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This column by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the May 28, 2003

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Richard K. Rein: On Deep Throat and Jayson Blair

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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