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He shoulda been Deep Throat

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Damn! The 30-year-old secret of the identity of Woodward and Bernstein's "Deep Throat" is finally revealed. It turns out it was Mark Felt, former No. 2 man at the FBI, who was giving The Washington Post all those insider stories that brought down the Nixon administration. More important to me, Deep Throat is not who I thought it was. I had hoped against hope that it was Durham's own David Gergen, graduate of Durham High School, editor of the school's Hi-Rocket newspaper.

My sister-in-law was the faculty adviser to Gergen's paper. I was editor of the paper at Erwin High School up near Asheville. At a journalism conference at Winthrop College, David and I double-dated two teenaged girls who were almost as awkward and homely-looking as we were.

I came to UNC; Gergen went off to Yale. I dropped out of UNC and went to work for UPI in New York and then Saigon. For several years, I lost track of Gergen. But, on a visit back here with our old mutual friend, Jake Phelps, I was given the dreadful news. Jake hung his head in grief: Gergen had turned Republican and was working at the very heart of the Nixon White House. The only explanation anybody could come up with was: "His wife is English."

Old friends and mere acquaintances wrung their hands and shook their heads in disbelief: How could this have happened to someone as nice as our Dave? Not long afterward, I found myself sharing an apartment with an editor at The Washington Post, fairly close to the White House and the Watergate hotel and condominium complex. Needless to say, Gergen and I moved in very different circles and never saw each other ...

Until long after Nixon had resigned and All the President's Men had become a best-selling book and a major motion picture. Deep Throat was the mysterious hero of the book and the movie, and for three decades all Washington speculated as to just who it might be. I think it was in late 1981 or early 1982 when Esquire magazine published an article in which Taylor Branch confronted Gergen and declared him the hero or villain, depending on your politics.

I was, of course, thrilled to know Durham's own Gergen might be the hero who'd saved America from the Nixon gang. After all, he and Bob Woodward had been classmates at Yale. But, Gergen was defiant in response to Esquire's charge. He warmly recalled his days in the Nixon bunker as "like in the Marines" or "like in a war." He pleaded with Branch not to write the story. "What will I tell my grandchildren?" he asked.

Well, within days after that story was published, I ran into David on Dupont Circle. He was having lunch with his former secretary from the Nixon years and he asked me to tag along. It was a very pleasant lunch. To my surprise and delight, Gergen's secretary turned to me and asked: "Don't you think he was Deep Throat?" I laughed and said, "I sure hope so."

"By the way, David," I said, "if you can't tell your grandchildren you were Deep Throat, what will you tell them?"

The question endures--especially as I see Gergen on all the talk shows now describing Mark Felt as a traitor and turncoat. Mark Felt will go down in history as the man who helped topple the most corrupt administration in American history (until now). For three decades, I had held onto the hope that Gergen was Deep Throat. I had felt genuine shame and embarrassment for Gergen when I first heard he was part of the Nixon bunch. I still do.

Perry Deane Young is the author of nine books, two plays and one screenplay. He can be reached at www.perrydeaneyoung.com.

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