All the president's men: Woodward and Bernstein tell all

Forty years after a bungled burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters brought the term "Watergate" into the national lexicon, the two men most responsible for taking down a presidency appeared at the Virginia Film Festival following a screening of the movie based on their book, All the President's Men.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward had "unparalleled impact" on the presidency, on journalism, and on "ourselves and our culture," said former Governor Gerald Baliles, now director of the Miller Center, the sponsor of the Festival's first Presidency in Film offering.

The two, who earned a 1973 Pulitizer Prize for their reporting at the Washington Post, discussed their Watergate days with the conviviality of men who have gone through a life-altering experience together. In June, they shared a byline again in an anniversary article, "40 years after Watergate, Nixon was far worse than we thought."

The shock of illegal activity emanating from Richard Nixon's White House and captured on tape recordings still resonates with Woodward, who's gone on to write more than a dozen insider accounts of presidencies.

"It's a mindset that became clear– let's go after the enemy, let's screw the opposition– with a lawlessness we've never seen," he said at the November 2 event at the Paramount theater.

"This is what's strange," continued Woodward. "Nixon never says, 'What would be in the national interest?' It was all about Nixon screwing people and seeking vengeance on his enemies."

A key player in the 1976 film is Deep Throat, Woodward's anonymous source whose identity was kept secret until seven years ago when former Associate FBI Director Mark Felt outed himself in Vanity Fair, "where Carl was an editor and he didn't know the story was going to run," said Woodward.

"Contributing editor," corrected Bernstein, noting the the film slightly exaggerated the role of Deep Throat, who typically confined himself to confirming information already uncovered by the pair.

"It was dramatic when [Woodward] told me he had to move a flower pot," said Bernstein about how Woodward would signal Felt when he needed to talk to him.

Woodward, who was 29 when the Watergate saga began, said, "When Mark Felt said we set up a signal and meet in a garage, I thought, well, that's what you do."

The two noted the accuracy of the movie's portrayal of the shoe-leather reporting of the two young journalists, who were depicted knocking on the doors of people on a long list of names.

"What's important is it shows the methodology of reporting," said Bernstein. "The sheer terror we saw of the people we approached, that told us there was a story."

As for how reporting has changed since the pre-Internet days when articles were entered into antiquated devices called typewriters, Woodward described how Yale professor Steve Brill asked his class how Watergate might be reported today. The student response? "You'd go on Google and google 'Nixon's secret fund,'" said an appalled Woodward. The students were convinced the blogosphere would have Nixon out of office in a matter of weeks.

"Too many students think the Internet is a magic lantern," said Woodward. "You have to go to humans and gain their trust, particularly when you're dealing with a conspiracy."

Another difference between then and now was that the Senate voted 77-0 in favor of setting up a committee to investigate the Watergate burglary.

"Imagine that today," said Woodward, referring to the current partisan Congress. "It just wouldn't happen."

Even more notable was that it was Nixon's own party that convinced him to resign. "It was the Republicans who did him in," said Woodward. "Republicans said, that was enough."

Noting that many citizens feel highly skeptical of government, Baliles asked the men if the system worked. Bernstein credited the press, the justice branch, and Congress for all doing their jobs.

"I think we knew it when he resigned," said Bernstein. "We were awestruck when it happened. There was no dancing on desks."

One notable absence in the movie, said Bernstein, was any glimpse of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who put her business on the line with her support of the reporting of Woodstein, as the pair were dubbed. Bernstein recalled his late-night conversation with then Attorney General John Mitchell, who warned, "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published."

After the article implicating Mitchell as the controller of a slush fund– complete with the incendiary quotation about Graham– ran in the Post, Bernstein said the publisher was non-plussed. "The next morning, Mrs. Graham came by my desk and said, 'Carl, do you have any more messages for me?'"

He also recalled the day he received a subpoena for his notes.

"Katharine Graham said, 'They're not their notes; they're my notes,'" putting herself in a position of being arrested. "I said a picture of Katharine Graham getting out of her limo to go to the DC jail would run all over the world," chuckled Woodward.

In the movie, Mark Felt warned that lives were in danger, and Baliles asked the reporters if they were fearful.

"We were terrified," said Bernstein. "What we were terrified of was making a mistake." He said he knew how crazy some of the Nixon operatives were, and one night, he was fearful enough that he didn't go home.

"It was an excuse," interjected Woodward, parodying Bernstein: "I'm in danger. Can I come over and spend the night?"

Bernstein's reputation as a womanizer was well-documented in Heartburn, a novel by his second wife, Nora Ephron, who was pregnant when she discovered he was having an affair.

More seriously, Woodward said he perhaps overreacted when Felt said people's lives were in danger, meaning not so much their physical safety as their reputations and jobs.

In the movie, Jason Robards portrays WaPo editor Ben Bradlee; and, according to Woodward, Robards initially balked at taking the role after reading the script.

"He came back and said, I can't play Bradlee because all he does is run around the newsroom saying, 'Where's the f*cking story?'" recounted Woodward. Robards was told, "You have to find 15 different ways to say, where's the f*cking story."

For a long time, Woodward and Bernstein thought President Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon was an outrage when dozens of people under him went to jail. Years later, Woodward asked Ford why, and the partial-term president finally said, "I did it for the good of the country," recounted Woodward. "The national nightmare is over."

And the two admitted they were wrong about initially condemning Ford, whose decision cost him reelection at the hands of Jimmy Carter.

"It was the right thing for the country," conceded Bernstein, 40 years later.

6 comments

Watching the movie on the big screen and then having the main protagonists step onto the stage to thunderous applause was a heart-stopping moment .

It was fascinating to learn that not until the Nixon tapes were released was the full
scope of the Nixon White House's abuse of power grasped.

And those tapes are now transcribed and digitally available thanks to the hard work of the Miller Center.
Woodward remarked on the palpable rage one can hear in Nixon's determination to get those he considered " the enemy " and there were many on that list.

" Judge unseals Watergate court records "
Still more to learn even now.

http://m.washingtonpost.com/politics/washington-judge-orders-some-waterg...

Why haven't Woodward and Bernstein covered the unbelievable abuses of power in the last 2 administrations, where billions of dollars were funneled to political friends? Oh, right, because they're big names now and Nixon was their springboard, so the establishment is on their side now. I'm not one to defend Nixon, but it's interesting that the men who took him down seem to be equally opportunistic scumbags.

Thse men are reporters, and when they find a story, they report it. They have done a great service to this country. Cruncher, sham on you for baseless name-calling.

@The Cruncher – It is much worse than that! Woodward always was an establishment player. In fact, not fiction as the movie clearly is (see sidebar of this article: http://www.ctka.net/pr196-woodward.html), Woodward was part of an intelligence operation to remove Nixon. They did not think they could pull off another assassination of a president so instead they accomplished a “Silent Coup” (http://www.amazon.com/Silent-Coup-President-Len-Colodny/dp/0312927630).

Russ Baker has an excellent three part series on Watergate which provides more information on Woodward’s role in the removal of Nixon:

http://whowhatwhy.com/2012/05/08/watergate-revelations-the-coup-against-...

Here is an excerpt that shows Woodward’s intelligence connections as well as the ongoing program of media infiltration.

“As to Woodward’s initial introduction to the newspaper, nobody seems to
have questioned whether a recommendation from someone in the White
House would be an appropriate reason for the Post to hire a reporter. Nor
does anyone from the Post appear to have put a rather obvious two and two
together, and noted that Woodward made quick work of bringing down the
president, and therefore wondered who at the White House recommended
Woodward in the first place—and with what motivation.
Others, however, were more curious. After Charles Colson met with Senator
Howard Baker and his staff—including future senator Fred Thompson—
he recounted the session in a previously unpublished memo to file:
The CIA has been unable to determine whether Bob Woodward
was employed by the agency. The agency claims to be having difficulty
checking personnel files. Thompson says that he believes the
delay merely means that they don’t want to admit that Woodward
was in the agency. Thompson wrote a lengthy memo to Baker last
week complaining about the CIA’s non-cooperation, the fact that
they were supplying material piecemeal and had been very uncooperative.
The memo went into the CIA relationship with the press, specifically
Woodward. Senator Baker sent the memo directly to [CIA Director] Colby
with a cover note and within a matter of a few hours, Woodward
called Baker and was incensed over the memo. It had been immediately
leaked to him.”

Even Carl Bernstein later wrote about the intelligence agency’s control of the press in a 1977 Rolling Stone article:

(http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php)

The book that first revealed much of the intrigue in Watergate was:

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Agenda-Jim-Hougan/dp/0345325230/

Here is what one site had to say about Hougan’s book:

This first "deconstructionist" account of Watergate is the acknowledged inspiration for Colodny and Gettlin's "Silent Coup" (1991), which finally put the Washington Post on the defensive.
"Secret Agenda" offers many firsts: 1) the first to discuss Watergate in the context of the Moorer-Radford affair; 2) the first to discuss the role played by attorney-pimp Phil Bailley; 3) the first to reveal that a key taken from burglar Rolando Martinez fit the desk of Spencer Oliver's secretary Maxie Wells (the only physical evidence of the burglar's actual target); 4) the first to reveal that the FBI lab concluded that the DNC was NOT bugged (McCord faked the eavesdropping to protect a more important secret); 5) the first to reveal that Woodward had secretly briefed Alexander Haig while Woodward presided over the Pentagon code room of the Chief of Naval Operations; 6) the first to make public Woodward's investigation of Bernstein's sex life; and 7) the first to identify the mysterious John Paisley as the CIA's liaison to the plumbers.
In all, this is a well-documented work that Norman Mailer called "a startling mine of veins, leads, lodes and deep shafts into the ongoing mystery of Watergate. Three cheers for Hougan's investigative reporting."
http://www.oilempire.us/watergate.html

Wow –“Woodward’s investigation of Bernstein's sex life” - that would have been an interesting thing to ask those two about at the post screening talk!

Here is an article that Jim Hougan wrote that some may find interesting:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/06/08/strange-bedfellows/

In this article he makes a great point regarding the impact of Woodward and Bernsteins Watergate reporting on journalism:

“One of the most lasting consequences of the Watergate affair has been its corrosive effect upon investigative reporting. Through its unquestioning embrace of Deep Throat, Hollywood and the press have romanticized the anonymous source and, in doing so, legitimized him. The results are there to be seen in your daily newspaper: story after story, attributed to no one in particular. "Speaking on condition of anonymity, " "White House sources denied," "A Pentagon official said."
As sources disappear, the news becomes more propagandistic. Ambitious and calculating pols drop innuendos and send up trial-balloons, without ever having to take responsibility for what they’ve said. Or not said. In the playground of anonymous sources, the public is increasingly informed by creative writers like Jason Blair (formerly of the New York Times), Stephen Glass (ex-New Republic), Jack Kelly (gone from USA Today), and, ironically, Woodward’s former protégé at the Post, Janet Cooke. Not surprisingly, the public becomes increasingly skeptical.
The problem with anonymous sources is not just that they might be "composite" characters, or that they might not exist at all, but rather that the source’s motives remain beyond scrutiny. So the story is necessarily incomplete.”

I appreciate The Hook’s investigative reporting on local issues and it is invaluable in that regard but I find myself disappointed with articles like this and the Mark Lane one (http://www.readthehook.com/107961/citizen-lane-ustoppable-agitator-pens-...) that just repeats the same mass media propaganda that we can get anywhere else.

So because it didn't address irrelevant topics, as opposed to their appearance here in Charlottesville, suddenly The Hook is fluff.