Paying Respect to Deep Throat

At the fifth annual Media Monitoring Research Conference in China, reporter Guo Yukaun decided to pay tribute to Mark "Deep Throat" Felt of the Watergate affair and Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon papers.  Implied in his speech is a call of support by Chinese journalists and citizens for Chinese whistleblowers who put the public interests ahead of their personal safety.  This relatively obscure speech has been cross-posted quietly by media workers on forums and blogs.

Paying Respect to Deep Throat.  By CCTV news investigator and NFC magazine reporter Guo Yukuan (郭宇宽).  Original Chinese at Fu Jianfeng's blog (傅剑锋的BLOG).

[in translation]

At the fifth annual Media Monitoring Research Conference this month, I was fortunate to make a speech titled "Paying Respect to Deep Throat."  Deep Throat was originally the title of a pornographic movie, but it was later used to designate those insiders who disclose key information to the media.  Perhaps reporters have the ability to describe their job performance in exciting terms, but the real heroes are those people who helped us in our work and stood up to speak the truth.  If we look around, almost every single influential news report has the shadow of a deep throat behind the scene.

In the major story from Harbin Hospital Number 2, the doctor Wang Xueyuan was such a person.  His key testimony revealed the administrative chaos of the exorbitant medical treatments and misstated medical records in his hospital ward.  But even what this conscientious person said became a point of contention on the Internet, as someone said "This is irresponsible," "Biting the hand that feeds him" and even "He is a bad sort of person himself."  This reminds me of the fired tobacco company research director in the film, "The Insider."  The man was treated very well by the tobacco company.  Although he was an ordinary person with common flaws, he also had Ph.D. in chemistry.  When he was told by his company to cross the scientific moral bottom line to lie in order to "get people to become addicted to nicotine," he chose to resist and was thereby dismissed from his job and lost everything that he had.  But he did not retreat and he was unafraid to speak out to the media.

I have been reflecting about even when there is an infinite number of good reasons to retreat, there will still be someone willing to stand up on behalf of the public interests; and even when the law could not protect them, they would still challenge the highest powers.  A short while ago, the former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt who had stayed silent for thirty years finally admitted that he was the "Deep Throat" in the Watergate affair.  Without the assistance of this key person, the two young reporters at the Washington Post would never get to the truth about the Watergate affair and made Richard Nixon into the first American president forced to resign.  This affair caused the people to change their attitudes and impressions of the president, and the powers of the president were subject to more limitations and restraints thereafter.  Thus, there was a long-term impact on the American political system and theory.  For many years afterwards, Mark Felt struggled within his conscience.  He told his son, also named Mark, that there was nothing to be proud of by being "Deep Throat."  According to the professional standards of the FBI, "you should not disclose the information to anyone."  But his family supported him firmly.  Felt's grandson Nick Jones issued a statement on behalf of his family: "Our family members believe that my grandfather was a great American hero.  He put aside his personal safety to save the country from an extremely unjust state."

During my professional journalist work, I often sense a certain terror.  In almost every aspect of China, there are important news to be ferreted out.  Sometimes, the news makes your blood boil from afar; and when you get near, you draw a cold sigh.  This terror does not come from naked threats, but it is a certain terrible silence.  This silence even affects those who are on the farthest edge of the group and with no apparent risks.  I remember contacting a relatively famous expert and I was hoping to obtain his views on the railroad reforms.  But he proudly (this is a very accurate characterization) stated that he does not accept interviews from the mass media.  He said, "There is no need."  I asked him why he felt that a scholar should feel no obligation to share his research results with the public.  He said that his research "is distributed through fixed channels and the higher-ups can read them."  I did not understand this kind of attitude.  Later on, a friend told me that these scholars receive most of their research budgets from the related departments and "you would not expect them to stand up and speak out."  In all manners of professions, there are large numbers of people who hold vast amounts of data and critical information.  They monopolize the right to speak in their respective areas and they use excuses to remain silent in front of the public.  The intelligence of the Chinese people is shown in this kind of value that is easily found.  This value rationalize the conditions that mesh with one's own interest, and then one can be secure and comfortable.

Comparing the same "scholars," let us look at what a certain military expert did 35 years ago.  Daniel Ellsberg is a name that is unfamiliar to the Chinese people.  He was a consultant at the Rand Corporation in the United States, and he had access to Pentagon (Department of Defense) documents.  According to the regulations of the Rand Corporation, one had to sign a confidentiality agreement to promise that one will not reproduced any sections of the documents.  But after learning from these top-secret documents about the absurdity of American policies in the Vietnam war, he copied the documents and disclosed more than 7,000 pages of top secret papers from the Pentagon on the Vietnam war to the New York Times and other media.  These media fought off the pressure from the Department of Justice and rushed to publish the papers.  "Just because certain government officials believed that some information should not be known by the American people, they were ready to demand that we turn on our backs on the First Amendment ...  Through the compartmentalized bureaucratic system, the government attempted to suppress freedom of speech.  It was just dreadful that they tried to sell out our tradition and heritage like that."  The release of these documents led to a re-assessment by the American government that ultimately ended with the end of the Vietnam War.  At one point, Ellsberg was facing "as many as 12 major charges that could have ended up in a jail term of 115 years."  But after Nixon was forced to resign as a result of the Watergate affair, Ellsberg was spared.  Many years later, he wrote about his experience in the books "Secrets."  John Kerry publicly offered this praise: "His courage saved the lives of American soldiers."  Movie star Martin Sheen wrote: "Every American should read this book, because it will make you understand what patriotism is!"

The efforts of these people bring up a philosophical theme: Is it the case that every person within a system must unconditionally accept everything about it and obey its operational logic?  From these dissidents, we saw that there are forces coming from the conscience and soul even stronger than the customary hidden rules.  Although we cannot insist, but we can hope that more these informed people can bear some moral responsibility for public interests.

We offer all our support to these "Deep Throats."  This may mean that reporters like us may have to pay the price.  It is their courage that returned to right to know to the people and make those people in the rooms of power fearful.  It is the loyalty to morality and public interests in the souls of these rebels that makes us hopeful about justice, fairness and transparency in our society.