Beliefnet
After 30 years of speculation and curiosity, we now know Deep Throat was a patriotic federal government employee, passed over for promotion, in conflict with his bosses, at odds with the White House, tormented with himself and his loyalties, caught up in a game of private intrigue, who leaked information to a news outlet. That makes him just like the rest of us who have been involved in Washington's inner circles. It is all pretty disappointing really. We were hoping for an exceptional man. We got an every man.

Maybe that is why this disclosure has become a Rorschach test for commentators, political leaders, staffers, journalists, and everyone else involved in politics. Deep Throat's unmasking as the unremarkable Mark Felt begs us all to stop speculating about him and start looking inside ourselves, examining our own actions. Have we been faithful to our country? Have we served ourselves or others? And when we start doing that we all get a bit fidgety because there is a lot of darkness inside us all. So we stop and lash out instead.

Maybe that is why one prominent conservative commentator wrote that it was Mark Felt who brought down a president, weakened America, emboldened the Soviet Union, and brought forth the demonic Pol Pot and his killing fields. Because he exposed the crimes of a corrupt White House, he is responsible for all subsequent world events? Does that mean he was also the architect of communism's collapse? Should he get credit for the Teletubbies, Spice Girls, and "Star Wars" too, given that they appeared in the post-Watergate era?

Ah, that feels better doesn't it? It is all his fault. If we can just blame our government's failures to confront genocide on Deep Throat, then we bear no responsibility ourselves. This brand of passing the buck in a supercharged, hyperbolic, ideologically driven fashion is the primary characteristic of 21st-century American politics.

But the facts about Mark Felt don't support his demonization. He didn't stand in Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter's way in 1975, 1976, or 1977 as America complacently ignored the torture of millions in Cambodia. He didn't embolden the Soviet Union. He was an old-school career FBI employee who covertly exposed the corruption of an imperious White House team that thought it was under attack from lots of groups including "the Jews," truly believed it was "on the right side of history," and didn't have the humility to admit it was ever wrong.

A prominent liberal commentator writes that the timing of Deep Throat's identification is fortuitous because the Bush White House is just as corrupt as Nixon's was. Bush, this logic goes, secretly took the country to war for his own ends and profit. He wantonly sacrificed more than 1,600 American lives to take out Saddam Hussein. All that America needs now is another super-secret superhero like Mark Felt to expose the insidious cabal convening nightly in the West Wing or some undisclosed location. The real problem is with President Bush.

Then there are the journalists. I've heard from friends in the White House, Department of Justice, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, and Pentagon that several wannabe-Woodwards are calling around to officials, saying "You can be a hero just like Mark Felt. Give me the information, and I'll protect your anonymity and get the story out. Later, if you want to step forward, you can go on the speaking circuit and make lots of money."

Virtually every person in a position of power in Washington has played the leaking game. Some give information; others receive. Sometimes it is done as part of an institution's strategic decision-making. It is often advantageous, for instance, to leak a proposed policy as a trial balloon. The name of a potential Supreme Court nominee can be leaked to ascertain preliminary reaction. Other times the leaking is done to hurt another political party, another candidate, or a rival. Sometimes individuals leak information to the media to build goodwill with reporters. One of President Bush's senior nominees in the first term was famous for holding background meetings with reporters, leaking information, and building goodwill. He sailed through his confirmation hearings with no bad press.

Here's the rub though. No one likes to admit that they've leaked-even if they do it as part of their every day job. We prettify the language and say we're "giving the story to." or are "providing information to." or "just talking on background." Then there's the most popular description of all, "spinning." But leaking can be a high. There is a certain rush of power. We are in control. We are playing the reporter to our side. We are manipulating.I mean, spinning. But there's no lasting high; once the adrenaline rush wears off, it feels a bit slimy. And if it doesn't feel slimy, then we've probably been doing it for too long.

The flood of biographies of Mark Felt in the wake of his revelation make it clear that he has wrestled with his role as leaker-in-chief for 30 years. He found moments of peace, but they were overwhelmed by recurring fears over what people would think of what he had done. Most telling, however, was the conscience question: Did I do the right thing?

I wonder how many people in politics are asking that question these days? Based on all of the hacking going on in the name of "public service," it seems like it may be the least popular of all questions.

That is understandable though. Who really wants that much self-knowledge? To examine conscience requires the painful task of self-reflection while overcoming our own capacity for self-deception. A famous prayer beginning the process of conscience examination starts by asking, "O Lord, grant me light to see myself as Thou dost see me."

Jesus, who said virtually nothing about politics save "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," had everything to say about questions like these. To see ourselves as we are, he said, we must first look at our hearts. What comes out of our mouths is simply a gasp of what is inside of us.

Let's be honest, these are annoying statements.

We don't want to look at our own hearts and consciences. Not really look. I find it easier to look at the rest of the world and comment on it. My neighbor, for instance, needs to paint over his purple house, my president needs to pay more attention to the poor, my friends need to consume less and give more, someone needs to ban the New York Yankees.

But looking at others' blemishes isn't the best option. Looking inside and asking if I've done the right things in service to America, to people, to politics, and, most important, to God is what I have to do. And it is what all of us in politics, the media, business, and everywhere else needs to do as well.

Questioning ourselves and our actions seems to be the best response to this week's news. After all, if we don't question ourselves, we are still chasing the apparition known as Deep Throat rather than the uncertain man named Mark Felt who still wonders about what he did.
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus