Deep Throat admission could make Watergate papers more valuable

Scholars expect renewed interest in Ransom Center documents

By Mark Lisheron
Austin American-Statesman
Friday, June 3, 2005

W. Mark Felt's admission this week that he was "Deep Throat" is making the $5 million that the Ransom Center at the University of Texas paid for the papers of Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein seem like a positive bargain, center Director Tom Staley said Thursday.

Far from solving a mystery and deflating interest, Felt's surprise disclosure that he was the secret source who leaked Watergate information has compounded interest in one of the pivotal periods in American political history. And with the papers pertaining to Felt now free for release, the Austin research center will help scholars and the public understand more precisely the relationship between the legendary Washington Post reporters and the man who, perhaps more than any other, helped bring down President Nixon.

"We never considered Deep Throat a factor in whether or not to purchase this archive," Staley said. "We bought the collection for its research value. Because of the crisis in the Nixon presidency, the collection is a lens on history."

Woodward and Bernstein, who split the $5 million and returned $500,000 of it to the University of Texas for Watergate research, stipulated in the sale that all documents dealing with anonymous sources would be withheld, until either the deaths of those sources or agreement concerning their release, Staley said. A vast majority of the papers -- 86 boxes and 21 bound volumes -- were made public earlier this year at the Ransom Center. The Felt-related papers will most likely be delivered to the center by fall and be available to the public as soon as the papers can be archived, Staley said.

Felt's revelation brings a swell of revitalized interest in the period from 1972, when government-paid burglars bungled a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex, to August 1974, when a chastened Nixon resigned the presidency in the face of impeachment. The interest is sure to be perpetuated by the books promised by Woodward and by Felt's family, said Steven Isenberg, who used the papers to help teach a class on Watergate this past semester at the University of Texas.

Isenberg, whose classroom guests included former Nixon aide John Dean, said Watergate is that rare event that allows for discussion in many academic disciplines, including politics, journalism, ethics and law. He said the value of the Woodward and Bernstein collection ought to be calculated through its role as a primary research source for many avenues of scholarship.

"I can't talk about value in terms of dollars," Isenberg said Thursday. "It can't be calculated. How can you calculate the value of the attention the collection and the Ransom Center are getting right now. And how do you take into account how little people today know about what really happened at the Watergate, how the White House was bending agencies of the government to its will for really bad reasons. What do we do when our government fails us?"

The collection's $5 million price was set in April 2003 by an agreement through Glenn Horowitz, a New York-based rare books broker who also recently brought the Ransom Center into possession of the papers of writer Norman Mailer for $2.5 million.

Horowitz said Thursday by telephone that the identity of Deep Throat would have changed nothing in the negotiation between the Ransom Center and Woodward and Bernstein.

"Within the first 10 minutes of our discussion, (UT President) Larry Faulkner recognized the value of this archive," Horowitz said. "If anything, the revelation of the identity of Deep Throat has inflated the value of the collection. Given the amount of attention the collection has received, I'd say the $5 million cost is infinitesimal compared to its value."

mlisheron@statesman.com; 445-3663