Thursday, June 02, 2005


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 2, 2005

It was the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. I was working on a story about some problems in the state Corrections Department. One of my sources knew someone who had access to some documents that would nail the story for me. But that person didn’t want to actually meet with me for fear of being seen. For fear of being labeled a “rat.” And he didn’t want to be seen anywhere near The New Mexican office.

So I made arrangements through my source to be in a certain parking lot at a certain time that afternoon. I described my car to my source. Sure enough, I drove to the parking lot, found an empty space, waited just a few minutes until a vehicle pulled up behind me. A man with an envelope — someone I’d never seen before — got out and approached me. I don’t actually remember if we even spoke. He might have said something like, “You Steve?”

I took the envelope. He rushed back to his car and drove away. The documents were as promised. I had my story.

To my knowledge, I’ve never seen the guy with the envelope again. I wouldn’t be able to give you his name even if you tortured me.

The weird thing is, I honestly don’t even remember what the story was about. It obviously wasn’t as consequential as, say Watergate.

But this story, with this little dash of cloak and dagger, is the closest I’ve come in my newspaper career to the moving-flower-pots, underground-parking-garage-rendevous world of Deep Throat journalism.

This week’s revelation of the identity of the mysterious “Deep Throat” — former FBI number two man Mark Felt — comes at a time when using anonymous sources is coming under more and more scrutiny.

It’s something you try to avoid as a reporter. But sometimes it’s neccessary to uncover what’s really going on. Workers for instance are almost always hesitant to see their name in print criticizing their bosses. And I would never have gotten honest opinions from Democratic delegates about Gov. Bill Richardson’s convention speech in Boston last year had I insisted on using their names.

But the days of secret super-sources like Deep Throat do seem to be over.

Appearing on MSNBC’s The Abrams Report Tuesday, former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said, “if a ‘Deep Throat’ had emerged now, you would be talking about it every night. Chris Matthews would be talking about it. Bill O‘Reilly would be talking about it. It would start with the news cycle in the morning. Rush Limbaugh would be on the air demanding to know who it is. And you wouldn‘t have the opportunity to have the kind of reporting that was going on then because there would be so many distractions. It would become kind of a sideshow.”

To which Limbaugh responded Wednesday, “So people questioning the motives and work of the media is a sideshow. We would have been a distraction because they wouldn't have been able to do the great work that they did, and they're unable to do it now. They are distracted by people like me. We are nothing but a sideshow. ... that's why they're going back and reliving Watergate, because that's when there was nobody to stand in their way.”

Reliving Watergate: The flood of Watergate retrospectives that broke following the Deep Throat story dredged up a lot of Nixon-era memories for those of us old enough to remember that strange time.

Bob Johnson, executive director of New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, was in New York working as managing editor for the Associated Press during Nixon’s final days.

“I had to oversee most of the reporting that was coming out of Washington,” he said Wednesday. “Woodward and Bernstein got ahead of everyone on the Watergate story. They jumped on it and never let up. It took the rest of us a lot to catch up.

One of his hardest tasks was overseeing the story about the White House tapes released by the House Judiciary Committee. Basically he had to condense a 30,000-word summary into 10,000 words — being careful not to leave out anything important in the cases for and against Nixon.

Before Nixon resigned in 1974, Johnson said, “I didn’t get to go home for a month. I was living on coffee and sandwiches, sleeping at a hotel and putting myself to sleep each night with a couple of stingers.”

Billy Sparks, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Richardson, had been an intern as a teenager for North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin, the grandfatherly constitutional scholar who chaired the Senate Committee investigating the Watergate scandal.

Sparks didn’t work for Ervin during those years, but he stayed in touch. He recalled talking to Ervin after Nixon’s autobiography was released. “He was very disturbed,” Sparks said. “I remember he said ‘Nixon still doesn’t admit that he was guilty. He wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it fell on his head in the middle of the Rose Bowl parade.’ ”

Camelot: New York Attorney General Eliott Spitzer was in town Wednesday for a a $500-a-ticket fundraiser at the home of his friend, art gallery owner Gerald Peters. He was up in the office of his other local friend, Gov. Richardson in the afternoon for a quick session with a couple of Capitol reporters.

Spitzer apparently was impressed by the huge round marble table in the governor’s cabinet room. The moment he walked into the room he said, “Wow! Look at this table. Where does King Arthur sit?”

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