Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mark Felt (The Movie)

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is a new film (starring Liam Neeson), based on the 2006 autobiography of FBI agent Mark Felt (written with John O'Connor). It depicts how Felt became "Deep Throat," the famous anonymous source for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, helping in the investigation of the June 1972 Watergate incident, which led them eventually to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

Mark Felt (1913–2008) was an FBI special agent who served as the Bureau's Associate Director from the May 1972 death of J. Edgar Hoover until his own retirement in June 1973. During that time Felt fed the reporters information about the Watergate scandal. Althoyugh some (including apparently in the Nixon Administration) suspected Felt might be Deep Throat, his identity remained secret until revealed by him In 2005.

The film portrays his resentment at not being named Hoover's successor and his general concern about the Nixon Administration's efforts to exercise greater control over the FBI for its own political purposes and self-protection. This combination of thwarted ambition and resentment of the attempted politicization of the Bureau seem to be the motivation for his astonishing behavior. The film also highlights the tensions within his family - with his wife, Audrey, and his daughter, Joan. It would have been better if the film had gone more deeply into these tensions - both for greater clarity and better to illuminate Felt's feelings and behavior.

Two of history's unanswered questions are how the Nixon Administration might have responded differently to Watergate if Hoover had still been in power and what would have happened if Nixon had appointed Felt to head the FBI and he would have ended up heading the Watergate investigation instead of someone more directly answerable to Nixon. If nothing else, these questions highlight the power of imponderables in history and also how un-inevitable the fortuitous ending of the Watergate scandal really was.

Coming out now, in the midst of the Mueller investigations, the movie inevitably invites comparisons to the present and the temptation to draw lessons for the present.  Of course, history does not really repeat itself, and the parallels between Watergate and what we are witnessing now may be somewhat forced. An even more important difference is the very different character to today's Republican party from the Republican party that participated in a bi-partisan investigation of Watergate, a difference which makes any parallels between the two investigations less applicable. All that, of course, makes the independence of the FBI that much more relevant and important a value now as it was when it was threatened then.

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