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For most readers, the most surprising thing about a Vanity Fair story made public on Tuesday was the unveiling of “Deep Throat,” the mysterious source who helped to bring down the Nixon presidency and made household names of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But local eyebrows were raised by the identity of the story’s author, John O’Connor, a San Francisco attorney who had known the secret for three years. O’Connor is a litigation partner at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin and was previously a name partner at the now-defunct Tarkington, O’Connor & O’Neill. O’Connor stumbled upon the story (click here for a PDF version) when his daughter’s friend mentioned his grandfather was W. Mark Felt, a former FBI official now in retirement in Santa Rosa. Felt could be found on most short lists of likely Deep Throat suspects. That was in 2002. Soon after, Felt’s family invited O’Connor over to discuss telling the world. After a series of talks, Felt — now 91 and in physical and mental decline — decided to go public. An excited O’Connor began trying to pitch the story. “He wasn’t going to write it. We were going to have one of our own writers do it,” said David Friend, the Vanity Fair editor who worked with O’Connor. On June 18, 2003, Felt signed a release of lawyer-client confidentiality with O’Connor, and the magazine editors began debating whether to publish the story in the magazine or as a book. After deliberations became complicated — and with Felt’s health continuing to decline — O’Connor offered to write the story himself, and forgo the book. “Felt didn’t have the wherewithal, really, because he’s fading a little bit. [The Felt family] felt comfortable with John, so we said all right,” Friend said. H. Joseph Escher III, a Howard, Rice partner, said O’Connor has been excited about the story since first meeting with Felt. “He sort of pulled me aside in a closet and said, ‘I have a secret, but I can’t tell you about it,’” Escher said. “He was very Deep Throaty about it.” O’Connor — who was in New York on Tuesday and didn’t return calls by press time — wrote the story in his spare time, without taking any leave from work, Escher said. “Apparently he’s faster writing that than he is at writing legal briefs,” Escher said. Nonetheless, Friend said he was happy with the story, and not just for the scoop. “He built a case,” Friend said. “He taught me as much about law in this story as I taught him about journalism.”

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