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Jewish World Review May 5, 2003 / 3 Iyar, 5763

Thomas H. Lipscomb

Thomas H. Lipscomb
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College students' sleuthing backs up Haldeman, Dean's belief on "Deep Throat" | At the beginning of April, the Watergate archival papers of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein--75 boxes of the notes, clippings and other materials they assembled in their reporting of the Watergate scandal--were sold to the University of Texas library for $5 million. It was a historic sum of money for a collection of this kind. But it was a historic collection: These resources had led to the only resignation by an American president--Richard Nixon.

Not surprisingly, there were a few conditions attached to the sale protecting the identity of confidential sources they had used. Archival papers often have time limits established by their donors for accessing what they consider ''sensitive'' issues. So do documents released by the federal government to the National Archives.

So despite the high price paid for the Watergate papers, the question of the identity of Nixon White House insider ''Deep Throat,'' Woodward's most valuable source, was not likely to be answered by any research done in the archives at the University of Texas. Woodward had promised Deep Throat that his name would not be revealed until his death, and he has kept his word. He had already endured more than 30 years of charges that there was no such individual or that Deep Throat was really a composite character. It looked like the world might just have to wait until Woodward released the name.

A thousand miles away at the University of Illinois, a former reporter with two Pulitzers of his own, now Knight Professor of Journalism Bill Gaines, was just concluding a project. He had challenged his students to a fascinating exercise in investigative journalism: Find out the identity of Deep Throat, the man Gaines termed ''the most elusive, anonymous news source in history.''

After 30 years of speculation by Watergate experts and journalists, Gaines had sent a ''children's crusade'' of students in pursuit of the great white whale of journalism. Poring over 16,000 pages of FBI files and other documents without the benefit of the Woodward and Bernstein files, 60 students over four years of work finally came to a conclusion last week.

At a news conference appropriately held at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, Gaines and two of his students announced their candidate: consummate Washington insider Fred Fielding. Fielding, deputy counsel to President Nixon, worked under John Dean in the White House. He has had a number of jobs in Republican administrations, serving as legal counsel to President Ronald Reagan and on various commissions and teams for the first Bush administration before joining a law firm in the Washington area.

The Illinois students assembled clues that increasingly pointed to Fielding and eliminated other candidates. Fielding and Deep Throat smoked and drank Scotch. Deep Throat gave quotes to Woodward from John Ehrlichman and others he had overheard in connection with Dean and Fielding's cleaning out Howard Hunt's safe, that later appeared in testimony. Deep Throat told Woodward about the payments to the Watergate burglars, which Woodward and Bernstein had confirmed by the Committee to Re-elect the President's bookkeeper. Fielding had already seen the report summarizing the bookkeeper's detailed discussion with the FBI. The students came up with 12 clues, and Watergate buffs can now look them up online at a fascinating Web site:

But the only other study that pointed to Fielding as Deep Throat was Nixon's chief of staff H.R. Haldeman's 1978 book The Ends of Power. After seeing Haldeman stonewall Mike Wallace at CBS' ''60 Minutes'' after being paid $50,000 for a ''candid'' interview, Haldeman's editor at Times Books pressed him for his conclusions on several of the key issues in the Watergate case, one of which was the identity of Deep Throat.

Since Deep Throat's coaching of the ''Woodstein'' duo led to a jail sentence for Haldeman, he had done some serious thinking about which of the people in the White House had been Woodward's indispensable source.

Haldeman's case for Fielding was all the stronger for his looking at ''Not what he told Woodward that was accurate, but what he told Woodward that was wrong and almost every White House staffer knew was wrong. This could only happen if Deep Throat had access to much information but was deliberately 'kept out of things,' as Dean had said. And the person Dean had personally kept out of things was his assistant Fielding.

Wouldn't it be marvelous if Gaines' student exercise gets a distinguished 64-year-old attorney like Fielding to take a well- deserved bow before he dies?

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Thomas H. Lipscomb was H. R. Haldeman's editor on "The Ends of Power." He is the director of the Center for the Digital Future in New York and an editor and publisher for many years, most recently as head of Times Books. Lipscomb is also the founder of two public companies in digital technology. To comment, click here.

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© 2003, Thomas H. Lipscomb