Here’s a small world story about "Deep Throat," the epic porn movie of the early 1970s as well as the anonymous source quoted by reporters Woodward and Bernstein when they were putting together their Watergate case against President Nixon and all his men. It stretches from the Princeton-Route 1 corridor to my old hometown, Binghamton, New York, and — in my mind, at least — to the New York Times and the highly imaginative but now discredited news reporter, Jayson Blair.

The first call came in about two weeks ago, from a woman identifying herself as a researcher for a documentary film company in Hollywood, California, World of Wonder (www.worldofwonder.net). The company is doing a documentary on the movie, released in 1972, and hopes to chronicle the many obscenity trials triggered by the film and to show the impact that this film had on the country. In Princeton, she explained, the movie had one of its most successful runs — at the old Prince Theater on Route 1. While some people demanded that the movie be shut down, the county prosecutor, Bruce Schragger, declined to pursue the matter.

The producers already had Schragger lined up for an interview, but they hoped to catch up with others who were caught up in the Deep Throat hoopla. That’s why the researcher was calling newspapers such as U.S. 1.

But Princeton was only one destination for the filmmakers. For the small world part of this story another one turned out to be Binghamton, in upstate New York, where the reception was much more chilly. There the prosecutors took the theater operators to court for an obscenity trial that ended with an acquittal — just a few days before Christmas in 1972.

The Prince theater on Route 1. The Art and Strand theaters in Binghamton, New York. Even though I never saw the movie, I couldn’t help but offer the documentary filmmakers my own opinion of Deep Throat’s impact on the cultural landscape, particularly the practice of journalism. Deep Throat the movie, I told the researcher, was an in-your-face cultural icon — you could either play it by the rules of the day and prosecute it as obscenity, or you could ignore the letter of the law and allow the spirit of free expression to flourish. After all, movies such as Deep Throat were not unknown in 1972; they simply weren’t being shown in popular movie theaters like those on Main Street in Binghamton or Route 1 in Princeton.

By picking Deep Throat as the pseudonym for their great anonymous source, the critical collaborating source that allowed Woodward and Bernstein to publish materials that their editors otherwise might have quashed, the reporters stuck a powerful, in-your-face cultural icon into the editorial equation. Would Ben Bradlee and the other editors at the Washington Post play it by the rules and insist on named sources to collaborate the allegations, or would they allow their reporters the spirit of free expression? Would they, in effect, handle it like the prosecutor in Binghamton, New York, or the one in Mercer County, New Jersey?

The liberal approach won out, and Woodward and Bernstein ended up deposing a president of the United States. Since then the identity of Deep Throat has never been revealed — one of few Washington secrets that has ever lasted. My own theory is simple: Deep Throat never existed — it was simply a device that Woodward and Bernstein used to get around the restrictive reporting rules of their editors.

And ever since then reporters have played this card: Attributing sensitive information to sources so important, so sensitive, so deep, that their names must never be revealed — not in a story and not even in private to the editors. So I was not surprised when I read the New York Times’ account of the Jayson Blair. On at least two occasions, the young reporter hung major stories on unnamed sources.

In one of those cases, the official being covered in the story objected so vehemently to Blair’s coverage that he called a press conference to assert that the Times reporter could not have had any reliable source at all — too much of the information reported was "dead wrong." But Blair defended his reporting — and the editors never demanded that he reveal his sources.

As the producers of the documentary will undoubtedly report, Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace later condemned her life as a porn movie star and testified on the dangers of pornography before a commission headed by Reagan conservative Ed Meese. When she died in a car accident in 2002, she was considered a radical feminist.

Back in 1972 opponents of Deep Throat must have cited the impact the movie would have on impressionable minds. And some of the media must have argued that was too simplistic and unfounded. A bright young man like Jayson Blair never would assume that all women are like the character in Deep Throat. As a journalistic icon, however, Deep Throat seems to have made its mark indeed. But this is just an opinion — sadly I have no sources to back me up.

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