Deep Throat’s Field of Dreams

Some truly bizarre ideas about right and wrong find sudden currency in this culture of loose talk and unmoored opinion, and one of the most peculiar is the much-repeated idea that Woodward and Bernstein “owe” Mark Felt (a.k.a. “Deep Throat”) some portion of whatever monetary profits they reap from future Watergate-related publications.

Like most appealing but illogical concepts, this one is spurred by good intentions. Felt is in his dotage, his immediate family is in need of cash, and it has been made quite clear by the statements of his daughter that a big reason for his sudden revelation was the belief that somehow there would be some money in it. As a majority of Americans feel that the uncovering of the Watergate scandal and the Nixon White House cover-up efforts was vitally important to the nation, and that Felt’s shadowy contributions were essential, sympathy and gratitude fuel the desire to see one of the “heroes” of Watergate rewarded. This is especially so because the journalists he assisted, Woodward and Bernstein, have become rich and famous with his assistance.

But this is seriously flawed reasoning. Woodward and Bernstein have not been rewarded with riches and fame because they served the country by exposing a presidential scandal. They became rich and famous because they told the story in a book that everyone wanted to read, and that Redford and Hoffman ended up starring in. Nobody stopped Felt from writing a book, and if his timing had been right, a book by “Deep Throat” would have been profitable indeed. If his importance to the plot of “All the President’s Men” is justification for payment to Felt, then the real pay-off should go to the family of the man who really made the book a best-seller, Richard M. Nixon. It’s a new concept in American publishing that proceeds from a published history are owed to the history-makerÂ…new and impossible. Such a system would make histories unwritable: by the time all the sources and participants had been paid (according to some arcane formula) there would be little left for the author. All we would have is fiction, and too many histories are close enough to that already.

Of course, that not really the rationale behind the “Pay Deep Throat” movement. The rationale is that he did a really good thing and thus deserves money. And once again, America’s obsession with materialism and profit works to confuse ethical motivations with tangible rewards. Did Mark Felt reveal his information to the Post reporters to help the nation? If so, he received his reward. If he violated professional confidences in the hopes of making money, then his motivations were as base as his methods were eccentric, and he would not by any calculation be worthy of either praise or cash bonus. Those who insist that Felt has been “cheated” or “exploited” if he doesn’t receive a portion of Woodward’s and Bernstein’s book royalties would reduce all ethical acts to monetary calculations.

It doesn’t matter whether one feels Mark Felt is a hero or not. (For the record, he cannot be a hero, by definition. One who avoids the consequences of his actions, no matter how well-intentioned, is not “heroic.” Heroes do not appear in the shadows.) We do not compensate our patriots and heroes with money. The fame that accompanies their actions may bring some monetary gains, but those are the rewards of celebrity, and Mark Felt intentionally and for his own reasons spurned those when he chose to stay hidden for thirty years. Ethical acts must be their own reward.

At the end of the film “Field of Dreams,” farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is momentarily upset that a writer, and not he, is invited to enter the magical corn field that he himself brought into being. “I never asked what was in it for me!” he protests. “What’s in it for me?” Then Shoeless Joe Jackson, the ghostly baseball player who has been brought back to earth by Kinsella’s faith and passion, asks pointedly, “Is that why you did it Ray? For you?”

The writer goes and vanishes into the corn field, because he can tell the story. And Ray Kinsella accepts that, for he really didn’t build the “field of dreams” because something was in it for him. He built it because he knew it was an important thing to do.

That’s all the reward Ray Kinsella should want or receive, and the same goes for Mark Felt.


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