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April 25, 2003

Class investigates "Deep Throat" mystery

Only four people know the identity of Deep Throat, the secret source who leaked crucial information about the Nixon administration that helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal.

Now, after four years of research, a University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) professor and his students want to be added to the short list that includes only Woodward, Bernstein, their editor Ben Bradlee, and Deep Throat himself.

William Gaines, Knight Chair professor of journalism at the UIUC, revealed Tuesday in a press conference at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. his guess of Fred Fielding, who was a deputy assistant to Nixon and is currently the lead counsel for the Washington law firm Wiley, Rein, and Fielding. Fielding also served as chief counsel for Reagan, was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team, and is now on the National Commission on Terror Attacks.

The students read through over 16,000 pages of FBI documents as well as congressional hearing records and transcripts of the Nixon tapes. A year ago they were also given an unedited copy of All the President's Men, the book that Woodward and Bernstein wrote about how they uncovered the Watergate scandal. The copy, supplied to the class by their very own secret source, has several important clues about Deep Throat's identity that never made it into the published version.

Last year, NBC's Dateline featured Gaines' class for the 30th anniversary of the Watergate scandal. At that time, the students had narrowed the list down to seven: Pat Buchanan, a senior adviser and speechwriter for Nixon; Jonathan Rose, an attorney for White House relations during the scandal; Stephen Bull, a special administrative assistant to Nixon; David Gergen, a speechwriter for Nixon; Raymond Price, the head Nixon speechwriter; Gerald Warren, Nixon's deputy press secretary; and Fielding.

At the end of the segment, the students were asked to guess which of the seven was most likely to be Deep Throat; their choice was Buchanan. He has since been ruled out because he could not have had access to some information on the Nixon tapes that Deep Throat relayed to Woodward.

The class picked Fielding after making the important connection to John Dean, Nixon's chief counsel. According to Gaines, every third-party conversation that Deep Throat told Woodward about could be traced back to Dean's office. Fielding was Dean's first assistant in 1972 during the Watergate scandal.

"He was in a position to observe the cover-up without being accused of taking part in the conspiracy himself," Gaines said during the press conference.

Fielding, like Deep Throat, was also known to smoke and drink Scotch whiskey. In addition, the students found that Woodward and Bernstein often hid Fielding's role in the scandal in their coverage of the Watergate events.

Fielding has in the past denied being Deep Throat, and according to Gaines, he has yet to respond to these latest allegations.

The project began in 1999, when, according to Cindy Gierhart, a UIUC graduate who took Gaines' class in the fall of 2000, students submitted ideas to Gaines for a major investigative project. The students started with a list of everyone in Washington, D.C. during Watergate and then began the slow process of elimination.

The class thought it would only last one semester, but the research continued on into the spring. That year, Gaines and his class made a guess, but then ruled it out after calling up the suspected Deep Throat and finding out that he wasn't a smoker.

"So when I started in the third semester, Gaines left it up to us if we wanted to take on a whole new project or start over with the Deep Throat stuff," Gierhart said. "We tossed around ideas but couldn't come up with anything as interesting as Deep Throat. So we pretty much started from scratch."

Over 60 students have taken part in the search for Deep Throat in the eight semesters that Gaines has offered the investigative journalism class.

"We thought we'd narrow it down to one person sooner," Gierhart said. "It seemed like it would have been easier than it was. I personally never thought we'd have concrete evidence --as solid as they have now with Fielding --to pin down Deep Throat."

In the 30 years since the Watergate scandal, many others have attempted to guess Deep Throat's real identity. The only other person who suggested Fielding was H. R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff who served 18 months of jail time for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, in his 1978 book The Ends of Power. He reached this conclusion by looking at the bits of incorrect information that Deep Throat gave Woodward.

Woodward has vowed to not reveal Deep Throat's identity until the source's death.

"Woodward said the answer is obvious if you sift through enough evidence, and while that sounds simple, it's a massive undertaking," Gierhart said. "The class was really dedicated to completing this task and doing it right. No one else has seemed driven enough to collect the thousands of pages of documents, or spend hours staring at microfiche, or call Pat Buchanan on the phone and ask him if he's Deep Throat, or track down Carl Bernstein in his hotel and hound him for information. These students and Professor Gaines did all that."

Material from The Daily Illini supplemented this article.