More than 30 years after a couple of punk, amateur, twenty-something Washington Post reporters exposed the biggest political scandal in American history, we finally get to hear the whole truth behind the story directly from the source. Written by the most well-known and lauded investigative reporter of all time, Bob Woodward, and with an epilogue by his muckraking partner in crime, Carl Bernstein, “The Secret Man” is a must read for history buffs and casual observers alike, expertly portraying the struggles the reporters and their secret man faced while bringing down a president.
“The Secret Man” is as much a biography of Bob Woodward as it is a tell-all about Deep Throat. The reader walks in Woodward’s shoes as the young Harvard graduate struggles to find himself in the Navy and afterward.
We are also on hand for the prophetic first meeting between Woodward and Mark Felt, now revealed to be the infamous Deep Throat. Woodward paints a convincing picture of the times, the bullying of the Nixon administration and the undeniable will of a patriotic Felt to protect the FBI, the institution to which he devoted his life.
Near the end, we are taken to the emotional last meeting between Woodward and Felt, now a frail old man losing his memory, unable even to remember the details of his pivotal role in American history.
Here, Woodward fruitlessly prods the former understudy of J. Edgar Hoover, hoping to find answers for himself and his readers. He hopes to find out why Felt did what he did and why he wanted to remain anonymous so many years later but realizes that the degenerative old man sitting across from him is not the same Mark Felt he once knew — the one who risked his own honor for that of the FBI.
Throughout the book, Woodward returns to his own internal struggle on how much longer he must keep Deep Throat’s identity hidden. His conclusion is a very important lesson for reporters everywhere — protect your source at all costs.
Woodward finally expresses his hesitation in confirming that Mark Felt was indeed Deep Throat even after the Vanity Fair article that first revealed his identity. Did he still owe allegiance to the Felt of 1973, even while the Felt of 2005 wanted to be unmasked?
The book is undeniably a powerful, though not as ground-breaking or authoritative as “All the President’s Men” or Woodward’s more recent bestseller, “Plan Of Attack.” Much of what is revealed in the book we have already known or could have guessed, but there are some new tidbits (Felt accidentally compromised himself at a Senate hearing but was covered by a committee member). But even what we have always known is still nice to hear in Woodward’s own words and, at times, in those of Felt himself.
Woodward’s message in the book: Mark Felt should never be seen as a traitor, but rather as a hero with who stood alone in the face of a corrupt White House and refused to compromise his principles.
At a time when secret sources are coming under fire everywhere and the secrecy of the Watergate era seems restored, Woodward’s memoir of the most important anonymous source ever acts as a timely reminder that the freedom of the press, no matter the circumstances, must never be compromised.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars