5 top aliases in U.S. politics: Who were Publius, ‘Mr. X,’ Deep Throat?

Updated Sept 06, 2018
Aliases and pseudonyms in American politics are a long-practiced tradition.

The anonymous New York Times op-ed noting internal “resistance” in President Donald Trump’s administration is all the rage on social media platforms and network television.

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But aliases and pseudonyms in American politics are a long-practiced tradition. Here are five of the most notable ones in the recent and not-so-recent past. Let’s start at the beginning of the Republic:

Today, you can buy a bound, paperback copy of the The Federalist Papers at a bookstore or a digital version on any e-book website. The original documents, however, consisted of scores of letters written to newspapers before the Founding Fathers gathered in Independence Hall in Philadelphia to decide how best to govern the United States. Writing under the pseudonym “Publius,” Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the letters to urge ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The letters were first published in book form in 1788 and are now an indispensable guide to understanding the Constitution.

By early 1947, with the Iron Curtain descended across Eastern Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in the Cold War. Americans, fresh off the World War II triumph in Europe and the Pacific, struggled to grasp what was happening. Then, in the July of 1947, their attention was drawn to an article in Foreign Affairs headlined “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” The article, written by U.S. diplomat George Kennan under the alias “Mr. X,” explained the Soviet Union and its global aims and became one of the most important postwar foreign policy documents. It underpinned more than four decades of American Cold War strategy from the Marshall Plan to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Detente to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union.

Easily the most famous alias in American journalism and politics. Deep Throat was the secret source that helped guide the investigative reporting by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Deep Throat’s most critical tip — urging the pair “to follow the money” — unraveled the cover-up of the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate building. It ultimately revealed the role Richard Nixon played in obstructing justice and forced his resignation in August 1974. In 2005, the Post confirmed the identity of Deep Throat saying it was former FBI official Mark Felt.

A purported novel, Primary Colors was a political tell-all work of fiction. But it was really a thinly disguised inside look into Bill Clinton and his 1992 successful presidential campaign. In the novel, the protagonist, also a presidential candidate, is portrayed as insincere in his appeal to voters, incredibly policy wonkish and overly flirtatious with women. In other words, quintessentially Clintonian. Eventually, it was revealed that the author was Joe Klein.

The alleged use of an alias by President Donald Trump in the Stormy Daniels scandal is not unprecedented. Turns out former President Obama used a pseudonym in certain email exchanges, particularly with his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and her private server. The revelation, including a specific 2012 email, was made by the release of FBI records in September 2016.