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Lance Morrow: My memories of Deep Throat

( -- "In Search of Deep Throat: The Greatest Political Mystery of Our Time" (Basic Books) just arrived in the mail.

The book, by Leonard Garment, a domestic affairs adviser in the Nixon White House and counsel to the President after John Dean went south, is about the still mysterious Pimpernel of Watergate, the insider ex machina who guided Woodward and Bernstein ("Follow the money!") in their investigations for the Washington Post.

In the book, Garment tells us who he thinks Deep Throat was. Reading Garment brought back a scene to me from 26 years ago -- my screen going liquid-wavy, as in a time-dissolve.

It is early spring of 1974. I have flown from New York to Washington on private business, and am bunking on the couch in the spare room that Carl Bernstein uses as an office in his apartment in the Adams-Morgan section of town. (Carl and I have known each other since we were kid reporters together for the Washington Star, a paper now deceased). Nora Ephron, the bright, funny writer from New York, has just moved in with Carl, and is going nervously nuts, for some reason, trying to install a rheostat for the lights. The galley proofs of a book called "All the President's Men" have just arrived from the publisher. Carl, Nora and I stay up all night reading them, Carl passing sheets to Nora and she passing them along to me. I go to sleep at 5 a.m., leaving them still poring over the book.

That night in a booth at The Dancing Crab, a restaurant out Wisconsin Avenue, Nora goes to work on Carl. "Who is Deep Throat?" She is relentless, she tries everything. "Aw, c'mon!" "I won't tell." "Lemme guess -- I'll mention a name, and if I count to 10 and you haven't hung up on me, I'll know it's right!" Grin. That, of course, is the sort of trick that Woodward and Bernstein used on reluctant secretaries at CREEP.

Carl stonewalls Nora, as he will stonewall everyone for the next 26 years. He gives Nora a look that is amused, adamant and slightly embarrassed -- self-disciplined and self-effacing, with an undercurrent of the smugness of a person who holds people captive with an interesting secret. Who knew the secret could last so long? Garment thinks he knows the answer. Deep Throat, he says, is John Sears.

Students of the period will remember Sears as one of those young Republicans, sleek as seals, who worked around Nixon and the Committee to Re-elect. Sears lost out in some White House infighting before Watergate began, but he remained closely tied to the most important figures in the White House and the party. Later he ran Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. Today, he is a lawyer in private practice, and he is apparently incensed by Garment's theory that he is Deep Throat. "I may well sue," he angrily told Francis X. Clines of the New York Times.

Pursuing the identity of Deep Throat has been Garment's hobby for years. Some people suspected that Garment himself was the spectral man in the underground garage. Garment rejects the speculation that Deep Throat was either 1) a fiction, or 2) a composite, as I have often thought. John Dean claimed (for a time) that Deep Throat was Alexander Haig. Other suspects have ranged from Henry Kissinger to the CIA's William Colby, Cord Meyer and Richard Helms to the FBI's Patrick Gray and Mark Felt.

Garment builds the case for Sears on circumstantial evidence, and on points of personal style. Bob Woodward has said that Deep Throat smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank a lot of Scotch. Woodward and Bernstein wrote: "He was, incongruously, an incurable gossip, careful to label rumor for what it was, but fascinated by it. ... He could be rowdy, drink too much, overreach. He was not good at concealing his feelings, hardly ideal for a man in his position."

Sears was very smart, Garment thinks, canny about the media, and sufficiently knowledgeable to see the larger picture that Woodward and Bernstein were half-blindly working at. Would he have been trying to destroy the Nixon administration, or trying to save it from itself?

All that was long ago and far away. Some months after Carl and Nora and I sat up all night, Richard Nixon declared that his mother was a saint, and flew away to San Clemente. Carl and Nora were married, had two children, and then were rather vividly divorced. Nora wrote a novel about it, "Heartburn." Hollywood made a movie of "All the President's Men," wherein Deep Throat looks nothing like the seal-sleek John Sears. History's image of Deep Throat became the gaunt and shadowy Hal Holbrook, in the same way that, for purposes of myth, Carl has half-dissolved into Dustin Hoffman.

Copyright © 2000 Time Inc.


Thursday, July 27, 2000


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