For over 30 years, the identity of Deep Throat was one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American journalism and politics. During the two years between the 1972 break-in at the Watergate Hotel and the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post stood out for their well-informed coverage of the investigation. With the help of a highly-placed source feeding them information about the progress of the federal investigation, the reporters played a key role in keeping the scandal in the public eye and preventing Nixon from halting the investigation. This source, nicknamed “Deep Throat” by the media, was finally revealed last week to be W. Mark Felt, former associate director of the FBI. Three decades ago, Felt’s role in the Post’s reporting was critical in revealing the corruption in the Nixon administration that could have otherwise remained hidden. And today, at age 91, Felt’s unveiling as Deep Throat provides us with an important and timely reminder of the importance of investigative journalism.

Watergate is undoubtedly one of the most significant events in American politics, but it was also a turning point in the history of American journalism. After Watergate, politicians were subject to an unprecedented level of public scrutiny as investigative reporting of political figures became more aggressive. Furthermore, the impact of the Post’s reporting inspired a new generation of journalists, all eager to uncover another story that would change history. The film “All the President’s Men,” based on the memoir by Woodward and Bernstein, only furthered the romanticism, making journalism as glamorous as Robert Redford in the eyes of a generation of Americans.

The revelation of Deep Throat’s identity could not come at a more opportune time. With recent media scandals causing many to question the use of anonymous sources, Deep Throat should serve as a reminder of their crucial role in investigative journalism. When utilized properly, as in the case of Woodward and Bernstein, an anonymous source can be a powerful tool in uncovering hidden truths. In the face of pressure to curtail the use of unnamed sources, journalists should recall the lesson of Deep Throat: that unless government is completely transparent, anonymous sourcing is often vital to finding the truth.

Critics of anonymous sourcing often contend that such sources may have personal agendas, leaking information with underhanded purposes like revenge or personal gain. Felt, who had a grudge against the Nixon administration for not appointing him as J. Edgar Hoover’s successor, probably did not have pure motives in leaking information to Woodward. But his role was no less significant, as Woodward used the information to reveal to the public a truth that may have been suppressed otherwise.

As Deep Throat demonstrated, anonymous sources with questionable motives can be used by responsible and vigilant reporters to the benefit of the public and the truth. Despite public perceptions of the media as inaccurate and frequent attacks from people who would like to see serious journalism discredited, the American press must not forget its role as a check on government; journalists must continue holding officials accountable for their actions. Mark Felt changed the American press and politics forever, and his role in Woodward and Bernstein’s courageous reporting should continue to stand as an inspiring example of journalism’s fundamental purpose.

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