A Very Good Source

The news story that stayed alive for 32 years died a couple weeks ago when the guy who was named after a woman whose clitoris was misplaced in her pharynx decided to come clean. Mark Felt, long-retired FBI man whose pension apparently isn’t all that great, will shortly be headed for Oprah, Katie, Regis, Tony, Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer, The View, 60 Minutes, Access Hollywood, a Top-10 list from Letterman and, it looks like, a made-for-TV movie.

Whatever his reported motives then (passed over for CEO-ship of the FBI) or now (getting some money so his daughter can pay her bills), Felt deserves some sympathy just for being a real-life Gregory Peck/Mr. Green in Gentleman’s Agreement, a goy who was the object of Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism. He also deserves some respect for being the object lesson in why unnamed sources are necessary to cover any area of life where people are likely to talk only behind other people’s backs. Which is every area of life, come to think of it. [Catch the Delaney Report sometime, and also note that former J. Walter Thompson account executive H.R. (Bob) Haldeman’s co-chief of staff, John Erlichman, knew it was Felt all along.]

Interesting, too, are the folks who are now exonerated. George Herbert Walker Bush was actually a suspect at one time. For me, he was the unlikeliest candidate, along with Alexander Haig. A top network executive (my unnamed source) thought the whole All The President’s Men plot fell apart because “what idiot feeling in danger for his life would agree to meet in a dark, lonely, underground parking garage?”

Bernstein is a nice guy. He used to live across the street from me, and when my son was in the seventh grade, Bernstein agreed to be interviewed by him for a paper on Watergate. He told my son that he was scared a couple of times, and I believe him. He also, in reply to an off-the-record question (“Who was Deep Throat?”), said that he was a “very good source.”

Come to think of it, maybe the whole Watergate crowd are a bunch of nice guys. When my son got to senior year of high school, he did another report on Watergate, but this time he decided to make a film. (Why research and write a 10-page paper when you can shoot something and edit it on an Avid?) G. Gordon Liddy made himself available for an hour at his recording studio in D.C. and was engaging and forthcoming, once you got past his handshake, which could pop open a Brazil nut. Liddy contends that the whole break-in was engineered to see if the Democrats had any dirt on John Dean’s girlfriend and future wife, Maureen. He offers as evidence the fact that the listening devices were placed in the offices of a Democratic official who, while ignorant of the upper tribunals of the campaign, did have direct access to Maureen’s alleged employer, an alleged madam living allegedly across the street from the Watergate offices.

Chris Matthews’ Hardball had the best show on the Felt revelation. He brought on Ralph de Toledano, a man who has written knowledgeably over the years (many years) about jazz, opera, Sephardic Jewry, Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss and Richard Nixon and who, yes, is the biographer of Mark Felt. Presumably there will be a new edition of The FBI Pyramid, which didn’t exactly zoom up the best-seller lists when it was first released in 1979. Here was an FBI agent who didn’t make it to the top, who didn’t arrest Dillinger or Al Capone, who didn’t discover commie cells on Morton Street, who didn’t put a wire in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s hotel suite, but who did get convicted himself of overstepping bounds investigating the Weather Underground. Now it looks like there might be a chapter someone would want to read, but from the look on de Toledano’s face, there might be a battle over future royalties between Ralph and Mark. As Mark Felt said so long ago, “Follow the money.” We didn’t know at the time the long-range importance of that phrase, and how it would reverberate eventually around to the cash that could flow deservedly to the Linda Lovelace namesake.

In 1984, when I was working on Reagan’s re-election, someone (probably Ed Rollins) explained why the president was so popular among people 21-35. He said (paraphrasing here) the first president they knew got shot; the next one ended up able to speak uninterrupted only on military bases; the next one got thrown out of office or he would have been impeached; the next one was a genial fellow but kept tripping on his feet and his words; and the one after that oversaw 21 percent interest rates and kept getting bogged down with those bothersome hostages in Tehran. At that point, Ronald Reagan was the only competent president they had seen in their lifetime. And he pardoned Mark Felt for abusing the Weather Underground.

How to honor Mark Felt? Easy. Rename the Paramount Theatre. Call it the Felt Forum. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?