It was a great story, but it had one big problem: the prosecution hadn’t stopped. The storyline could hold water only if the book were published before the next round of revelations, indictments, and trials, including the biggest one of them all: Nixon’s impeachment trial.
And that’s just what they did, writing it in 1973 and rushing the book out in February 1974, six months before the whole story came out and Nixon resigned. It was a brilliant move: not only did they get their story out before it would have been eclipsed by the impeachment trial, but its publication helped to drive the president from office before the trial could even start.
Even with that master stroke, the book might still have fallen as flat as all the others that came out at the same time. According to David Obst, the literary agent who helped write the proposal in Woodward’s apartment, the original concept was an insider’s account of reportage in the style of Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President books. There was no “Deep Throat” in the proposal. But before the first draft was finished, Robert Redford bought the screen rights for $350,000 and invited Woodward to dinner, where he introduced him to William Goldman, who was to write the screenplay. Goldman and Redford suggested a few changes. “Deep Throat” appeared and so did the dramatic storyline.
What sets Woodward and Bernstein’s story apart from, say, their boss Barry Sussman’s much more accurate and insightful The Great Coverup (published the same year) is the fiction-like drama that appeared in later drafts as All the President’s Men took shape. Late-night meetings in parking garages, warnings that everyone’s life is in danger, clandestine encounters in out-of-the-way bars. Those are screenplay elements. They seem fabricated. So does “Deep Throat.”
It has now become clear that “Deep Throat” was fabricated. The most famous anonymous source of all time was a fictional character made up by the two best known reporters in American history.
The proof? It’s in their own notes, the ones they sold to the University of Texas for $5 million, a deal they struck in 2003 while the identity of “Deep Throat” was still theirs to withhold. (The contract allowed them to hold back notes of still-secret living sources.) It must have seemed like a great idea until 2005, when Vanity Fair magazine printed an article identifying Mark Felt as “Deep Throat.” When Woodward and Bernstein reluctantly confirmed that he had been a source, Mark Felt was no longer a secret source. The two owed their notes of conversations with him to the University of Texas.
After stalling for a year and a half, Woodward finally got around to depositing his “Deep Throat” notes at the University of Texas in January 2007. It took Ed Gray less than five minutes with the first interview to see that it was with someone other than Mark Felt. And it took barely more than that to see that Woodward’s sketchy notes were of interviews conducted with at least two different men, probably three. The incontrovertible evidence behind that conclusion is detailed in In Nixon’s Web, in a final chapter written by Ed. It’s also available to anyone who looks at Woodward’s now-public notes. Here’s a summary:
--Although there are 17 clandestine contacts between Woodward and “Deep Throat” in All the President’s Men, the newly-deposited notes include only three of them. Two are marked “meeting with X” and another “interview with my friend.” An additional single page is unattributed and does not match any passage in the book. There are no notes at all for the other 13 contacts, including the climactic post-garage-meeting scene in the book and movie where Woodward types a memo in his apartment for Bernstein under loud music because Deep Throat has told him the CIA is bugging “everyone,” a memo that according to the book was distributed to their editors at the Washington Post the very next day. If it exists, Woodward and Bernstein are under a $5 million obligation to produce it.
--In the notes of October 9, 1972, “X” told Woodward that immediately after the burglary, John Mitchell, the chairman of CREEP, conducted his own investigation.