It was an interesting morning yesterday to be flicking back and forth between CNN and the BBC world service. Usually they report much the same stories, albeit with slightly different emphasis. But yesterday one of the main items on CNN got no mention at all on the BBC.

The story was the release of the memoirs of W. Mark Felt, former deputy director of the FBI but now forever famous, having exposed himself last year, as the Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat”.

CNN screened an interview with Felt, now obviously frail but quite unrepentant, and commentary by a range of luminaries including the Washington Post trio of the time, editor Ben Bradlee and reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. The general tone was congratulatory: Felt was a patriot who had done his country a great service by exposing the scandal.

It’s an odd story in some ways: Felt was a traditional, conservative FBI man, not obviously in sympathy with the liberal anti-Nixon crowd. His motives seem to have had more to do with professional pride or perhaps jealousy at being passed over than with anything philosophical.

But that’s actually part of the moral: good deeds don’t depend on motive. As one of the participants (Woodward, I think) said, a free press works for everyone: liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. You might be pushing your own barrel by getting something into the public eye, but the net effect of the different barrels being pushed works to the public benefit.

The story of Watergate might have come out anyway even without Felt. But he deserves all the credit he gets for the part he played in bringing it into the open.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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