folk metaphor
Folk speech

Deep Throat

After the Watergate scandal of the 1970’s, journalists in newsrooms across America began to use the term “Deep Throat” to describe a source, or informant, with a lot of previously undisclosed information.

A common way to use the term was “I’m looking for a Deep Throat,” meaning that the reporter was looking for an informant with valuable information that would help to break a story.

The term derives from the nickname given to William Mark Felt, Sr., deputy director of the FBI during the 1970’s, and the secret informant who helped to expose the Watergate Scandal. He was nicknamed Deep Throat by Howard Simmons, managing editor of the Washington Post, in order to keep his identity anonymous. The name comes from Deep Throat, a popular and controversial film in the 1970’s. Because of the popularity of the film, “Deep Throat” became a term used commonly enough so as not to draw any attention to the informant himself.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are the two reporters most famous for exposing the Watergate Scandal. With their reporting alone, they helped to topple an entire administration. More than almost any other event in the latter half of the twentieth century, the Watergate Scandal proved investigative journalism’s immense power to change society. Thus, for my informant, “Deep Throat” carries with it connotations of prestigious and powerful journalism. It reinforces her belief in the profession.

My informant is my mother, a 60-year old woman who spent 20 years working as a journalist for a variety of different newspapers. She remembers first hearing the term from other reporters in the mid-1970’s, after the Watergate Scandal had worked its way into American popular culture and terminology.

I believe my mother enjoys this term so much because it speaks to the hard-working, competitive environment that she experienced within American newsrooms. Those wishing to find their “Deep Throat” weren’t only hoping to break a story. They were hoping to break a big story. She recalls the thrill of finding previously undiscovered sources and beating her co-workers to an important story. According to her, it was a highly rewarding rush, and I believe the term brings her back to that feeling.

It’s particularly interesting and touching to learn the term because it speaks to the fast-paced, ambitious nature of print journalism work, work which was such a huge part of my mother’s life and is now rapidly disappearing due to the emergence of online news outlets. I wonder if the thrill and drive to break big stories is as strong in the absence of a physical newsroom full of journalists looking for their “Deep Throat”.

For more information, see:

Woodward, Bob. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

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