All The President's Men
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All The President's Men

Once again we find ourselves in a presidential election year and the entire 24 hour cable news cycle becomes myopically collapsed following a series of preliminary races leading up to the big election in our nation’s government; selecting the president of the United States. The various primaries and caucuses like the undercard bouts whose primary function increase the level of excitement for the championship event. This particular election the candidates are running their campaigns dirtier fashion than usual. There is name-calling, fact checking up every minute detail mentioned in speeches and accusations ranging from moral delinquency directions approaching outright illegal behavior. In this election has been an intense reliance on social media, not so much for establishing policy points or planks of the platform before the more puerile function common among teens and tweens; backbiting, insults and the most childish and slanderous comments possible. In order to clear my head of the constant puerile noise I turn to my collection of movies to find something that will show me a time when journalism actually investigated political campaigns and actually invested potentially serious issues involving the candidates. That brought me to one of the critical campaigns in American history. Back when the nude was investigated and delivered by professional journalists that lived by a strict code of truth and integrity. A pair of print journalist working for the Washington Post meticulously probed irregularities in relatively minor news stories that would eventually come together with such great impact as to compel a sitting president to resign from his office. To some this is a shameful period in American history but to others it demonstrated reason that the founding fathers had by guaranteeing free speech and press that is independent of the government. Of course this is the infamous Watergate scandal 1972 and the men involved will Carl Bernstein and Robert Bernstein. The book detailing the investigation, ‘All the Presidents Men’, was made into a film directed by Alan J. Pakula and adapted for screenplay by William Goldman, who won his second Academy Award for this script. Almost every historically based film contains a certain amount of dramatic license in order to expedite the flow of the narrative but by all accounts this movie retain the majority of the integrity found in the book.

On June 17, 1972, a security guard (Frank Wills, playing himself), is making his regular rounds when he noticed something irregular, a door’s lock was taped open preventing it from locking. Following protocol Mr. Willis contacts the municipal police. They appended five men arresting them for burglary. The rooms in the hotel they broke into were rented by the Democratic National Committee for use as their headquarters. It was the main location for campaign behind the Democratic nominee George McGovern. The next morning in the offices of the Washington Post a relatively new reporter on staff, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), was assigned to cover this minor story at the courthouse. There was absolutely no inclination that this would be anything more than something for the new hire to do in order to get used to the way things are done at the Post. Fortunately Mr. Woodward was a consummate professional and being an investigative journalist was integral to his nature. He didn’t dismiss the story as mundane but allowed his instinct to remain sharp. This proved invaluable when the five burglars were found to have highly sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment, four of them were Cuban-Americans from Miami and that they were represented by James W. McCord, Jr., a lawyer who exclusively represents persons of the social register. He has recent associations with the CIA identifying the others as having similar ties. Woodward does not believe in coincidences and as he probes deeper into those involved with this superficially mundane crime he discloses connections to E. Howard Hunt, a former employee of the CIA, and President Richard Nixon's Special Counsel Charles Colson. When the story grows in intricacy and continues to climb upward in the administration Woodward is paired with another reporter, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). Despite some initial friction between the men they soon become a formidable and relentless investigative force.

This movie depicts one of the most famous confrontations in the long history of rout investigative journalism; Deep Throat’ (Hal Holbrook). For decades he was known only as a senior government official who served as an anonymous source for Woodward. Clandestine meetings in a dimly lit parking garage this mysterious figure pointed to two intrepid reporters in the right direction with a phrase that is now as famous as the case itself, "follow the money." It has been noted that this one of the few inconsistencies with reality and with the book. The phrase has never been documented as being uttered was inserted completely for dramatic effect. It wasn’t until May 31, 2005 that is true identity was revealed to be former top FBI official Mark Felt. This has to be some sort of record for SQL to be kept among such high level government officials over 33 years.

As a result of this information Woodward and Bernstein were set on the correct path that ultimately led to directly connecting an attempt to both the Democratic national office with the aptly named CREEP, ‘Committee to Reelect the President’. In order to allow the story to be adequately told in the length of a feature-length movie the scope of the book was reduced to a period of time between the actual break-in and Richard Nixon’s second inauguration. As such the most important impact that this investigation had on American history was omitted; forcing Richard M Nixon to become the first president of the United States to resign from his office. This is a completely rational decision and while it would’ve been interesting to see the follow-up and fallout of this story the movie is after all about the investigation itself.

I realize that times have changed and investigative journalism now break stories online and a significant amount of information is passed to the public for the numerous forms of social media. But as someone who has grown up with television news was dominated by such amazing journalists as Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley and Edward R. Morrow and newspapers such as the New York Times will consider the newspaper of record, I admit that I am hard-pressed to fully accept the new paradigm of the 24 hour news cycle. This movie is considered the epitome of the political thriller. It remains untouched by any subsequent films that would attempt to displace it from this position. This movie is held respectable positions In Several Of The American Film Institute’s highly coveted list including those including best movie, most exciting movie and most thrilling movie in American cinematic history. Among its most notable honors occurred in 2010, when the film the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". If you have reached the point where political rhetoric has spiraled down to a second grade level with candidates spouting such bon motes as "he started it", than afford yourself of the opportunity to travel back in time when journalism maintained a weighty responsibility and a great political thriller could be made without any car chases, gun fights or explosions, just a marvelously crafted story presented by the epitome of talent on both sides of the camera.

bulletAll The President's Men Revisited: Narrated by Executive Producer Robert Redford
bulletAdditional Documentaries
bulletVintage Interview

Posted 05/18/2016        06/14/2016

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