W. Joseph Campbell

Shoe leather, Watergate, and All the President’s Men

In Cinematic treatments, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on February 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm

The heroic-journalist tale of Watergate–that two intrepid young reporters for the Washington Post brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency–is one of the most appealing and self-reverential stories in American media history.

It’s also a media-driven myth, one of 10 addressed in my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, an important factor for the tenacity of the heroic-journalist myth lies in its cinematic treatment. The media-centric storyline of Watergate was cemented by the film All the President’s Men, which came out to much acclaim in April 1976, 20 months after Nixon’s resignation.

An item posted the other day at the Politics Daily site fondly recalled All the President’s Men, saying the movie “about a bygone era” harkens to the “glory days of newspapers.”

The writer also indulged in the heroic-journalist myth, saying that the Post reporters “who brought down a sitting president” did so “with nothing more than shoe leather, determination, guts and a passion for the truth.”

It’s a wonderful story of journalists triumphant. But it’s exaggerated.

Even writers and officials at the Post have tried over the years to make clear that the newspaper and its reporters did not bring down Richard Nixon.

Howard Kurtz, the newspaper’s media writer, wrote in 2005, for example:

“Despite the mythology, The Post didn’t force Richard Nixon from office—there were also two special prosecutors, a determined judge, bipartisan House and Senate committees, the belated honesty of [former White House lawyer] John Dean and those infamous White House tapes.”

As I note in Getting It Wrong, “Nixon likely would have served out his term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House.

“Only when compelled by the Supreme Court [in 1974] did Nixon surrender those recordings, which captured him plotting the cover-up and authorizing payments of thousands of dollars in hush money.”

He resigned the presidency about two weeks later.

The cinematic version of All the President’s Men, however, placed Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at the center of the unraveling of Watergate, while downplaying or dismissing the efforts of investigative agencies such as the FBI.

“The effect,” I write, “was to solidify and elevate the heroic-journalist myth, giving it dramatic power, and sustaining it in the collective memory.”

The movie helped make the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate vivid, memorable, accessible, and central.

After all, no other Watergate-related movie has retained such an appeal, or has likely been seen by as many people as All the President’s Men.

WJC

About these ads
  1. [...] three myth-builders: All the President’s Men; Good Night, and Good Luck, and my favorite, Citizen [...]

  2. [...] but the complexities of Watergate are not readily recalled these days. What does stand out is a media-centric interpretation that the dogged reporting of Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought Nixon [...]

  3. [...] was dreadfully stereotypical), ranked second on the True/Slant list; The Paper was third, and All the President’s Men, the best-known movie about the Watergate scandal, was [...]

  4. [...] noted that Bernstein and Woodward, in All the President’s Men, their book about their Watergate reporting, “systematically ignored or minimized” the work of [...]

  5. [...] to that observation was offered yesterday in an item at the Huffington Post blog referring to All the President’s Men as “one of the top films about the [...]

  6. [...] another list of favorite movies–merits attention here principally because of the inclusion of All the President’s Men. The movie–as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking prominent media-driven [...]

  7. [...] are collectively remembered and can harden media-driven myths against debunking. The motion picture All the President’s Men, which cast Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the lead roles of Washington Post reporters [B0b] [...]

  8. [...] Shoe leather and ‘All the President’s Men’ [...]

  9. [...] cinematic version of the book, which was released in 1976 to very favorable reviews, [...]

  10. [...] movie version helped cement the heroic-journalist myth of Watergate by leaving the inescapable but erroneous [...]

  11. [...] in textbooks. The Woodward and Bernstein example comes to mind. You have movies, for instance, All the President’sMen , or Good Night, and Good Luck with Edward R. Murrow–does pop culture, or culture in general, [...]

  12. [...] Shoe leather, Watergate, and All the President’s Men [...]

  13. [...] line, however, was uttered in the cinematic version of All the President’s Men by the character who played “Deep Throat.” The movie, which was [...]

  14. [...] that’s the endlessly appealing notion–propelled by the mediacentric motion picture All the President’s Men–that Woodward and Bernstein’s tireless and dogged reporting brought down [...]

  15. [...] brought down President Richard Nixon. That myth of Watergate may be stronger than ever, given that All the President’s Men is the first and perhaps only extended exposure many people have to the complex scandal that was [...]

  16. [...] blog post praised the cinematic version of Woodward and Bernstein’s book, All the President’s Men, and [...]

  17. [...] the money” was made for the movies, specifically the cinematic version of All the President’s Men, Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book about their Watergate reporting [...]

  18. [...] supposedly was made sexy by the reporters’ exploits, as recounted in their best-selling book, All the President’s Men, and the cinematic version by the same [...]

  19. [...] cinematic version of All the President’s Men came out in 1976, just as the wounds of Watergate were beginning to [...]

  20. [...] the cinematic version of Woodward and Bernstein’s book about their Watergate reporting, All the President’s Men. The movie’s inescapable message was that the work of reporters brought about Nixon’s [...]

  21. [...] contributions to unraveling the Watergate scandal are minimized, and even denigrated, in the cinematic treatment of  All the President’s Men, which came out in 1976 and effectively promoted, and solidified, the heroic-journalist [...]

  22. [...] So against the tableau of special prosecutors, federal judges, congressional panels, the Justice Department, and the Supreme Court, the contributions of Woodward and Bernstein recede in significance–even though their work became the stuff of legend, at least as depicted in the cinematic version of their book, All the President’s Men. [...]

  23. [...] “Deep Throat” source who uttered the line. It was his cinematic character, played in All the President’s Men by the actor Hal [...]

  24. [...] Blu-ray edition of the most-watched movie about Watergate, All the President’s Men, is out, and its release has been received with favorable-to-glowing [...]

  25. [...] “Follow the money” was spoken by the actor Hal Holbrook, who was the “Deep Throat” character in All the President’s Men. [...]

  26. [...] it’s not churlish to call out the Post for failing to include All the President’s Men in the discussion about historical inaccuracy in movie-making — even if All the [...]

  27. [...] passage was written into the script of All the President’s Men, the 1976 motion picture that dramatized the Watergate reporting of Post reporters Bob Woodward and [...]

  28. [...] And already, the University of Texas at Austin — repository for Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate papers — has scheduled three programs related to All the President’s Men, the movie. [...]

  29. [...] The reporting of the Washington Post was marginal to that outcome, despite the message and storyline of All the President’s Men. [...]

  30. [...] movie came out 35 years ago this month — and is to be a topic of discussion tonight when  [...]

  31. [...] than any other single factor, the movie All the President’s Men propelled the media myth of the heroic journalist — the beguiling notion that Woodward and [...]

  32. [...] scandal and, as I point out in Getting It Wrong, my media-mythbusting book that came out last year, All the President’s Men effectively sealed the heroic-journalist myth of [...]

  33. [...] the President’s Men, the 1976 cinematic version of Woodward and Bernstein’s book. The movie came out 35 years ago this month, and has aged quite [...]

  34. [...] had been offered to Woodward (and/or Bernstein), it would have taken them only so far in investigating Watergate. The scandal was, after all, much broader than the misuse of campaign [...]

  35. [...] also the mediacentric version of Watergate, the version journalists love to recall. It serves to remind them of the potential power of the [...]

  36. [...] derivation of the line lies in the screenplay of All the President’s Men, the cinematic version of Woodward and Bernstein’s book. The movie came out 35 years ago and has [...]

  37. [...] cinematic version of All the President’s Men solidified what I call the heroic-journalist myth of Watergate — the simplistic notion that [...]

  38. [...] All the President’s Men easily is the most-viewed movie made about Watergate. And as I note in Getting It Wrong, it places “Woodward and Bernstein at the center of Watergate’s unraveling while denigrating the efforts of investigative agencies such as the FBI. [...]

  39. [...] derivation of the passage lies in a scene in All the President’s Men, the cinematic version of Woodward and Bernstein’s book. The movie was released to much fanfare in April 1976, 20 [...]

  40. [...] Watergate, after all, was much broader than the misuse of campaign funds. [...]

  41. [...] such guidance, had it really been offered to Woodward, would have taken the reporter only so far. Watergate, after all, was much broader than the improper use of campaign [...]

  42. [...] phrase was written into the screenplay of All the President’s Men, the 1976 cinematic version of the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington [...]

  43. [...] the money” was written into the screenplay of All the President’s Men and spoken by the actor Hal Holbrook, who turned in a memorable performance as “Deep [...]

  44. [...] I’ve noted at Media Myth Alert, the marker errs in stating that information Deep Throat” (who in 2005 was self-revealed to have been W. Mark Felt) provided Woodward “exposed [...]

  45. [...] and his reporting colleague Carl Bernstein wrote in the book about their Watergate reporting, All the President’s Men, the principal role of “Deep Throat” was to “confirm information that had been [...]

  46. [...] Bernstein of the Washington Post — made legendary by the cinematic adaptation of their book, All the President’s Men — turned journalism into glamorous and alluring [...]

  47. […] All the President’s Men, the book in which Woodward and co-author Carl Bernstein introduced the secret source, says Woodward’s conversations with “Deep Throat” were intended “only to confirm information that had been obtained elsewhere and to add some perspective.” […]

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,695 other followers

%d bloggers like this: