Second-guessing Deep Throat

Chuck Colson has become one of the elder statesmen of evangelical Protestantism since his conversion, his prison term for Watergate crimes and his long-term involvement with ministry among prisoners. Colson also has long shown a concern for Christian apologetics, whether through the books he's written with various coauthors, his bimonthly column for Christianity Today, his BreakPoint radio commentaries or his other media appearances. On Tuesday's edition of NewsNight with Aaron Brown, Colson used the momentous news of Deep Throat's newly revealed identity to make the case against ends-justify-the-means ethics, and the results were -- how to put this? -- cringe-inducing. This was not Colson as Richard Nixon's hatchet man, but it was Colson with a blind spot for the important role that journalists play, sometimes through relying on anonymous sources, in holding government accountable. Brown tried to make the case that there was a heroic element to Mark Felt's actions as Deep Throat, but Colson was hearing none of it.

Let's go to the transcript:

Brown: If people make history, history also makes them, often in unexpected ways. And the history that was Watergate clearly changed Mr. Colson. And he joins us tonight from Naples, Florida. It's nice to see you, sir. Are you buying that Mark Felt was Deep Throat?

Colson: I was shocked, because I knew Mark Felt well and did not believe -- I thought he was a consummate professional, an FBI man who would take the most sensitive secrets, have everybody's personal files in his control, deputy director. I talked to him often and trusted him with very sensitive materials. So did the president. To think that he was out going around in back alleys at night looking for flower pots, passing information to someone, it's just so demeaning. It's terribly disappointing. It's not the image of the professional FBI that you would expect.

Brown: Why is it. . . .

Colson: It's one more tragedy to chalk up to Watergate.

Brown: That's an interesting way to look at it. Why is it not honorable? Why is it not -- believing that an institution you've devoted your life to, care a lot about and is important to the country, is being used in an improper way, and the only way you have to solve it or to deal with that is to go outside that agency? Why isn't that honorable?

Colson: That's not the only way. He could have walked into Pat Gray's office, the director of the FBI and said, here are things that are going on in the White House that need to be exposed; the president needs to know about this, needs to deal with this. Maybe you believe the president himself is involved.

We should confront him on this, because we represent law enforcement. And go into the president and tell him what you saw.

Now, let me tell you something. I knew Richard Nixon intimately. Richard Nixon was no paragon of moral virtue. He would not necessarily have said, oh, my goodness, let me get to the bottom of this, it's terrible. But he would have known that the director of the FBI and his deputy knew these things. He of course would call an end to this kind of stuff. He could -- Mark Felt could have stopped Watergate. He was in the position of that kind of influence. Instead, he goes out and basically undermines the administration. I don't think that's honorable at all.

Brown: So in the end -- I mean, I wonder if there's something generational here, honestly, that people my age -- I'm 55 -- I went through this when I was a kid, really, in the '60s, in the 20s -- I was 20 years old, late 20s. Saw Deep Throat as a hero of a sort, because we didn't believe, honestly, that government was willing to investigate itself.

Colson: Well, I think government is willing to investigate itself, and I think we've seen it do it many, many times. Watergate clearly was out of control. Watergate -- I'm writing memoirs at the moment, just about to publish them, that -- in which I take my own full responsibility. I saw things ordered by Mr. Nixon that I should have stood up and said, no, stop, this is wrong.

But Mark Felt, with the responsibility of being the number two man in the FBI, I would feel much better about things had he tried to stop it any other way than just going out and giving scandalous kind of material to newspaper reporters, where it could never be checked, where you could never rebut the accusation.

We always forget, of course, what it was like being inside in those days. Many of those accusations that came firing our way were not true. So you were having a trial in the press, which was not a right way for this to be handled either. And the ends don't justify the means, Aaron. I'm sure you'd agree, that this was not an appropriate way for the number two FBI official in America to act.

He easily could have come to the officials responsible. If they hadn't acted then, he would resign, have a press conference, and that would be entirely honorable. That would be an honorable position for a whistle-blower to take.

Brown: I'll tell you what, here's the deal I'll make you. When the memoirs come out, we'll discuss it in more detail whether I agree that in this case the ends justify the means. It's a really interesting question, and I'm glad you put it out there tonight. Thank you.

Colson: If you can make that case for me, I'd sure like to listen to it. I'd have a good time debating you.

Brown: I look forward to the discussion. It's nice to see you, sir.

Colson: I went to prison -- I went to prison for ends justifying the means.

Brown: Yes, you did. Thank you. Chuck Colson down in Florida tonight.

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