CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The identity of "Deep Throat" is no longer a mystery, at least not for one investigative journalism class at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
After four years of work, involving more than 60 students over eight semesters, 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, who won two Pulitzer Prizes as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, announced the results of their investigation at a news conference at 4 p.m. (EDT) today (April 22) at The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Joining him were two students from his spring 2002 class, Thomas Rybarczyk and Kelly Soderlund.
Their conclusions also were posted today at a Web site that is the work of another Illinois journalism class, on online publishing, and includes links to documents, video, audio and graphics related to the evidence cited by Gaines and his students. Along with the evidence is a wealth of general information about Watergate, the "Deep Throat" investigation, the candidates considered and the students involved.
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.
Additional support came from gaps in the stories of Woodward and Bernstein, where Gaines and his students can show that Fielding was involved in certain events, that the reporters knew it, and yet identified him as an anonymous White House aide or staffer. It's evidence the reporters were "shielding Fielding," Gaines said with a smile.
Only after extensive investigation did it become obvious that much of "Deep Throat's" information flowed through Dean's office, even when it did not always originate there, Gaines said. "Every third-party conversation that "Deep Throat" knows about can be traced back to Dean's office.
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.
The students learned how to use numerous public records and published sources, both paper and electronic, in finding the information they needed.
In their search for clues, they checked old phone books for addresses, collected newspaper stories, combed through more than 16,000 pages of FBI reports, looked at records from congressional hearings and compared details from books by the people involved. It seems "everybody wrote a book," Gaines said.
They also researched tapes and papers from the Nixon White House, and talked to Nixon White House staff members. And since Woodward has said he would not reveal the identity of "Deep Throat" until the source died, the students used the online Social Security Death Database to eliminate those they found listed there.
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."