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'Deep Throat' book offers insight, not revelations

By Dan Bice

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat" by Bob Woodward; Simon &; Schuster ($23)

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Long live the use of confidential news sources.

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Of course, there is some legitimate criticism of journalists today for their abuse and overuse of these anonymous sources. Is there any "senior administration official" in Washington who talks on the record today? And what great peril do TV execs or sports scouts face that they opt so often to talk behind the cloak of secrecy?

That said, good journalists strive to report what they believe is true, but this is not easy. Legwork and good reporting can expose evasions, but not always.

Enter star investigative journalist Bob Woodward and his new book, "The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat."

The book was stripped of much of its immediacy when the FBI's former No. 2 official, Mark Felt, went public in May by admitting that he was the mystery man who guided Woodward and his Washington Post partner, Carl Bernstein, through the Watergate maze in the early '70s. Woodward was deprived of one of his biggest scoops.

But many questions remained. In "The Secret Man," Woodward fleshes out a piece that ran in the Post a few days after Felt's self-disclosure. He and Felt first met by chance in 1969 while Woodward, then a Navy lieutenant assigned to the Pentagon, was running an errand to the White House.

"As I think back on this accidental but crucial encounter -- one of the most important in my life -- I see my patter verged on the adolescent," Woodward writes.

His relationship with Felt became more professional when Woodward took a reporting job with the Post, where he is now an editor. But it was only with the break-in at the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate office building in June 1972 that Felt made the transition from consummate insider to press informant. Never a fluid writer in the past, Woodward tells the story of his emerging relationship with Felt -- their clandestine meetings, the G-man's sketchy tips, their one heated encounter -- in an engaging manner, even if the details are familiar.

There are a few new tidbits. We find out that someone at the Washington Post was apparently leaking information about Woodward and Bernstein's sources to the Nixon administration.

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But the answers to some of the more perplexing questions remain elusive, even by Woodward's admission. "I am disappointed and a little angry at both myself and him for never digging out a more exacting explanation, a clearer statement of his reasoning and motivation," he writes.

What we get instead is still valuable -- an inside look at the give-and-take involved in the often-dicey relationships between journalists and their sources. Because Woodward protected Felt's identity, others opened up to him for his later books.

"It is critical that confidential sources feel they would be protected for life," Woodward says of Felt. There would have been no Watergate, he adds, "without him and, it must be said, without countless others who talked as confidential sources."

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