek" when it got itself caught out on the issue of the Koran a few weeks ago. And it's happened to so many others in recent days.
But I do want to repeat -- I do want to echo something Bob Schieffer said. The atmosphere, this administration, the current administration, is one that's very secretive, so anonymous reporters -- sources become very important to reporters, but I do think -- I think there's a world of difference between the Bush administration and the Nixon administration. The only other thing I'd make is, if you want to find somebody who has acted honorably as an anonymous source in today's environment, I would point to Richard Clarke. Here's someone who violently disagreed with what was going on, thought it was wrong, and he went -- he resigned and then went public, and I think that was an honorable thing to do. That was an honorable way to handle it.
KURTZ: Do you think, Bob Schieffer, that there's too much of a tendency in today's hyper-competitive, 24-hour media, to take something that some source says and throw it on the air and put it on a Web site and that sort of thing? And should journalists be more careful? Just because Deep Throat's information turned out to be accurate doesn't mean that these stories today, based on sources, are necessarily accurate?
SCHIEFFER: Yes, I mean, there's more pressure because there is more competition and there's more pressure to get out there and get a story, but what Watergate underlines is that you have to be extremely careful. Nobody just took what this anonymous source said for the truth. They checked it out, and they used this anonymous source to check their other sources.
The greatest defense against charges of bias is accuracy, and that's what Woodward and Bernstein emphasized over and over again with their reports.
Woodward and Bernstein were always right, and Bob Woodward in his books now through the years has been always right. That's the best defense against any kind of charge of bias or slanted reporting.
I asked Bob Woodward once, what was your mindset when you went into this story? Where did you think it would come out? And what he said to me was -- and I think this is something that ought to be posted in every newsroom in America -- he said, we didn't have a mindset. We were just trying to find out what happened.
KURTZ: Actually, Woodward and Bernstein did make a couple of mistakes, which they acknowledged, because their record was not perfect, as nobody's is these days.
But David Gergen, I don't think I'm revealing a state secret here to say that you often talked to reporters when you were part of various administrations -- the Reagan administration, the Clinton administration -- sometimes you were quoted without your name.
How do you decide when it's a good situation to talk to reporters without going on the record, or is there too much of that?
GERGEN: Well, these are hard questions within any administration. In the Reagan administration, we had actually a policy of a certain number of people, of whom I was one, would talk to reporters regularly on background. And, for example, I'd meet with the correspondent from "Time" magazine once a week for half an hour, and "Newsweek" and "U.S. News." And that was just part of what we did. "The Washington Post."
KURTZ: You were a shallow throat.
GERGEN: Well, there was -- Jim Baker, our chief of staff, had asked me, and the president knew about that, and Jim would meet regularly with him, as would three or four others, including our press secretary, and it was -- we believed it was important to be there and to establish relationships with reporters so that you had one of trust.
I mean, trust, it's an old adage, but trust is the coin of the realm in this business. And it's important that reporters come to trust some professionals in the administration, and the people in the administration learn to trust the reporters such as Lou Cannon and Ann Devroy of "Washington Post." They were marvelous reporters during the Reagan years. Because you could always count on them to do the kind of thorough reporting. Bob Schieffer is someone who earned his stripes because he is so respected as a trusted journalist, someone who really takes his profession seriously.
KURTZ: I have got just a few seconds. Bob Schieffer, could you have done your job over the years without people telling you things without their names attached?
SCHIEFFER: No. That's a very important part of it. But again, you have to check it out. You can't go with something unless you're absolutely sure, and you have to always remember, everybody may have some motivation.
KURTZ: Reminds me of that old adage, even if your mother tells you something, check it out.
Bob Schieffer, David Gergen, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.
When we come back, has the media's use of unnamed sources like Deep Throat spun out of control? We'll ask three top reporters -- Jackie Judd, Steve Roberts and Kelli Arena. And don't forget to send your questions about Watergate and Deep Throat to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think that -- he always felt ambivalent about it, apparently, and I think that's good, because on balance you don't want law enforcement officials leaking to the press even the truth, much less some vendetta or something that's not true. But under these circumstances, I think he did the right thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Deep Throat may have been journalism's most famous unnamed source, but the use of anonymous sources has exploded over the years, along with heated debates about their use, and all of this may be contributing to public distrust of the press.
Joining us now, Jackie Judd, long-time investigative reporter for ABC News; now vice president and senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kelli Arena, CNN's Justice Department correspondent. And Steve Roberts, who spent two decades at "The New York Times"; now a syndicated columnist and professor of media and public affairs here at the George Washington University. He's also the author of "My Fathers' Houses: Memoir of a Family."
Jackie Judd, we just heard from Bill Clinton. You did investigative reporting for years at ABC News. Now do you ensure that sources, say, prosecutors talking about the Clinton investigation, are being straight with you?
JACKIE JUDD, FORMER ABC NEWS REPORTER: Well, you can't only take it from one source. You've got to go to other people and run it by them, and say, does this feel real to you? Does it resonate with you? Would you steer me against it?
KURTZ: Did you ever hold off on a story that an anonymous source had whispered in your ear?
JUDD: We actually did, and I don't think that this story, Howie, has ever been told, but I'll say it today, because I think there's some sense out in the country that we recklessly go from "thanks a lot, sir, I'll get it right on the air," and the reality is this: One night during the impeachment scandal, we had an anonymous call into the newsroom. The tip was this: The president had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury. The young desk assistant who took the call did not look at the caller ID, so we never got the number. The next seven to 10 days, I and my producer, Chris Glastos (ph), spent hours trying to confirm the story, and the sources we went to spoke so cryptically about whether it was true or not I didn't know what they were saying to me.
We never ran with the story. We got scooped.
KURTZ: Kelli Arena, could you do your job covering the Justice Department, covering Homeland Security, without taking information from people who say you can't use my name?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: No. No.
ARENA: Well, it's gotten to a point where I'll have officials not be able to tell me what time it is, and they don't want their name attached to that. It has -- I mean, the legacy of Watergate is that the use of anonymous sources is now very pervasive. And...
KURTZ: But is this because the sources are dealing with very sensitive information, or because they're so used to whispering from behind this curtain that the press has a record for that?
ARENA: I think that's it. Right, I think that everyone has gotten very comfortable with speaking without attaching their name to that information. And it could be something from, I mean, classified information to, gee, what's on the agenda for today in terms of press conferences.
KURTZ: Steve Roberts, back when you worked for "The New York Times" during Watergate, you broke a story about a mid-level Nixon aide and dirty trickster named Donald Segretti, who later went to jail. Were unnamed sources a factor in that story?
STEVE ROBERTS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Not directly, but indirectly it turns out that Mark Felt, Deep Throat, provided "The Washington Post" with the original tip, that the White House was deeply involved in this wide-ranging attempt to subvert the election. Day after day after day, Ronald Ziegler, press secretary of the White House, stood up there, bashed the heck out of the "Post" saying the post was wrong.
KURTZ: And it was a third-rate burglary.
ROBERTS: Third-rate burglary. I was in California, "New York Times" bureau chief then. We found phone records for Donald Segretti. Now, remember, day after day, the White House is saying we're not involved. I looked at these phone records, and the first number on the page, 456-1414. It was the White House. It was the...
KURTZ: Somebody had to give you those phone records.
ROBERTS: Yes, and I can't tell you who.
KURTZ: So you see? You see? ROBERTS: But the original tip came from Deep Throat, and that's why it was so important.
KURTZ: Have we got a questioner in the audience? Your name and question, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Phillip Stewart (ph). I'm from Bethesda, Maryland. With increased media scrutiny, do you anticipate seeing more legal action taken against reporters who use anonymous sources?
KURTZ: I should add to that that there's currently a case in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, in which Matt Cooper of "Time" magazine and Judith Miller of "The New York Times" are facing jail for refusing to divulge anonymous sources. Kelli?
ARENA: I do.
KURTZ: You worry about this personally?
ARENA: I do. I worry about it every day, and I think that there has been a sea change in that area, where information that is divulged, instead of going after the sources who divulged that information, there is an attempt to go after the journalists who report that information. And you are seeing time and time again the courts rule against journalists for not divulging who that information came from.
I mean, look at, you know, you know, Felt was kept a secret for 30 years. So there's a testament to how reporters feel very seriously about not divulging their sources.
ROBERTS: That is true, but Felt was a hero. Felt was a whistle- blower.
KURTZ: Not everybody agrees with that.
ROBERTS: I know not everybody agrees with that, but Felt was the classic case of where anonymous sources are essential, to hold power accountable.
The problem with the Plame case is, it's a lousy case for journalists to be testing this principle on, because we're defending a sleazeball who tried to -- who broke the confidences of a secret agent and who -- so it's a very hard case for defending. Defend Mark Felt? Yes, hero. Defend the person who is at fault on the Plame case, we're on very shaky ground.
ARENA: Yeah, but you don't want to be the first journalist that divulges the source in a court case, and then, I mean, then you have a very...
ROBERTS: We still do it, we still do it, but it's a harder case to make for journalism. KURTZ: Let me bring Jackie Judd into the conversation. We just went through this debacle at "Newsweek," which relied on a single government official, unnamed of course, in reporting that the Koran had been flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay. Now, since then, there have been -- the military has confirmed other kinds of instances of abuse of the Koran, but "Newsweek" said they did the wrong thing. Wouldn't you agree, as somebody who made your living this way, that anonymous sources these days are overused, abused and that some journalists, not all, obviously, have gotten a little bit careless or reckless with their use?
JUDD: I wouldn't agree with every adjective that you just used, Howie. But well, I would say that some journalists, particularly younger ones -- sorry, those in the audience -- that when you use the word source or sources in your story, somehow the story gains credibility, that it has more marquee value, that it sounds sexier to your editors. And so sometimes I think reporters don't talk to somebody and say, look, I can't use you as a source. There's no reason why this can't be attributed to you. So I think that reporters do let sources of information too easily get away what with that kind of definition.
ROBERTS: You also said something earlier, very important to point out. You said that at one point, we spent seven to 10 days checking out a story, and then decided we didn't have it. In the age of the blogs and the age of the Internet, the pressures on investigative reporters to produce quickly reduces that time to check out sources, to do the professional work you're talking about. That's one of the things that's changed and made it much more difficult.
KURTZ: You still have the ability to say no. We haven't gotten it, let's not put it...
KURTZ: ... on the air, let's not put it in print.
We've got to take a break. Still to come, questions from our studio audience and from you at home. Plus, why is Mark Felt coming forward as Deep Throat now, 33 years later?
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES here at the George Washington University. You know, Steve Roberts, Bob Woodward and Mark Felt both had something in common. They both went to GW. This become kind of a bond when they first met, before Watergate, as Woodward was trying to cultivate Felt.
Now, Mark Felt, as we saw earlier in the program, he lied and denied all these years about his role. Do you have any clue as to why he's coming forward now, at the age of 91?
ROBERTS: You get a sense that I have an old mentor in this business, Howie, Scotty Rustin (ph), who said, there are two kinds of obituaries: Vertical and horizontal. And in some ways, I think this is a vertical obituary. They wanted the praise, they wanted him to bask in this glory while he was still alive and could understand it. I think there clearly are some money factors as well.
KURTZ: And on that point, Felt's lawyer, who is John O'Connor, who wrote the "Vanity Fair" piece in which Felt finally revealed his role, appeared on television earlier this week and was asked whether there was a financial incentive here. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, NBC NEWS: What do you think the family's motive was? Was it was to make some money off this, you think?
JOHN O'CONNOR, VANITY FAIR: Well, no, let me tell you, Katie. Originally, that was the daughter's way of pushing her father. We wouldn't be coming out and doing this if it were for money, and I would -- we would be at a tabloid if that were our motivation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That interview with Katie Couric on "Today."
Jackie Judd, famously, Mark Felt as Deep Throat told Woodward to follow the money. Well, can we follow the money here and say that the family was interested in making some money?
JUDD: You know, I think the reasons that he's coming forward now are probably as complex as the reasons he was Deep Throat 25 or 30 years ago. And as Steve suggested earlier, there are lots of different reasons. He's 91, he's not going to be with us much longer. He wanted to get his storyline out there. I think maybe his daughter and perhaps his grandson had some financial motives going.
KURTZ: They tried to sell it as a book. They asked "People" magazine for money; they would not pay for the story.
JUDD: But you know what, in the end, I'm not sure it matters. It matters what the story is. Is the story they're telling truthful? In the same way, that's the ultimate test for sources.
KURTZ: Let's take one more question from the studio audience. Your name and question, please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Katie Lake (ph). I'm from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. And I just wanted to know, do you think that anonymous sources will continue to be used and revitalize after such a reliable anonymous source, such as Deep Throat has been used, or do you think that events such as the "Newsweek" scandal will continue to cause hesitance in reporters when using these type of sources?
KURTZ: Kelli Arena, we had an example of a source that worked and a source that didn't, 1970s and earlier this year.
ARENA: I think that all news organizations are reviewing their policies, obviously for sourcing and anonymous sources, and I think that there's a definite push by editors to, if not reveal a name, to characterize as closely as you can who that person is, and to reveal any motivation that that person may have for talking to you, which, sometimes, you know, is just because you asked, and other times it's because they have an agenda.
ROBERTS: Well, you know, there's no such thing as a pure source. There's no such thing as a purely motivated source. Everybody has an agenda. Everybody has an axe to grind.
KURTZ: May just be the ego trip of talking to a reporter.
ROBERTS: It could be an ego trip, it could be settling a vendetta, it could -- I once had an anonymous source call me up and leak me a report from Capitol Hill. And I said, well, where did you get it? He said, because I wrote it, and other people -- and other people were suppressing it. So his ego was involved.
You always have to factor that in to how you handle it. Jackie said you have got to check it with other sources, but there are always going to be anonymous sources, or else you're not going to be well served; the public won't be well served.
KURTZ: And Steve Roberts still won't tell us who gave us those phone records in the Donald Segretti case.
Jackie Judd, Steve Roberts, Kelli Arena, thanks very much for joining us.
Ahead, some final thoughts on the end of an era, not just for Deep Throat, but for the Washington media as well.
KURTZ: Several Washington institutions are fading into history this week. "CROSSFIRE," the original shout show, which could be fun or infuriating, depending on the decibel level, signed off right here at GW Friday after 23 years on the air.
Judy Woodruff bowed out Friday with her program, "INSIDE POLITICS," must-see TV for political junkies, soon to follow.
And the Deep Throat mystery finally over. Think about it: No more guessing games, debates, books, blogs or schoolyard fights over whether Throat was Al Haig or Fred Fielding or David Gergen or Diane Sawyer, or whether such a source existed at all.
In the end, just a 91-year-old man to put a name and a face to what had been the most famous anonymous person in modern history.
Well, that's it for this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Our thanks to the George Washington University and our studio audience.
Be sure to join us next Sunday morning at our regular time, 11:30 Eastern, for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com