As the 40th anniversary of Watergate impends, we are to be bathed again in the great myth and morality play about the finest hour in all of American journalism.

The myth?

That two heroic young reporters at the Washington Post, guided by a secret source, a man of conscience they dubbed “Deep Throat,” cracked the case and broke the scandal wide open, where the FBI, U.S. prosecutors and more experienced journalists floundered and failed.

Through their tireless investigative reporting, they compelled the agencies of government to treat Watergate as the unprecedented constitutional crisis it was. No Pulitzer Prize was ever more deserved than the one awarded the Post in 1973.

These young journalists saved our republic!

However, the myth, fabricated in “All the President’s Men” and affirmed by the 1976 film of the same name, with Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, has a Hellfire missile coming its way.

“Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat” is an exhaustive study of the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein and the leaking by the FBI’s Mark Felt, whose identify as Deep Throat was revealed in 2005.

“Leak” author Max Holland zeroes in on the last great unanswered question of Watergate: Why did Felt, an FBI No. 2 on the short list to succeed J. Edgar Hoover, risk reputation and career to leak secrets to the Post?

Woodward and Bernstein paint Deep Throat, writes Holland, as a “selfless high-ranking official intent on exposing the lawlessness of the Nixon White House.” But this is self-serving nonsense.

The truth was right in front of Woodward. His refusal to see it made him a willing or witless collaborator in the ruin of the reputation and career of an honorable pubic servant, Patrick Gray.

Felt was consumed by anger and ambition. When Hoover died, a month before the break-in, Felt, who had toadied to Hoover, saw himself as Hoover’s successor. But President Nixon went outside the bureau to name Gray from the Department of Justice acting director.

Concealing his rage and resentment, Felt wormed himself into Gray’s confidence, and then set out to destroy Gray.

Felt’s method: Leak discoveries of the Watergate investigation to a cub reporter at the Post, which everybody in Washington read, rather than to veteran journalists known to be FBI outlets.

This would cover Felt’s tracks.

Published in the Post, the leaks of what the FBI was uncovering would enrage Nixon and make Gray appear an incompetent unable to conduct a professional investigation. This would make it unlikely that Nixon would ever send Gray’s name to the Senate for confirmation as permanent director.

And if Gray, an outsider, fell because he couldn’t keep the FBI from leaking, Nixon might turn to Felt, the ranking insider who could button up the bureau like Hoover did.

By ingratiating himself with Gray as he set out to discredit and destroy him, Felt expected that when Gray was passed over by Nixon, he would recommend to Nixon that he appoint his loyal deputy, Felt, as director.

Even if cynical and vicious, the scheme was clever.

Until Nixon found out Felt was the leaker in late 1972, he was considering Felt for the top job. Felt’s machinations and deceptions at the apex of the FBI make Nixon’s White House appear in retrospect to have been a cloistered convent of Carmelite nuns.

More revolting than the ruin of Gray’s reputation was what Felt did to the good name of the bureau he professed to love. By leaking what agents were learning about Watergate, he was discrediting the FBI.

Inside the government, he made the FBI look like an agency of bumblers who could not keep secrets. Outside the government, the FBI looked like a three-toed sloth, while a fleet-footed and fearless Washington Post was unearthing the truth.

The FBI appeared beaten at every turn by the brilliant Post, when it was the FBI’s homework Felt was stealing and the Post was cribbing.

Woodward and Bernstein were glorified stenographers.

And though Deep Throat was portrayed as a man sickened by the wiretaps and break-ins by the White House, Felt himself, writes Holland, “authorized illegal surreptitious entries into the homes of people associated with the Weather Underground.”

In 1979, Felt was prosecuted and convicted and then pardoned by Reagan.

In “The Secret Man,” Woodward calls Felt “a truth-teller.” That’s quite a tribute to an FBI man who lied to Pat Gray, lied to all of his FBI colleagues and lied to every journalist who asked him for 30 years whether he was Deep Throat.

If Felt was a hero, why did he not come forward to tell the country what he had done and why?

Because he was no hero.

Mark Felt was a snake. He used the Post to destroy his rivals and advance his ambitions, and the Post didn’t care what his motives were because Felt was assisting them in destroying their old enemy.

Yes, indeed, the finest hour in American journalism.

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