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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 22, No. 19, May 1, 2003

‘Deep Throat’ unmasked
UI journalism professor, students identify key Watergate source

By Craig Chamberlain, News Bureau Staff Writer
(217) 333-2894; cdchambe@illinois.edu

Photo by Craig Chamberlain
From right, Bill Gaines, the Knight Professor of Journalism, and Thomas Rybarczyk and Kelly Soderlund, students from last year's spring semester Investigative Reporting class, were interviewed live on CNN about the four-year investigation into revealing the identity of 'Deep Throat.' According to Gaines, "There's only one person left and that's Fred Fielding."

The identity of "Deep Throat" is no
longer a mystery, at least not for
one investigative journalism class at the UI.

After four years of work, involving more than 60 students over eight semesters, UI professor Bill Gaines and his current class believe they know the identity of the anonymous source who helped two Washington Post reporters expose the Watergate scandal.

Gaines, the Knight Professor of Journalism, who won two Pulitzer prizes as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, announced their conclusions April 22 at The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Joining him, first at an afternoon news conference and then at a dinner for D.C.-area alumni, were two students from his spring 2002 class, Thomas Rybarczyk and Kelly Soderlund.

At the same time as the news conference, news releases were e-mailed and faxed about the investigation and its results, and a new Web site was posted: www.deepthroatuncovered.com.

At the end of the day, following the dinner, Gaines, Rybarczyk and Soderlund found themselves in CNN’s Washington studio, being interviewed live by Aaron Brown. The following morning, they were on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

By the end of the week, the class and its work had been cited in at least 30 newspapers worldwide, and Gaines had been interviewed by at least a dozen broadcast outlets, including MSNBC, NPR and the BBC. The "Deep Throat Uncovered" Web site had been seen by more than 60,000 individual visitors.

The Web site is the work of a UI class on online publishing, taught by journalism professor Eric Meyer, and includes links to documents, video, audio and graphics related to the evidence cited by Gaines and his students.

The man they’ve identified as "Deep Throat" is Fred Fielding, a lawyer who was first assistant to John Dean, chief counsel to President Richard Nixon, at the time of the Watergate break-in in 1972. Gaines and the students make their case with extensive documentation.

"Everything that we have, we show there’s a document," Gaines said. Unlike many previous speculations on the source’s identity, "it’s not interpretation, it’s not guesswork," he said.

Fielding fits all the personal characteristics of "Deep Throat," as described by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, through their newspaper stories, their book "All the President’s Men" and the movie of the same title.

But Gaines and his students also can prove that Fielding was one of a very few who knew about several "important, closely held revelations" at the time when "Deep Throat" was passing them on to Woodward, Gaines said. With other pieces of information, they cannot prove that Fielding knew, but can show he had access to the information and therefore could have known.

"There’s very little that we do not connect with him," Gaines said, and nothing that shows Fielding couldn’t have known everything that "Deep Throat" knew.

"He was in a position to observe the cover-up without being accused of taking part in the conspiracy himself," Gaines said. Fielding knew about important conversations, helped inventory key documents, was shown specific FBI reports and helped prepare important White House staffers for FBI or grand jury testimony.

Even in one case where "Deep Throat" provided incorrect information regarding the amount of money distributed to several Watergate burglars, it helped make the case for Fielding, Gaines said.

Ironically, Dean has given Fielding a "complete pass" in his own extensive work to identify "Deep Throat," Gaines said, because Fielding personally assured Dean he was not the source. (Woodward has said that "Deep Throat" has denied being "Deep Throat" to his colleagues, Gaines said, "so in order to be ‘Deep Throat,’ you have to deny having been ‘Deep Throat.’ ")

Among his positions since Watergate, Fielding was the chief counsel to President Ronald Reagan for five years, served as a member of the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney transition team, and currently is a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks. He is "among the most respected minds in government," Gaines said.

The project began in 1999 as a classroom exercise in investigative journalism, and was ideal because so much about Nixon and Watergate was documented and in the public record, Gaines said. He also thought the mystique of "Deep Throat" would motivate students and get them interested in history. "It’s exciting to do a real investigation that people really care about," he said.

Gaines and his students began with a pool of potential candidates that theoretically included everyone in Washington, D.C., during the time of Watergate, and then began a wide-ranging process of elimination.

The students examined the roles of the FBI, Justice Department and White House in the scandal. They looked at where people lived at the time, where they worked, where they were at the time of key events, what information they had access to, whether they smoked, what they drank, and even how tall they were. All were relevant in some way in considering who should be eliminated from the list, Gaines said.

Starting in the spring semester last year, Gaines and his students also got access to an unedited version of the manuscript for "All the President’s Men," which supplied several important clues that didn’t appear in the published book.

One key conclusion, earlier in the project, was that "Deep Throat" had to be a White House staff member throughout the 18 months from May 1972 to November 1973. That produced a list of 72 officials, which was whittled down to seven by last summer: Patrick Buchanan, Stephen Bull, Fielding, David Gergen, Raymond Price, Jonathan Rose and Gerald L. Warren.

On the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in last June, Gaines and his spring 2002 class were featured on NBC’s "Dateline," and Gaines released a "Finder’s Guide to Deep Throat." At the end of the "Dateline" segment, the eight students were asked to speculate on who among their list of seven was most likely to be "Deep Throat." To Gaines’ surprise, they all chose Buchanan.

Gaines refused to speculate on a name and continued the project, and they have since found reason to eliminate Buchanan and everyone but Fielding from the list. The case for Fielding just "fell into place," Gaines said.

After four years of work, "there’s only one person left, and it’s Fred Fielding."

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