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Additional Helpful Background:
      Deep Throat: Hero or Villain
      Other Background Notes
      Use of Light and Image in the Movie

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Additional Helpful Background


In June of 2005 when Deep Throat was 91 years old and suffered from dementia, his family disclosed his identity. He was W. Mark Felt, who had been second in command of the FBI during much of the Watergate period. Here are some highlights of Mr. Felt's career:

  • Over a 31 year career, from 1942 to 1973, Mr. Felt worked his way up the FBI career ladder. By 1972 Mr. Felt was third in command of the Bureau. J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the FBI and built the organization. Hoover kept secret files on many political leaders, including presidents, and used those files to keep his post at the FBI. Few dared speak against him when he was alive, but after he died many of his abuses of power became known and his reputation was badly tarnished. However, Mr. Felt has always remained loyal to Hoover and to Hoover's legacy at the FBI.

  • J. Edgar Hoover died in office on May 2, 1972. His Associate Director, Clyde A. Tolson, had been in failing health and he resigned a week later. Mr. Felt was the logical choice to move up to the post of director, and he lobbied for the job. However, Nixon wanted to control the FBI as he controlled the CIA, the Justice Department and other parts of the government. See, for example, Oval Office Transcript (Nixon and Haldeman, June 23, 1972) . He appointed a political loyalist, L. Patrick Gray, III, as acting FBI director. Mr. Felt, now second in command at the FBI, was disappointed and angry. He was also concerned about Nixon's attempt to interfere with the independence of the FBI. During his tenure as acting director, Mr. Gray was absent from Washington much of the time, either because of illness or traveling to FBI field offices. In Mr. Gray's absence, the administration of the FBI was left to Mr. Felt. Mr. Gray later resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that on instructions of the White House he had burned files that incriminated a White House aide.

  • Mr. Felt served as Woodward's deep background source on Watergate beginning in June of 1972. During that time, he was suspected by the Nixon White House of being Deep Throat, but he was defended by Mr. Gray. During 1972 and 1973 Mr. Felt was placed in charge of several attempts to find leaks from the FBI. In this capacity, he was able to deflect attention away from himself. See How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI.

  • From the beginning, Mr. Felt established strict ground rules with Bob Woodward: he would not provide information, and he could never be quoted; he would confirm facts that they had obtained elsewhere and occasionally add some perspective.

  • In the early 1970s, the Weather Underground, a small domestic terrorist organization, had planted bombs at the Capitol, the State Department, and the Pentagon. On nine occasions in 1972 and 1973, Mr. Felt and other FBI administrators authorized FBI agents to break into homes of persons linked to the Weather Underground without a search warrant.

  • In 1976, many FBI agents were under investigation for their roles in the "black bag jobs". Mr. Felt publicly announced that he had ordered the break-ins. He contended that individual agents had merely been following orders and should not be prosecuted. He claimed that the black bag jobs were justified and stated that he would do it again if faced with the same circumstance. Admitting that the break-ins were "extralegal," he asserted that they protected the "greater good". Mr. Felt and another FBI official, Edward S. Miller, were indicted, tried, and convicted for the conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by searching their homes without warrants. Seven hundred current and former FBI agents demonstrated on Felt's behalf outside the courthouse. Ironically, Richard Nixon and several of his assistants testified for the defense at the trial. Their claim was that black bag jobs had been authorized by presidents in foreign intelligence and counterespionage investigations beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nonetheless, the jury convicted Felt and Miller.

  • In 1980, Mr. Felt and Mr. Miller were pardoned by President Reagan. The proclamation of the pardon stated that:
    Their convictions in the U.S. District Court, on appeal at the time I signed the pardons, grew out of their good-faith belief that their actions were necessary to preserve the security interests of our country. The record demonstrates that they acted not with criminal intent, but in the belief that they had grants of authority reaching to the highest levels of government.

    America was at war in 1972, and Messrs. Felt and Miller followed procedures they believed essential to keep the Director of the FBI, the Attorney General, and the President of the United States advised of the activities of hostile foreign powers and their collaborators in this country. They have never denied their actions, but, in fact, came forward to acknowledge them publicly in order to relieve their subordinate agents from criminal actions.

    Four years ago, thousands of draft evaders and others who violated the Selective Service laws were unconditionally pardoned by my predecessor. America was generous to those who refused to serve their country in the Vietnam war. We can be no less generous to two men who acted on high principle to bring an end to the terrorism that was threatening our nation.Statement on Granting Pardons to W. Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller
  • The pardon was criticized as a political gesture because President Reagan had not consulted the prosecutors before issuing the pardon. The Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Mr. Felt said, "I would warrant that whoever is responsible for the pardons did not read the record of the trial and did not know the facts of the case."Joe Pichirallo, "Judge Allows Appeals by Ex-Officials Of FBI Despite Pardons by Reagan," The Washington Post.
  • After the pardon, former President Nixon, still not aware that Mr. Felt was Deep Throat, sent him a bottle of champagne with the message, " Justice always prevails."

There has been much speculation about why Mr. Felt agreed to serve as a source for the Washington Post. Obviously he had a patriot's justifiable concern about the criminal conspiracy emanating from the Nixon White House. He was also probably concerned about Nixon's attempts to dominate and subvert the FBI, an organization to which Felt had devoted his life. Finally, he may have also been angry over the fact that after the death of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime head of the FBI, Nixon passed over Mr. Felt and appointed a politically pliable Nixon loyalist to the post of FBI director.


  • Since the late 20th Century, the two premier newspapers in the U.S. have been the Washington Post and the New York Times. They are in constant competition with each other.

  • After Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford became President and, within a month, pardoned Nixon for all of his Watergate related crimes. Ford to this day denies that he made a deal to pardon Nixon. The Nixon pardon is considered the primary reason why Ford lost his effort to be elected President in his own right in the 1976 elections.

  • The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States. Established in 1800, it is now the largest library in the world. It receives two free copies of each book copyrighted in the United States. Each book copyrighted in the United States is given a Library of Congress number. There is also a library in the White House for use by White House staff. This library figured heavily in the story of the movie.

  • By law, the CIA cannot operate inside the territorial limits of the U.S. The members of the CIA, the National Security Agency (which conducts electronic spying), the military intelligence services, and the other agencies of the Government which conduct overseas intelligence gathering are called "the Intelligence Community." See Wikipedia Article on the U.S. Intelligence Community.

  • During the Watergate scandal, it came out that FBI agents, on orders from the White House, had conducted burglaries of files from the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who gave the press copies of the Pentagon Papers, a confidential government history and analysis of the Vietnam war.

  • The city of Miami is located in Dade County, Florida. A district attorney (sometimes called a state's attorney or city attorney) is a state or local government official who prosecutes violations of state laws. The Dade County District Attorney was involved because some of the illegal activities occurred in Dade County and were violations of state law.


    The light in the Washington Post press-room is bright, but most of the exterior scenes are in dark, dimly lit streets or parking garages. This is where the reporters do their detective work. Note also the claustrophobic effect of the small living spaces occupied by the reporters and the CREEP employees. The government buildings are large and seemingly immovable while the exterior photographs of the reporters often shows them as small creatures against the facade of the buildings.

    Deep Throat is, of course, filmed in shadow. Woodward meets him in parking garages in the dead of night. These are frightening and dangerous places.

    As Woodward and Bernstein research White House withdrawals of books in the Library of Congress, the camera shows Woodward and Bernstein at the center of concentric rings of research desks. As the camera pulls back to the high-domed ceiling, they appear so small that they are almost insignificant.


    Additional Discussion Questions

    See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


    4.  What are the differences and the similarities between President Nixon's actions in the Watergate scandal and President Clinton's actions in the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

    Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this two part question. All well-supported responses acceptable. The following is presented merely to serve as a basis for discussion. Nixon committed several felonies and tried to influence the outcome of an election. He and his henchmen committed many crimes and induced other agencies of government such as the CIA, the FBI, and the Justice Department to participate in the wrongdoing. His actions clearly constituted an egregious betrayal of the trust that had been placed in him by the people. President Clinton committed a major indiscretion (having sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky while he was President) and then he committed a felony (perjury) when he lied about it under oath at a deposition in a civil case. It appears that Clinton was able to remain in office because: (1) his actions didn't directly implicate the electoral process, as Nixon's did; (2) Clinton, unlike Nixon, had not sought to implicate government agencies in his wrongdoing; (3) Clinton's actions arose in a personal situation, not directly relating to his duties as President; many people thought he should never have been required to testify about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and (4) there was a perception that the effort to impeach Clinton was partisan, i.e., the Republican prosecutors of President Clinton wanted him out of office because they disagreed with his policies, not so much from any abhorrence of his actions. (Note that during the time the Republican dominated Congress was trying to impeach President Clinton, two Congressional leaders were forced to resign their posts and retire from politics, in part because of their sexual misconduct.)

    5.  President Ford was appointed to be Vice President by Richard Nixon on December 6, 1973, when the Watergate Scandal was already rocking Nixon's administration. Some have charged that Mr. Ford was required to promise to pardon Nixon. President Ford has always adamantly denied that there was any quid pro quo that he would pardon Nixon. In his pardon of Nixon, President Ford stated that:
    It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.
    Do you think that the pardon of former President Nixon was a good thing to do? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. A number of concepts that should be considered in a good answer are as follows: Supporting the pardon: Nixon had given his life to service of the U.S.; he had been an effective President in many ways; he had no previous record of criminal misconduct; a trial of a former President on criminal charges could lead to the disclosure of classified secrets; a trial of a former President could divide the country and prevent the wounds of Watergate from healing. Against the pardon: since Nixon had appointed Ford to be his Vice President (Spiro Agnew was forced to resign as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors when it was discovered that he was taking payoffs in cash while he was Vice President of the U.S.) there was an appearance that the appointment was in exchange for the pardon; not even the President is above the law, but the pardon made it seem that he was.

    6.  Was Mark Felt ("Deep Throat") a hero, or did he betray his country and his duty to keep secrets? Suggested Response: A public servant has no duty to keep criminal activity secret. Ultimately, Mr. Felt helped to stop a criminal conspiracy in the White House. That was beneficial for the country. What else was he to do? He couldn't go to the prosecutors. Their boss, the Attorney General of the United States, was a leading member of the conspiracy. He couldn't go to the President. Nixon was the director of the conspiracy. The fact that Mr. Felt had a personal ax to grind (anger over being passed over for the directorship of the FBI) tells us that his motives may not have been entirely pure, but that is often the case with people who do public spirited acts. The end analysis is that whatever his motives, these secrets should have been disclosed and he did the right thing. The U.S. is a better place because of what Mr. Felt did.


    The following six questions should be asked together. The answers to these questions are not contained in the Helpful Background section.

    7.  What is the role of the anonymous source in American society and governance? Suggested Response: Most journalists believe that anonymous sources are necessary tools of journalism and essential for American democracy. Anonymous sources tell journalists, and through them the public, what is happening behind closed doors. This, of course, can be abused. A source might demand anonymity because his or her information is incorrect or because the information is being planted for a political purpose. (See, for example, the Valerie Plame affair.) Good journalists will be sensitive to this risk and will not allow themselves to be tools of their sources.

    8.  Jonathan Alter, an editor for Newsweek Magazine, said that "If you don't know what's going on in your government, you don't live in a democracy." Do you agree or disagree? Suggested Response: Alter was correct because in order to make government responsive to the people, the people must know what's going on. If public officials know that their actions will be public and that the press will tell the people what they are doing, the government officials are more likely to act in the public interest.

    9.  Should a reporter disclose his source in this situation: The investigation relates to a murder. The source agrees to talk to the journalist only on deep background with a solemn promise from the reporter that the source will never be identified. In the course of the conversation, the reporter becomes convinced that the source is the killer and is trying to use the reporter to spread disinformation to deflect suspicion from the source. What should the reporter do? Does it make a difference if the crime is not as serious as murder? Suggested Response: First, the reporter should not allow him or herself to be used as a tool to spread disinformation. Second, the reporter should go to the police. A promise of anonymity does not relieve the reporter from his or her obligations to obey the law. What if the murderer kills again? It makes no difference that the crime is less serious than murder. All crimes should be reported except perhaps where the crime is the leak of the information. (The next two questions really put this answer to the test.)

    10.  Is there a difference between Mr. Felt's actions in leaking information about criminal activities in the government and the leak in the following situation: An experienced diplomat is dispatched to a foreign country to evaluate claims that another country was trying to purchase uranium to make atomic bombs. The White House has publicly taken the position that this has occurred. The investigator reports that the White House is wrong, and this is very embarrassing to the president. Someone in the government, seeking to punish the investigator, leaks the fact that the investigator's wife is an undercover CIA operative. The journalist to whom the leak was made publishes the story. It is a crime to publish the name of a CIA undercover operative. Should the reporter disclose the name of the CIA operative? Should the reporter be required to divulge the name of the source? Suggested Response: The difference between the two situations is that the leak itself is a criminal act in which someone in the government sought to suppress dissent, by publishing the name of the CIA agent. The journalist, in effect, aided and abetted a crime and government repression at the same time. If the journalist were able to protect his source, no one would know the identity of the criminal. (This example is taken from the Valerie Plame affair which, as of the time this question is written, still has not been completely resolved.) In these circumstances the reporter should be required to disclose his or her source. In addition, a strong argument could be made that the reporter should be prosecuted for violating the law.

    11.  A government official with very high security clearances discloses a history of the government's involvement in an unpopular war showing that the government lied to the public about the origins of the war and its actions relating to the war. The information is classified and the source, by disclosing it to a reporter, was committing a crime but he was not acting as an agent of the government seeking to punish someone for disagreeing with the White House. Should the reporter be required to disclose his source? Should the source go to jail for his or her actions? Suggested Response: Here, as well, the leak itself is a criminal act, however, the purpose is not to punish those who are critical of the government or dispute its positions. As the law stands now, the reporter must disclose or face jail for contempt. The source, if identified, must be willing to face jail time. His or her action in disclosing the information is a highly patriotic act which has many elements of civil disobedience. (However, classic civil disobedience would require the source to come forward and disclose what he was doing. There would therefore be no requirement for the reporter to keep the source confidential.) The answer to this question is the same as to the preceding question, although the sentences meted out to the source should be very different. In the preceding question the person making the disclosure is committing an act of government repression. In this case the person making the disclosure is not an agent of government repression.

    12.  Why did the reporters require that they get at least two sources for each fact that they reported? Suggested Response: Reporters need to corroborate what they hear from sources to make sure that they are right. Reporters, especially on controversial stories, operate in a world of doubt. They must doubt their sources, check their facts frequently, and make sure that the reporters themselves are not jumping to conclusions.

    13.  What is "investigative journalism" and how does it differ from other types of journalism? Suggested Response: Investigative journalism goes beyond repeating facts reported by other journalists or rehashing announcements of government officials, business people and others in the news. Instead, it seeks out the actual facts. The announcer that you might see on television is not an investigative journalist because he or she just reports what has been told to them by others. They usually haven't verified the facts themselves.

    14.  How is the media environment of today different than the media environment of the 1970s? Suggested Response: Differences include: (1) the Internet with blogs and websites that can be cheaply maintained and which do not have the resources to conduct investigative journalism; (2) the proliferation of channels on cable and satellite television; (3) the rise of talk radio; (4) the concentration of the different types of media outlets in the hands of a few large corporations or rich individuals; for example, most large cities have only one dominant newspaper, while in the 1960s most had two or three newspapers competing with each other; and (5) the rise of news organizations with a clear ideological bias who slant the news that they report. Most papers are owned by media conglomerates which also operate television and radio outlets. These are much more heavily regulated than newspapers and much more subject to government pressure. Media self-censorship is a real problem in such a situation. In addition, in a large corporation the bottom line becomes most important.

    15.  It has been said that: "The press is the last resort when other institutions of government and society fail." What is meant by that? Suggested Response: It is the press which can mobilize the people to restrain politicians who are corrupt or who are not acting in the best interests of the public.

    16.  If the President and his aides were engaged in a criminal conspiracy today, would they be exposed? Suggested Response: The answer is that we hope so. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." (Wendell Phillips, (1811-1884), abolitionist, orator and columnist).

    17.  What is the tension between a television network and its news divisions and how does that express itself? Suggested Response: Commercial television is primarily in the business of providing entertainment. Serious news shows do not draw the viewers that entertainment draws. Therefore, television news will always be drawn towards being entertainment in order to increase viewership and revenue. It requires great self-discipline for television news organizations to resist the pull to entertainment or to make sure that their entertainment oriented newscasts carry substantive and important news stories. Usually, they succumb to the profit motive. News shows on television are renowned for their lack of meaningful content and a dearth of investigative reporting.

    18.  Describe the relationship between journalists and government officials, from both sides. Suggested Response: From the journalists' side: Journalists need good relationships with government officials to get interviews and information. However, at the same time journalists are charged with investigating the conduct of these public figures and the reputation and prizes for investigative journalism often go to those who expose government misdeeds. From the government officials' side: They often need journalists to get their message out to the public and sometimes need their help in defeating a bureaucratic or political rival.

    19.  Do you think that it is significant that Superman, one of America's great fictional heroic figures, was a newspaper man? Suggested Response: Yes. In the early 20th century Americans had a great respect for the press.

    Because this film is so close to being a documentary, check out TWM's Work Sheet for a Documentary Film.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    1.  Do you think Mark Felt (Deep Throat) was cowardly in not coming forward or was he courageous to put his career at risk to expose the wrongdoing? Suggested Response: First, it should be noted that Mr. Felt's actions were quite courageous. There was a tremendous risk of exposure. Courage does not require stupidity, nor does it require self-sacrifice when that is not necessary or would not be helpful. Mr. Felt was able to guide the young reporters so that the scandal and the cover-up were exposed. Had these efforts been unsuccessful, then Mr. Felt would have had to face the question of whether his involvement needed to be more active.


    2.  Why was the partnership between Bernstein and Woodward so effective? Suggested Response: They were both hard working; neither asked the other to carry more than his share of the work. They each had different strengths that made up for the other's weaknesses. The primary example was the way their minds worked. If a conclusion had six logical steps Bernstein would jump from A to B to C to G. He had a good instinct for where the facts would lead. Woodward, however, made sure that they also went back and determined the D, E and F.

    3.  Who were the people on the team at the Washington Post who exposed the cover-up? What would have happened if any one of them had not worked with the others? Suggested Response: They were Woodward, Bernstein, Ben Bradlee (their editor) and Katharine Graham, the publisher. (There were also probably other editors involved.) Had any one of them gotten cold feet or for some other reason stopped working together with the team, the effort would have collapsed

    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)

    1.  President Nixon was loyal to his friends and associates. This is part of the Pillar of Trustworthiness. Why was Nixon's loyalty to his friends and associates not only wrong, but criminal? Suggested Response: He was dishonest, violating the Pillar of Trustworthiness. Nor did he have the courage to do the right thing which would have disappointed his co-conspirators. Nixon also violated the Pillar of Responsibility by failing to do what he should have done to protect and uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. His actions in the Watergate affair violated the following ethical tests: the Golden Rule, the rule of universality, and rule of disclosure.


    (Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

    2.  How did President Nixon's actions violate the Pillar of Responsibility? Suggested Response: He broke the law, and he tried to avoid accountability for his choices.

    3.  Where would we be if Woodward, Bernstein, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliott Richardson, Judge John Sirica, and many others had not followed the ethical principle of Responsibility? Suggested Response: We would have a presidency that was above the law and could run roughshod over the rights of citizens and the other two branches of government. In short, we would have the makings of a tyranny.


    (Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)

    4.  Did President Nixon and his henchmen play by the rules? Suggested Response: No.


    (Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)

    5.  In trying to expose the Watergate scandal, were Bernstein and Woodward, and the Washington Post acting like good citizens? Shouldn't good citizens support their country and their government? Suggested Response: The reporter and the Washington Post acted as good citizens. The obligation of citizenship is to the country or community as a whole. Citizenship does not mean working for the benefit of one particular regime.

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

    Additional Assignments:
      4. Draft a reporters' shield law which will tell courts how to deal with each of the situations set out in Discussion Questions 6 to 11. Make a policy argument justifying how your proposed law would resolve each of the scenarios.

      Write an essay comparing and contrasting what Deep Throat did in providing information that exposed the Watergate scandal with what happened in the Valerie Plame affair. (See Discussion Question #10).

    See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


    See The Watergate Decade - Illusion and Delusion

    Bridges to Reading:

    There are many excellent books about Watergate suitable for reading by more mature children. They include: All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein & Robert Woodward, Final Days, also by Carl Bernstein & Robert Woodward; Blind Ambition by John Dean, The Selling of the President, 1968, by Joe McGinnis; The Imperial Presidency, by Arthur M. Schlesinger and The Making of the President, 1968, by Theodore White.

    Links to the Internet:

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

    Selected Awards: 1976 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Robards), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Sound; 1976 New York Film Critics Awards: Best Film, Best Director (Pakula), Best Supporting Actor (Robards); 1976 Writers Guild of America Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay; 1976 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Pakula), Best Supporting Actress (Alexander), Best Film Editing.

    Featured Actors: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards Jr., Martin Balsam, Jane Alexander, Hal Holbrook, F. Murray Abraham, Stephen Collins, Lindsay Crouse.

    Director: Alan J. Pakula.


    In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

    • Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995 and Bibliography:
    • History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past by Robert Brent Toplin, 1996, University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago.
    • The interviews with various journalists, and with Bernstein, Woodward, Bradlee, Redford and Hoffman, on the special features section of the DVD are excellent and were very helpful in preparing this Learning Guide.
    • Reel v. Real: How Hollywood Turns Fact into Fiction by Frank Sanello, Taylor Trade Publishers, 2003, pp. 244 - 248.

    This is Learning Guide was written by James Frieden with assistance from Mary Red Clay. This Guide was first published on August 14, 2012

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