Do Motives Matter?
Kevin Salwen on Ethics
So, after 30 years, the secret is no longer closeted: 'Deep Throat,' the Woodward and Bernstein source for many of their stories during the Watergate era, is Mark Felt, the No. 2 guy at the FBI at the time. There are many stunning facets to this -- how Vanity Fair scooped the Washington Post, how Felt's family didn't know until recently, how the Felt family is openly discussing cashing in on the info, how some still doubt a physically and mentally weakened Felt actually is telling the truth (on CNN last night White House counsel John Dean said he doesn't believe Felt).
But I find myself drawn to the ethical debate: In reconstructing all this, it appears that Mark Felt became a whistleblower -- is a silent source still a whistleblower? -- less because he thought the White House was doing criminal things and more because he was ticked off that the Nixon Administration hadn't promoted him to FBI director. Instead, Nixon appointed White House crony L. Patrick Gray to that slot after the death of J. Edgar Hoover.
So, to cast it in its harshest light, the Watergate scandal and the presidency of Richard Nixon came unglued because of a pissed-off, passed-over administrator, not some Brave Patriot. This is somewhat shocking to me, as one of the thousands who went to journalism school in the mid- to late-1970s inspired by the investigative reporting of that era and hell-bent on saving the world from injustices. (How quaint, right?)
This morning, I find myself wondering: Do the motives matter? Should whistleblowers have purer rationales? If we end up in the same place, should we care why?