Reporters sell their Watergate papers for millions

Rupert Cornwell@IndyVoices
Wednesday 20 November 2013 04:24

For Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Watergate has produced fame, a hit film and bestselling books. Now, 31 years after the two Washington Post reporters broke America's biggest modern political scandal, they have hit a new financial gusher: the sale of their original Watergate papers to the University of Texas for $5m (£3.2m).

For its money – an unprecedented sum for such journalistic records – the university in Austin will get 75 boxes stuffed with the raw material of reporting: more than 250 spiral notebooks, tapes, transcripts, scribbled jottings, internal Washington Post memos on the scandal, and even notes on discussions with Ben Bradlee and other senior editors at the paper. The material will be available, fully catalogued, within a year.

What aspiring scholars of Watergate will not get is a short cut to the identity of "Deep Throat", the legendary source who provided vital clues to the investigation. Under the deal, Deep Throat and a few other sources will be protected by denying researchers access to 1 to 2 per cent of the archives until the sources' deaths. Mr Woodward declined to say whether he had asked Deep Throat for permission to reveal his identity.

The sum is not the largest paid by a research library for such records. The Smithsonian Institution paid $16m for the 16mm film of the Kennedy assassination made by Abraham Zapruder in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, while the British Government paid the Churchill family £13m for the papers of Winston Churchill in 1995.

But no living authors have received more from academia. The previous American record is believed to have been the $1.1m paid to the writer Susan Sontag by the University of California Los Angeles.

A copy of the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed, cost the Texas university only $1.5m, while some journalists, including Walter Cronkite, have given archives free. But as a university official said: "The Watergate stuff only goes once, it's not like a rare book at auction."

The terms of the Watergate papers deal were set by the authors, and may transform the market for such memorabilia. Mr Woodward and Mr Bernstein will split the $5m between them. From the proceeds they will set up a $500,000 endowment for the study of Watergate and journalistic ethics.

Mr Bernstein said some details in the archive might not reflect well on the main players. His erstwhile colleague interjected to say these might include the names and phone numbers of former girlfriends, though not of Deep Throat.

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