Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times that “the real excitement of ‘All The President’s Men’ is in watching two comparatively inexperienced reporters stumble onto the story of their lives and develop it triumphantly, against all odds.” He was referring to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who were played in the movie by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively.
The Long Island newspaper Newsday gushed even more, declaring:
“’All the President’s Men’ is a terrific movie – the best film about newspaper reporters ever made, one of the most enjoyable action pictures you’ll see this year and a classic example of how to make an important social and political statement within the framework of an unpretentious detective story whose revelations speak for themselves.”
The gushing for All the President’s Men resumed this month as a variety of media outlets took the occasion of the 40th anniversary to celebrate the film anew.
Michael Gaynor of Washingtonian magazine put together a lengthy oral history about All the President’s Men, which he hailed as the “most defining movie of Washington.” Meanwhile, Newsday posted its 1976 review online.
In a lengthy retrospective for the Los Angeles Review of Books,the associate producer of All the President’s Men, Jon Boorstin, called the movie “a miracle.” He further described it as an “impossible conjunction of talent and opportunity, collaboration and ego, trust, power, and luck. And then more luck.”
And the Washington Post — inclined as it is to bouts of self-absorption — published at its online site a fawning essay that gushed at the granular level, telling us about Woodward and Bernstein’s favorite scenes in All the President’s Men.
What went unmentioned in the anniversary’s nostalgic glow was the movie’s significant contributions to the mythology of Watergate, notably the notion that Woodward and Bernstein‘s reporting — the movie’s centerpiece — brought down the corrupt presidency of Richard M. Nixon in 1974.
The movie portrayed Woodward and Bernstein as central and essential to unraveling the Watergate scandal.
I call it the heroic-journalist myth, a simplistic version that sweeps away the complexities of Watergate, leaving an easy-to-grasp explanation for Nixon’s downfall in August 1974.
The cinematic version of All the President’s Men, as I noted in my 2010 book, Getting It Wrong, promoted this version — what I called an “unmistakable assertion of the power and centrality of the press in Nixon’s fall.
“All the President’s Men allows no other interpretation: It was the work Woodward and Bernstein that set in motion far-reaching effects that brought about the first-ever resignation of a U.S. president. And it is a message that has endured,” I wrote.
I further noted in Getting It Wrong that rolling up a scandal of Watergate’s dimensions in fact “required the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.
“Even then,” I wrote, “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 did Nixon surrender those recordings, which captured him plotting the cover-up” of the burglary in June 1972 that was Watergate’s seminal crime.
The movie contributed to Watergate’s mythology in another way: It brought into the vernacular what has become the scandal’s most memorable line — “follow the money.”
Except that it really wasn’t.
More from Media Myth Alert:
- The Post ‘took down a president’? That’s a myth
- Didn’t: A Watergate primer
- ‘Follow the money’: You won’t find that line in the book
- The Nixon tapes: A pivotal Watergate story that WaPo missed
- NYTimes invokes Watergate myth in writeup about journalists and movies
- The hero-journalist trope: Watergate’s go-to mythical narrative
- WaPo on ‘historically faulty’ films: Ignoring ATPM
- 15 movies about journalists: At least 3 boosted myths
- ‘All the President’s Men Revisited’: A mediacentric rehash, with some insight
- WaPo move to new quarters stirs retelling of hero-journalist myth
- Inflating the exploits of WaPo’s Watergate reporters
- The ‘newsroom where two reporters took down a president’? Sure it was
- Mythmaking in Moscow: Biden says WaPo brought down Nixon
- Talking ethics and the ‘golden days’ of Watergate
- The Watergate myth: Why debunking matters
- ‘A debunker’s work is never done’
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ goes on Q-and-A