Wednesday, August 3, 2011

All the President's Men (1976)

     In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal, where the Watergate Hotel at the Democratic Party national headquarters was broken into, uncovering corrupt political campaigning that Nixon approved. But when the burglary itself happened in 1972, it was considered to be a minor crime—until reporters from the Washington Post started uncovering who was really involved. “All the President’s Men”, next to “Good Night, and Good Luck” as the best journalism film I’ve ever seen, tells the story of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and their struggle to uncover the crime.

     Woodward (Robert Redford) has been working at the Post for about nine months when he is assigned to report on the Watergate story. Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) also wants in on the story, and he’s been in the newspaper business since he was sixteen years old. Eventually, their superiors, including Harry Rosenfeld and Howard Simons (played respectively by Jack Warden and Martin Balsam, two of the “12 Angry Men” from last month) decide to have them both report on the break-in and its repercussions. The mystery starts for Woodward when he finds out that one of the burglars was retired from the CIA. Calls to the White House lead him to more people working in Washington and beyond who researched their opponents, made monetary deals with others, or did one or both of those things but won’t tell the press about it.

     Woodward sees a mysterious friend in a parking garage who secretly knows deep background information, who is known to Simons as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook). Deep Throat tells Woodward to simply “follow the money”, and eventually, the two reporters find out that money that the burglars carried or gave came from or ended up in the funds for the Committee to Re-Elect the President, otherwise known as CREEP. And Woodward and Bernstein decide to start questioning people working for the Republicans and CREEP. They are able to get the names of those working for CREEP, and as they start questioning more and more of them, they discover that not only do the names go pretty high up in authority, but also that many of their sources refuse to go on the record, if they say anything at all.

     By the end of the film, Woodward and Bernstein find out what all of us know now: there was indeed a cover-up for the misuse of campaign funds that ended up in the hands of burglars at the Watergate Hotel, leading to a paranoid Richard Nixon being the first president to resign. The two reporters encounter so many acts of dishonesty that it’s hard to believe—but in the process, they run the risk of looking, and being, dishonest themselves. When their articles are printed that read that rich and respectable politicians gave campaign funds to burglars, other news sources blast the Washington Post and its editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) for supposedly using their own political agenda to write their newspaper instead of facts. And yet somehow, when their reputation is at stake, Bradlee and the Post stand by Woodward and Bernstein.

     As a Christian, you hear a lot in church and in the Bible about being an honest person. From the very beginning, God told the Israelites through the Ten Commandments to “not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Proverbs 16:13 says that God “loves him who speaks what is right”. And the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right… think about such things” (4:8). Woodward and Bernstein want to be honest reporters, and so they want to report the facts, even those that may look like they have a political agenda.

     But they have to be extremely careful how they go about reporting. In order to get a list of the people who work for CREEP, they ask another reporter, Kay Eddy (Lindsay Crouse), who has just broken off an engagement to one of those working for CREEP, for a list of all the members. Eddy is extremely reluctant, and Woodward notices this immediately:

EDDY: You’re asking me to use a guy I care about!

BERNSTEIN: No, we’re not asking you to use him; we just want you to help us. We’d do the same for you… You said the relationship is over; what do you have to lose?

WOODWARD: (to Kay) Forget it. We don’t want you to do anything that would embarrass you or that you don’t feel right about. Forget it.

     And as he and Bernstein walk away, Bernstein confused about Woodward’s behavior, Woodward tells him: “It’s over.” He’s realizing what he’s doing and the boundary he’s about to overstep in telling this story. He may have been working for the Washington Post much shorter than Bernstein has, but he knows that what he’s doing is wrong. (Later, however, Kay gives in and gets him the list of CREEP members, and the two reporters are able to use it.) 

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will live today in an honest way, serving the Lord in everything you do and thinking about true, noble, and right things.

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