Len Garment Kills the Messenger

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein flat-out deny that Deep Throat, the never-identified Watergate Über-source made famous by All the President’s Men, was Republican strategist John Sears. So does Sears. The Sears denial is neither here nor there; it’s easy to imagine Deep Throat still not wanting his identity revealed. Woodward and Bernstein’s denials, on the other hand, carry much weight. Remember, they don’t have to comment at all. The Woodstein denial is profoundly bad news for former Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment, because Garment has just published a book, titled In Search of Deep Throat, that strenuously argues Sears was Deep Throat.

Garment has been working overtime to spin his way out of this. Here is what he told NBC’s Dateline (in a segment that aired July 26, two days after David Carr broke the Woodward-denial story in; Bernstein chimed in two days later on CNBC’s Rivera Live): “That’s unusual that–that–that he would do that, because they have taken, on or off, they have taken the pledge that they would not get into the business of saying somebody is or isn’t.” Garment also told Dateline that if it isn’t Sears, Deep Throat probably never existed. In a Web chat on the next day, Garment’s position hardened further:

The fact that both would come steaming out of their self-imposed silence to issue denials reinforces my belief that it’s John Sears. It’s simply a case of the source controlling the journalists, for reasons of mutual interest.

But wait a minute. Garment’s book points out that Woodward has ruled out Deep Throat candidates in the past–Woodward said it wasn’t former chief of staff Al Haig, a recurring suspect, when Haig ran for president in the 1980s, and Woodward said it wasn’t former acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, another recurring suspect, when Gray was fingered by CBS News in the 1990s. Garment’s suggestion on that Woodward and Bernstein are now lying to protect Sears–in addition to having no supporting evidence–contradicts the weight given to Woodward’s denials about Haig and Gray in In Search of Deep Throat. (“Woodward waved me off Gray,” Garment writes on Page 170, and that’s the last we hear of him. Why believe Woodward then, but not believe Woodward now?) Garment’s suggestion that Woodward and Bernstein invented Deep Throat is also at odds with the praise Garment’s book lavishes on Woodstein for sourcing their Watergate stories so meticulously. The new accusation amounts to saying that Woodward and Bernstein committed literary fraud in All the President’s Men (and, prior to its publication, committed journalistic fraud on their Watergate editors at the Post, who were told of Deep Throat’s existence; since former Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee claims to know Deep Throat’s identity, Bradlee would have to be in on the deception, too). This struck Chatterbox as a pretty sleazy way to fast-talk your way out of a tight corner–book tour or no book tour.

Chatterbox decided to take it up with Garment himself. “I didn’t talk with Woodward while I was doing this book,” Garment told Chatterbox. Garment said the “Woodward waved me off Gray” passage alludes to a conversation he had while writing his previous book, a memoir titled Crazy Rhythm. In eliminating Gray from consideration, Woodward’s waving-off (and his outright public denial that it was Gray) mattered much less, Garment said, than his close examination later on of the evidence. Echoing arguments in his book, Garment further told Chatterbox that he’s never taken Haig very seriously as a Deep Throat candidate.

“It’s either John Sears or it’s either nobody or it’s composite,” Garment said. Gee, Chatterbox replied, isn’t that a pretty harsh accusation to hurl at Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee? You write a book full of praise for Woodstein; then Woodstein say your central thesis is incorrect; and then you accuse them of conducting a gigantic hoax. “ Juno and the Paycock, Sean O’Casey,” Garment answered cheerfully. “‘Conditions alter circumstances.’” By which, Chatterbox gathers, Garment meant: Truth and reputations bow to my interests.

It’s too bad that Garment is behaving so badly, because, apart from the Sears business, In Search of Deep Throat is quite a good book. Garment writes with real flair and insight about life inside the Nixon White House. Among his more original theories is that the poisonous environment surrounding Watergate resulted in part from Nixon’s plan to assert control over cabinet agencies via the establishment of four “Super Secretaries” to preside over clusters of cabinet departments–one for Natural Resources, one for Human Resources, one for Community Development, and one for Economic Affairs. Although this plan affected only those agencies involved in making domestic policy, the “Super Secretaries” set a precedent bound to worry the entire federal bureaucracy. Garment doesn’t say so, but the “Super Secretaries” plan (which never came to fruition) would surely have worried Mark Felt, the FBI associate director, who was fingered as Deep Throat by James Mann in an Atlantic Monthly article that remains the most persuasive thing Chatterbox has ever read on this subject. We know that Felt was already fretting that the White House was trying to gain control of the FBI in the aftermath of J. Edgar Hoover’s death, which occurred one month before the Watergate break-in. (Chatterbox should note here that Felt last year denied to this column that he was Deep Throat.) Garment’s book, though, doesn’t buy the Felt theory, because in All the President’s Men Deep Throat “simply did not sound to me like a career FBI man.” Deep Throat, Garment argues, had the kind of intimate knowledge of White House operations that required more “personal experience” of the participants.