Deep Throat is dead—and so are the old rules of investigative journalism

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image Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, the whistleblower in the FBI who blew open much of the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post, is dead.

Leonard Downie, a Post staffer at the time, writes how much investigative reporting has changed since then—for example, technologically. Imagine staying in touch with a source who totes a prepaid cell phone registered in another name. And how about e-mail? Damning messges can often be replicated in a flash. Less helpfully, as I noted earlier, and as Downie himself observes, newsroom budget cuts could jeopardize investigations. The rise of competition from the Web, for both readers and advertisers, is one reason for the staff reductions at large dailies like the Post.

imageNo matter what the tech of the day, however, bureaucratic stupidity can sometimes work to the advantage of investigative reporters. In the Stupidity Department, I have my own favorite story from another era. When I was sniffing around at the General Services Administration for smelly leases of office space to the feds, the GSA didn’t do the smart thing and give me copies of the highlights of the leases. Instead it forced me to camp out in an office there. I was in the same place day after day. As a result, my own Deep Throats knew where to find me. Thanks, GSA. I just wonder how much is electronic now: I doubt I’d have been as successful without the forced camp-out.

Note: Downie has his own D.C. newspaper novel appearing in January 2009, and I wish him luck with it.

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