Ignoring the Real Truth Behind the Watergate Scandal
By Tom Snyder, editor of Movieguide.org
Hollywood is releasing another Watergate movie this weekend. MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE from Sony Pictures Classics is about the government whistleblower, who was nicknamed Deep Throat and was the FBI’s Number Three man, who helped Bob Woodward of The Washington Post investigate the Watergate Scandal in the 1970s and force President Nixon to resign.
MARK FELT is a compelling drama, but some bad editing and storytelling creates some confusing, uneven gaps in the story. The movie also has some strong foul language.
Worse than that, however, the filmmakers have a simplistic, biased view of Watergate and Mr. Felt and thus hide the real story of Watergate, that was the complicity of White House lawyer John Dean, the Nixon official who was the one who actually approved the break-in of Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Though Mr. Felt exposed some corrupt things in the government, including President Nixon’s White House, Mr. Felt (who was himself a Democrat) whitewashed John Dean’s involvement and hid the real reasons Dean ordered the break-in, which were to hide his wife’s personal connection to an infamous female pimp of high-class call girls who serviced high-level Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C.
The first part of the movie introduces Mark Felt and his troubled, alcoholic wife, Audrey. Mark is the Number Three man at the FBI, under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s friend, Clyde Tolson, who, however, is out sick during the movie’s first act. At first, Mark and his wife seem like a normal high-powered Washington couple. An early scene shows them having a private party with two close married friends.
On May 2, 1972, Hoover died suddenly of a heart attack. This is one month before the Watergate break-in of Democratic Party headquarters occurs. The movie shows Mark Felt organizing an effort in the FBI to destroy “private files” Hoover kept in his office. The same day, Nixon chooses a political appointee, a lawyer in the Justice Department named L. Patrick Gray, to be Acting FBI Director.
After five men are caught by police trying to break into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel the night of June 17, 1972. The break-in at first appears to be a minor incident, but as the identities of the five burglars are revealed, it becomes clear that the break-in might have had something to do with President Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President (jokingly known to Nixon haters as CREEP). The FBI is ordered to investigate, but Mark Felt’s new boss, L. Patrick Gray, tries to limit the time and scope of the investigation, which Felt oversees. Felt even sees Gray meeting one morning with White House Counsel John Dean, who had attended a secret Jan. 27 meeting with Attorney General John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder, the Acting Chairman of CREEP, about an early, more elaborate version of the plan to secretly spy on and disrupt the Democratic Party’s 1972 presidential campaign (Mitchell apparently rejected the plan at the time, but Magruder and/or Dean apparently adopted a scaled-down version of the plan later, with or without Mitchell’s approval no one knows for sure).
At any rate, early during the FBI’s investigation, Felt decides to start leaking details of the investigation to the press, including the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward (who was working with Post reporter Carl Bernstein) and other publications, including Felt’s long-time friend at Time Magazine, Sandy Smith. Despite Felt and Woodward’s efforts, Nixon handily wins re-election in November. However, after the election, things start to unravel for the White House due to the press and the FBI’s investigations, the trials of the five burglars, and the information Felt leaks to Woodward and other press outlets
During all these political machinations, the movie reveals that Mark’s daughter, Joan, had become a radical hippie, left home and disappeared. Mark’s wife, Audrey, expresses anger that Mark has never used the FBI to find their daughter. Mark reminds Audrey that it was she who drove their daughter out of the house. What Audrey doesn’t know is that Mark has been conducting his own private search for their daughter.
Will Mark find their daughter? Will the political corruption in the Nixon White House be exposed fully to the public?
MARK FELT is somewhat compelling, with a good performance by Liam Neeson in the title role, but some bad editing or storytelling creates confusing, uneven gaps in the story. For instance, the movie doesn’t show how Felt came to discuss Watergate with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. It suddenly just shows Felt meeting in a dark garage with Woodward and telling him one or two trails to start investigating. The movie also has plenty of foul language.
Worse, however, is that the movie tells its story from only Mark Felt’s point of view. As a result, it whitewashes Felt’s involvement in exposing parts of the Watergate Scandal, including the corruption in the Nixon White House. It also overlooks the real story of the Watergate break-in. In reality, the Watergate break-in was part of a plan to disrupt the 1972 Democratic presidential campaign for Senator George McGovern. Though some investigators say that President Nixon secretly okayed the plan, the top person who really okayed the plan, including the June break-in, was White House Counsel John Dean. See the books SILENT COUP: THE REMOVAL OF A PRESIDENT by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin and THE STRONG MAN by James Rosen (see also http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/08/06/it-time-for-john-dean-to-tell-truth-about-watergate.html and https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/john-deans-watergate-whitewash/).
At one point, someone in the movie notes that Mark Felt is himself actually a member of the Democratic Party. The filmmakers totally skip over this revealing nugget of truth. They apparently never asked themselves whether Felt’s commitment to the Democratic Party warped his motives and led Felt to ignore John Dean’s true involvement in Watergate so that he could help bring down the Nixon White House. Here it should be noted that Felt, in reality, hated Richard Nixon and the Nixon administration. Conveniently, this movie also never mentions that relevant fact. Furthermore, a recent story in Politico by Max Holland (see his article at http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/09/10/watergate-deep-throat-myth-mark-felt-215591) revealed that other FBI agents and officials didn’t much like Felt. In fact, they called him the “White Rat” (for his gleaming gray hair and his role in disciplining other FBI agents). Apparently, as FBI Director Hoover got older, a nonviolent fight broke out in the FBI over who would replace Hoover when he finally retired or died. Felt was in the middle of this fight. In fact, Holland reports that, after Nixon named Gray to be Acting FBI Director, Felt belittled the interim director “behind his back.” Consequently, Felt was increasingly disliked among his FBI colleagues. “We would probably not have p*ssed on [Felt] if he was on fire,” Robert P. Campbell, a retired FBI agent, admitted in a 2011 interview, Holland writes. Holland’s article reports that Felt even occasionally lied to both Bob Woodward and his friend at Time, Sandy Smith.
Despite the apparent evidence that Felt became Deep Throat in order to ensure that he, and no one else, was eventually appointed the permanent Director of the FBI, the MARK FELT movie depicts Felt as a hero. As such, the filmmakers contend that Felt became Deep Throat not only because he wanted to expose the corruption in the Nixon White House; but also, because he wanted to protect the FBI’s integrity.
In effect, therefore, MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE violates its own commitment to tell the truth about Mark Felt and the Watergate Scandal. It’s really a superficial account that never questions the veracity of Mark Felt’s opinion about the Watergate Scandal or Felt’s character and integrity as an FBI agent and as a man. This is similar to one of Writer/Director Peter Landesman’s previous movies, KILL THE MESSENGER, about a reporter who falsely claimed that the CIA was actually behind the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. Both MARK FELT and KILL THE MESSENGER show definite signs of extremely superficial, biased research.
Ultimately, Hollywood still hasn’t given the American moviegoer a really great Watergate movie that “tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” By the way, for a look at how President Nixon and his staff were railroaded by the judicial system, including Judge John Sirica and Special Prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, not just by John Dean, see THE REAL WATERGATE SCANDAL by Geoff Shepard.
Some people are comparing Mark Felt’s story to former FBI director James Comey’s defiance of President Trump in the news concerning the Russian government’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. If so, however, its meaning is the opposite of what they intend. In other words, the real story behind James Comey and the Russian “scandal,” is a story of how corrupt, deceitful, petty bureaucrats in the government are trying to bring down President Trump, just like they successfully brought down President Nixon. Hopefully, this time they won’t succeed.