To Rat Or Not To Rat …

GENERIC watergate nixon silhouette deep throat CBS/AP

This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.
Approximately seven inches of 16 millimeter film were missing. A crude Scotch tape splice barely disguised the gap. The missing film had been ditched in a ravine. There was a cover-up. I knew about it.

The place was 243 Walden Drive, Glencoe, Illinois. The ravine was actually on Crescent Lane, maybe 500 yards away. The year was 1966. Or maybe 1965, I can't quite remember. I was seven or eight and in a jam.

It was my birthday. In that pre-video, perhaps pre-color TV, era, my mother had rented real cartoons to play on a real film projector for my birthday party. The man in charge of the projector was my older brother, Jimmy, a crack member of the A-V Club at his junior high. It all went fine until after the party. During the crucial rewind process, the film -- the precious rented, high tech strip -- tore.

This was a potential disaster. Broken stuff meant trouble; broken stuff that wasn't yours could easily mean punishment. Dad might even get involved. It seemed like a scandal.

Jimmy made the splice and I followed him to the ravine -- our secret, kids only domain-- and he dumped the evidence. He swore me to secrecy. He was five years older than I, very strong and he hit. I took the oath.

By dinnertime, I had ratted him out to our parents. I was Deep Throat and I sang like a bird. Knowing me, I probably asked them not to tell Jimmy who narced on him. I wasn't a bright boy.

Today, Jimmy is a model citizen, a pillar of his community and a fine American. I am a journalist. Anything else you care to know?

Not all whistleblowers and leakers are altruistic, well-intentioned or remotely useful to society. Many, perhaps most, are like I was -- a weasel snitching on someone in a cowardly way for revenge. Anonymity and secrets are tricky business.

Many capital J-Journalists have portrayed the unveiling of Deep Throat this week as divine intervention intended to remind American society that it needs anonymous sources and whistle-blowers. It's miraculous timing as some reporters (Mathew Cooper and Judith Miller in the Valerie Plame/Joseph Wilson leak case) face jail time because they won't give up their sources and when some organizations such as CBS News and Newsweek have made high-profile errors using anonymous sources.

We'll largely leave that argument to others, except for this point: it is a great confusion to lump the Deep Throats of the world, the true whistle-blowers who truly risk their livelihoods and reputations over important issues, with petty leakers and hacks that are cast as anonymous sources in news stories day in and day out. That's comparing rotten apples to curative oranges.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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