On Campus

Rob Jones and W. Mark Felt Sonoma State Junior Rob Jones with his grandfather, W. Mark Felt, aka Watergate's Deep Throat, with a copy of Felt's new book, A G-Man's Life.

Making History

"I think my grandpa is Deep Throat."

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Sonoma State history professor Steve Estes heard these words whispered to him as a student turned in a paper last spring.

“I thought it was possible,” Estes said, “but I didn’t believe him.”

Just a few weeks later, though, he discovered Rob Jones was not rewriting history. His grandfather was, indeed, modern journalism’s greatest unsolved mystery.

Jones’ paper for History 252, “U.S. History 1865 to the Present,” chronicled the FBI career of W. Mark Felt, the longtime No. 2 man to bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover. For decades, speculation circled as to the identity of the informant who supplied reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward with pieces to the Watergate puzzle. Their stories in the Washington Post in the early 1970s ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

Estes said the assignment was to write a paper that was based on an oral history interview of a history maker who was involved in a significant event in recent American history.

“My paper was based on my grandpa’s book, The FBI Pyramid, where he talks about working for Hoover and how after his death, Nixon brought in his own people, overlooking my grandpa to take over as acting director,” the junior in business administration said.

Jones' mother and her father Jones' mother, Joan Felt, with her father, is a member of the SSU Spanish faculty.

Jones said that he and his brother Nick, with their mother, SSU Spanish instructor Joan Felt, had long suspected Felt was Deep Throat, but kept the information to themselves.

“Why else would Bob Woodward be coming over to the house?” Jones surmised.

“I told some friends and buddies,” Jones said, who sometimes used the subject as a conversation-starter when he was a dinner guest.

Jones recalls Estes’ reaction the day he told him about his “grandpa.”

“He pretty much took it at face value,” Jones said of Estes.

Three weeks after Jones told Professor Estes his suspicions about his grandfather, the Vanity Fair story broke that finally revealed the secret identity of Deep Throat.

“About that time I got a call from the Press Democrat asking about a history student whose grandfather is Deep Throat,” Estes said. “I realized right then and there what had happened. I was in absolute shock.”

As the semester had ended, Estes didn’t see Jones right after the news broke, but he did send an e-mail to his student. The two finally crossed paths again during fall semester.

Steve Estes SSU history professor Steve Estes: "I thought it was possible, but I didn't believe him."

“Professor Estes asked if things had calmed down at the house,” Jones recalled. “I told him ‘Yeah, it had,’ and that the story about grandpa as Deep Throat had really uplifted him. He’s so easy going now, cracking jokes, happy all the time.”

Media attention on Jones’ grandfather and family has increased this spring, however, with the release at the end of April of A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat’, and the Struggle for Honor in Washington, written by Felt with John O’Connor.

A feature film about Felt’s life is also in the works. “We’ve met with a screenwriter and with director and producer Jay Roach, who did Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers,” Jones said. “It will be at least a year before it is done.”

But looking back over the series of events, Estes admitted this was a rare occurrence in a history professor’s life.

“One of the most exciting parts of the entire situation was that the history class intersected with a history maker,” Estes said. “It is not very often that this happens.”