New Watergate movie puts focus on Deep Throat

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Washingtonians and history buffs alike know the story of Deep Throat all too well. For those who don’t, William Mark Felt, Sr. was a 30-year veteran of the FBI who served under J. Edgar Hoover. When Hoover died, Felt had been the heir apparent to succeed him, but President Richard Nixon had other plans.

Nixon appointed a political loyalist by the name of L. Patrick Gray III to the position of FBI director, instead. No longer a consideration for the No. 1 FBI role, Felt assumed—with disappointment—the second highest position at the Bureau, associate director.

“Felt was the center of that world,” explains Peter Landesman, a filmmaker who spent 12 years researching Felt’s life for his latest movie, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White Housestarring Liam Neeson and Diane Lane.

The year was 1972, the same year the Watergate scandal occurred. It involved a break-in at the Watergate complex that housed the office of the Democratic National Committee. But as Felt and his FBI agents investigated, they learned that this was no ordinary robbery. Many of the suspects had a CIA background and were closely tied to President Nixon's re-election campaign.

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With sour grapes from the job snub, Felt bucked at pressure from the new FBI director, the White House and CIA to put the kibosh on the probe. Instead, Felt turned to the Fourth Estate—namely Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post—and divulged details on the investigation under the now infamous covert moniker "Deep Throat."

“During Watergate, it was really scary. I mean, The Post could have been destroyed,” recalls Sally Quinn in a Facebook Live interview. Quinn is a former Post reporter and the widow of the late Ben Bradlee, editor of the newspaper during the Watergate scandal.

But unlike the classic Watergate feature film All the Presidents Men, Landesman’s historical drama focuses on the inside man.

“That is one of the greatest movies of all time. Bob [Woodward] and Carl [Bernstein] are important to me as men and as reporters, as heroes, but this isn’t that movie,” says Landesman. “The core of Watergate is actually this man. Watergate is actually an FBI story. It’s not a story about reporters,” he says.

As history would soon reveal (and filmmakers like Landesman would recount), the burglars were, indeed, connected to Nixon and his re-election campaign. They had been caught attempting to wiretape phones and steal documents.

Nixon went to great lengths to cover it up. It was through Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting of information brought to them by Mark “Deep Throat” Felt, that eventually compelled Nixon to resign in 1974.

"If Ben [Bradlee] and his reporters had been wrong, it could have been a catastrophe for journalism, but as it turned out, they weren’t wrong, and it did prove how valuable journalism is to this country,” says Quinn, who is author of the new memoir, Finding Magic.

“I think we are in a similar, precarious situation now,” says Quinn. “I think the situation now—I think—is worse than Watergate.”

Landesman, who both wrote and directed the film, says although the film prompts audiences to draw comparisons between the Nixon White House and the Trump White House,it’s all a pure coincidence. 

“The relevance is supernatural, but I wish I could claim credit for it,” says Landesman.

He started writing the script in 2005, right after Mark Felt had confessed to being Deep Throat in a Vanity Fair article.

Landesman stopped working on the Felt story when another script he’d written began to go into production. It was billed as the film the NFL didn’t want you to see—Concussion starring Will Smith.

Once production wrapped on Concussion, Landesman re-shifted his focus back to Mark Felt, and thus, the film just happens to be debuting in the DC-area at a pivotal time in American politics.

“For Jeff Sessions to start talking about how we have to really sort of clamp down on the media and Trump talking about, you know, enemies of the people—that’s terrifying. So, I think the Mark Felt movie is coming out at the right time,” says Quinn.


Markette Sheppard is host of Great Day Washington and your resident "Mom at the Movies." She is also a wife, mother of a rambunctious 3-year-old and avid film lover. You can see more of her movie previews and reviews weekdays at 9 am.