And no single line from All the President’s Men has proved more memorable and quotable than “follow the money.”
Except that it wasn’t genuine advice.
Although it is fundamentally a contrivance, “follow the money” is granted no small measure of reverence, as suggested by a commentary posted the other day at a blog of London’s Guardian newspaper.
“The famous advice of Deep Throat to Woodward and Bernstein in the dark underground car park during the Watergate investigation applies to the world of politics as much as it does to investigative journalism. ‘Follow the money,’ the FBI agent Mark Felt is said to advised the two Washington Post reporters.”
“Deep Throat” the source met Woodward a half-dozen times in 1972 and 1973 in a car park — a parking garage — in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Va. That’s true.
And Felt never advised Woodward to “follow the money.” That he did is cinema-induced pseudo reality.
Not only that, but Felt as “Deep Throat” wasn’t all that vital to the Post’s reporting on Watergate, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
“Deep Throat was nice to have around, but that’s about it. His role as a key Watergate source for the Post is a myth, created by a movie and sustained by hype for almost 30 years.”
Note the passage, “created by a movie.”
All the President’s Men is more than an engaging, mid-1970s film that has aged admirably well. As Sussman noted, the movie certainly helped propel the myth of “Deep Throat” — and make famous “follow the money.”
Which is an interpretation of Watergate that not even the Post embraces.
As Woodward once said in an interview with American Journalism Review:
But it’s clear, I write in Getting It Wrong, that the cinema “helped ensure the myth would live on by offering a neat, tidy, and vastly simplified account the Watergate scandal, one that allowed viewers to sidestep the scandal’s complexity while engaging in an entertaining storyline.”
Indeed, what could be more straightforward and understandable than a story featuring two young reporters guided by a shadowy source who, oracle-like, advises them to “follow the money”and helps them bring down a crooked president?
It’s Watergate simplified, Watergate made easy.
But it’s also a far-fetched and distorted version of America’s greatest political scandal.
Recent and related:
- Woodward, Bernstein toppled Nixon? Think again
- So it begins: Woodward, Bernstein and excess in the runup to Watergate’s 40th
- ‘Immortal advice’ given only in a movie
- Historians dismisses as ‘self-promotion’ the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate
- ‘Deep Throat’ garage marker errs about Watergate source disclosure
- Mythmaking in Moscow: Biden says WaPo brought down Nixon
- Inspirations to journalists: Woodward, Bernstein — and Gaga?
- Follow the money, again and again
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ wins SPJ award for Research about Journalism