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The Big Question

James Mann is author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins' Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. In a 1992 Atlantic Monthly article, he named Mark Felt as one of a few possible Deep Throat candidates. His most recent book is Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet.
Q: Could There Ever Be Another Deep Throat?
A: "I think there could be. There are parts of the Watergate leak that were unique and probably won't be repeated. President Richard Nixon was trying to gain political control of the FBI in a way that other presidents won't attempt, and the FBI, which had been under the control of a single director for decades, was an extremely powerful agency. But the larger context, I think, was not unique. You had then — as you have now — powerful bureaucracies on the one hand and, on the other, political leaders who try to gain control of those bureaucracies.

"I think it's possible to imagine that out there in the intelligence community or the military there may be some individual who could tell us a lot more than we now know about the buildup to the war in Iraq. Or to take another example: We've been watching for close to five years a classic tug of war between the uniformed military — which is, among other things, a career bureaucracy — and the secretary of defense and other Pentagon leaders. We haven't seen a Deep Throat emerge from that, but there have been several leaks in the newspapers that represent the uniformed military trying to fend off civilian leaders, or vice versa.

"So there could be another Deep Throat, but — though I'm not sure — I'm afraid that reporters are not trying hard enough to penetrate what's happening beneath the surface in government and aren't doing the kind of hard, long-term reporting that would uncover major abuses like Watergate.

"You can see from all the wrong guesses about Deep Throat that, even in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, people mistakenly assumed that our government was run by the people who appeared on talk shows. If someone wasn't appearing in public or on television, then people mistakenly assumed that he must not be important. Mark Felt was an example of someone who was extraordinarily powerful and important, because of his connection to a powerful institution, yet he never appeared in public. And it's still true today that day in and day out, our foreign policy and our law enforcement policy are often run by people you never see on Sunday morning TV.

"Our daily life is so overwhelmed by instant reporting and instant opinion that we sometimes forget there's a reality beyond it. I'm afraid that too many reporters are themselves swept up in this world of talk shows — and that it has become a reality all its own."

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