‘All The President’s Men:’ A young journalists fantasy in action
“All the President’s Men” is a movie most journalism teachers tell their students to watch. It’s timeless, like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for romance movie lovers.
And its classification as “a classic” is not unwarranted.
The movie kicks off with the renowned Watergate break-in. Five burglars are arrested at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex, and a new reporter, Bob Woodward, is assigned to cover the break-in for The Washington Post.
Woodward attends the court hearing for the case, which does not seem like a big deal at first, but his realistically executed questioning of the people he sits next to leads him to discover the five men arrested had connections to the federal government.
This puts the audience on the edge of their seat, since human appeal seems to always be heightened when a president or large government agency is involved. But the writers keep you on edge because they don’t follow up on this immediately.
Instead, we’re introduced to Carl Bernstein, who is a co-reporter in this investigation. Their editor believes this story leads nowhere, so he believes he is sending these two reporters on a wild goose chase.
This is where things get rather frustrating for the audience, since the viewer knows the importance the case holds in American history, but at this moment in time, their boss, or editor, has no clue.
Woodward and Bernstein, aware of the lack of trust their editor may have in them, are eager to follow any lead they can find in uncovering this story, so Woodward calls on an anonymous source.
This source, referred to as “Deep Throat” throughout the movie, was a senior level government official, and remains a critical source of information for the two reporters.
The lighting in these scenes with Deep Throat is crucial. They set him up in a dark, closed garage, with one light above his head out and the rest on. All the audience can see is his lips move and his eyes blink. It’s simple, yet so complicated to imagine or execute.
With Deep Throat’s advice, Woodward and Bernstein are urged to “follow the money,” now a famous technique many journalists put to use.
They manage to connect the five burglars to the committee to re-elect the president, with the president being Richard Nixon.
At this point, if the viewer is unaware of the president’s staffs’ involvement with the break-in to the Democratic committee’s headquarters, then I would suggest rewinding the entire movie and watching once more.
After this discovery, it’s fair to say the movie is a little slow. As Woodward and Bernstein chase sources, they uncover some wins and losses. It’s important to note that if the viewer is not fascinated with the journalistic process, then this part could get a little boring.
The plateau of the movie arrives close to the end, where the reporters return to Deep Throat asking him to be less limited with the information he gave. They uncover that the Watergate break-in connects to the entire intelligence system of the country.
The movie then ends rather abruptly with Woodward and Bernstein simply typing up and publishing the story, which ultimately leads to the resignation of President Nixon.
This was the first movie of its kind to tell a story from inside a newsroom. Information comes and goes to journalists, but the process of tracking down sources is often less romanticized in the media.
“All The President’s Men” set the precedent for newsroom dramas, and it set the standard high.