After more than 30 years, the lid has come off history’s greatest sourcing controversy and puzzle in journalism. Who was the confidential source who leaked details to the then two young reporters at The Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose series of Watergate revelations exposed the biggest political scandal in the American political history and, which, eventually, led to the disgraceful resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974? The young reporters had codenamed their inside source Deep Throat, taken from the infamous porn film of the era. On June 17, 1972, five ‘burglars’ were arrested in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate building. But what had looked like a simple case of burglary turned out to have links reaching all the way to the White House, leading to the investigatation and massive attempts at cover-up. The rest is history.
The shroud of mystery has now been uncovered by Deep Throat himself—i.e. Mark Felt, the former number Two at the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the early 1970s—in an exclusive interview with the Vanity Fair magazine. Indeed, as The Washington Post has confessed, it has been thoroughly scooped on its own exclusive, as the two reporters and its then executive editor Ben Bradlee have always maintained that they would reveal Deep Throat’s identity only after he was dead. Watergate holds important lessons for journalism. The sacredness of confidential sources, the journalists’ right and obligation to protect their sources, and the role of such sources in serving the society are powerfully underlined. Howsoever high a person may be, he or she may not be free from the tendency to abuse authority. Without confidential information, journalism cannot perform its professional and societal responsibilities properly. But there are dangers, too, in using anonymous sources too freely — of making mistakes, reporting inaccurate or fictional stories, and losing public confidence. On the other hand, unfortunately, those in power in Nepal have harassed by various means or even detained journalists from time to time for their refusal to reveal their sources. This coercive tendency stands in the way of the people’s right to know and good governance.