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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Red Throat, Deep Herring

With nonagenarian Mark Felt confirmed as Woodward and Bernstein's shadowy informant, the whole world will be dishing up their own 'Deep Throat' stories, so why not me?

First off, even tho' I promoted Secker & Warburg's UK edition of All the President's Men, co-ordinated the authors' London publicity visit, *and* helped in the UK movie promotion, I don't believe the name of Mark Felt ever penetrated my consciousness until today.

However, I was the dupe of a splendid sting at the expense of the London gutter press who were clearly determined to succeed where their American brethren had failed and expose this 'Deep Throat' chappie.

The initial negotiations with the Woodstein entourage to visit for some UK publicity had been handled by my boss, who then gave me detailed instructions - suspiciously detailed, now I look back - on their choice of hotel, the precise rooms into which they should be booked, and the assumed names they would be using. The rooms turned out to be available, reservations were made, and I was sworn to secrecy lest the media discover where they were staying and go behind our backs for interviews.

Being a seasoned pro', I scoffed at such aspersions on my ability to run a tight-lipped department and probably uttered a scornful "faugh!" before prancing back to my office.

As it turned out, the reptiles of Fleet Street were cleverer social engineers than I expected, timing phone calls while I was out on expense account lunches and asking informed questions of my colleagues that, to my horror, got them exactly the information they were after.

Rather than confess my breach of security to the CEO, I paid a surreptitious visit to the hotel where I conferred with the manager on the chance of at least changing the dynamic duo's room. This too was done with suspicious ease and I confirmed again with the manager the need for utmost secrecy.

In fact, the whole hotel thing was a decoy. Unbeknownst to me, they were booked into a completely different address known only to my boss and from where they traveled each day to our offices for the interviews. The hotel bookings were fake and transferred to bona fide guests once they had served their intended purpose.

What *was* funny was that two separate newspapers had actually bribed staff to let them into the rooms to place bugs, presumably to catch the lads letting slip Mr Throat's name in private discussion. Nor did they just bug the first room, but also the one I changed them to under cloak of secrecy with the manager.

The only reason I rumbled this attempted espionage was that I almost immediately got a stream of very fed-up messages and phone calls from the thwarted hacks' editors demanding to know what the bleedin' hell was going on and, blimey, things had come to a pretty pass when a book publisher lowered itself to that sort of trickery. No recognition of the irony of them complaining about being beaten at their own game.

I of course pretended to have been in on the trick from the start - nay, its very mastermind - and hinted that they'd need to be faster off the mark if they wanted to outfox *me* in the future.

While on the subject, good BBC profile.

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