CHAMPAIGN, Ill. After six semesters of digging and analysis, a journalism class at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has produced a list of seven candidates for "Deep Throat," the anonymous source who helped two Washington Post reporters expose the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.
The identity of the source has been a subject of speculation ever since the scandal, says Bill Gaines, the Knight Professor of Journalism, who has supervised the class project.
Rather than speculate further, "the class sought the facts," Gaines said in a 19-page "Finders Guide to Deep Throat," posted today at www.comm.uiuc.edu/spike/deepthroat.
In a wide-ranging process of elimination, the 40 students in Gaines class over the last three years have examined the roles of the FBI, Justice Department and White House in the scandal. Theyve 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 their height. All were relevant in some way in considering who should be eliminated from the list, he said.
As a basic premise for its work, the class accepted the truthfulness of information provided by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein through their newspaper stories, their book "All the Presidents Men," and the movie of the same title. The project was intended as a "classroom exercise," Gaines said. It had limited resources, no formal budget, and relied on a simple Excel database on a personal computer as its central means of collecting and organizing information.
Gaines, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, showed students 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 impeachment proceedings, and compared details from books by the people involved. They also researched tapes and papers from the Nixon White House, and talked to Nixon White House staff members.
Woodward, who relied on "Deep Throat," has said he would reveal his identity when the source died. Among the resources used by the students was the online Social Security Death Database; if a name was listed there, the students knew they could eliminate that man as a suspect.
The class also got access to an unedited version of the manuscript for "All the Presidents Men," which supplied several important clues that didnt appear in the published book.
One key conclusion of the students research was that "Deep Throat" had to be a White House staff member, and throughout a specific period of time. "Anyone who had come to the White House after May 1972 or left before November 1973, according to careful student research, was eliminated from the list," according to the Finders Guide.
The class came to its current list after a process of elimination that began with a list of 72 officials who served in the White House during that year and a half. The seven remaining on the list are Patrick Buchanan, Stephen Bull, Fred Fielding, David Gergen, Raymond Price, Jonathan Rose and Gerald L. Warren.
In a taping session for a story about Gaines and his students for NBCs "Dateline," scheduled to be broadcast tonight, the eight students in the spring class were asked individually which person on the list they thought was most likely to be "Deep Throat." Gaines was surprised to hear all eight agree on one person, Buchanan, a Nixon speechwriter and special assistant who later made three runs for president.
Gaines stressed, however, that these were educated guesses, and several of the students made note of that in giving their answers. Gaines declined to name a favorite of his own. The Finders Guide is a "progress report" on the project, which he plans to keep going with his class this fall.