And the Winner of the Deep Throat Historical Sweepstakes Is…


J. Edgar Hoover, who is somehow emerging from the Deep Throat revelations as the principled G-man in relation to the perfidious Nixon.

Bob Woodward in today's Wash Post has a long and interesting tell-all about how he came to know and develop Mark Felt as a source (invaluable advice for all cub reporters: always be nice to FBI agents you meet in White House waiting rooms). One of the odd themes in the coverage so far has been the semi-lionization of Felt for his allegiance to good old J. Edgar Hoover's way of doing things. From Woodward's account:

It was only later after Nixon resigned that I began to wonder why Felt had talked when doing so carried substantial risks for him and the FBI. Had he been exposed early on, Felt would have been no hero. Technically, it was illegal to talk about grand jury information or FBI files–or it could have been made to look illegal.

Felt believed he was protecting the bureau by finding a way, clandestine as it was, to push some of the information from the FBI interviews and files out to the public, to help build public and political pressure to make Nixon and his people answerable. He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and their efforts to manipulate the bureau for political reasons. The young eager-beaver patrol of White House underlings, best exemplified by John W. Dean III, was odious to him.

His reverence for Hoover and strict bureau procedure made [L. Patrick] Gray's appointment as director all the more shocking. Felt obviously concluded he was Hoover's logical successor.

Whole thing here.

There's no question that Nixon's secret machinations (both here and abroad) were odious. Then again, so were his all-too-visible public policies, ranging from double-daylight-savings time to wage-and-price controls to the creation of a slew of rotten regulatory bureaucracies.

But it's odd how Hoover or, same thing, his FBI, seems to be getting a pass in the Watergate nostalgia–as if Hoover and his crew were a moral counterweight to Nixon and his pals. This was an agency that routinely overstepped its boundaries in terms of legally sanctioned surveillance when it wasn't researching the lyrics to "Louie, Louie" and other threats to the republic. And that's not even mentioning Hoover's legendary private files that contained dirt on everyone from JFK to MLK. I should point out that Woodward doesn't quite say this–and he and others have suggested Felt's motivations were far from pure. But the anti-Nixon sentiment seems to inoculate everyone who helped to bring him down, no matter what. (In a similar way, it was probably the best thing for LBJ's legacy to be followed by Nixon, who helps a lot of GOP-hating hippies forget who really got us neck deep into Vietnam and lied repeatedly to the American public.)

Can't we, at least this one time, have it all and note that Felt's beloved Hoover was scummy, just like Nixon?