Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"All The President's Men" (1976) Richard Nixon Gives Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman a Movie To Make

(left to right) actor Dustin Hoffman, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodard,and actor/producer Robert Redford at the premiere of the movie in 1976 in Washington, DC.   


While perhaps not the best finest political film  ever made in America, the Alan J.  Pakula directed  "All the President's Men" (1976) might have been the most widely anticipated... and the least disappointing. 


The 1974 book on which it was based came out a few months before Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency on August 9th of that same year.     Leading up that point were eighteen months of subpoenas, lies and denials from official sources inside the White House. 

 It was the  investigation of a late-night  "third-rate burglary" on the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972 and the eventual tie-in to Nixon and his minions behind  the special secret "plumbers unit" of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP, also known as "Creep) that led to "the  greatest Constitutional crisis in America since the Civil War."    

The movie itself sets about detailing how two unheralded journalists opened a crack in the inner sanctum of power by establishing a connection between the Mafia-like operations of secret money exchanges and secret slush funds in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  These monies were clandestinly  diverted to, among other things, financing "The Plumbers" operations. Nixon knew directly about the break-in a few day later, and instructed H.R. Halderman, his trusted aide, to get the FBI off investigating the case "for the good of the country".   

 Once the burglars were caught by the police and put on trial, money was needed  to buy their silence in court about who they worked for, in effect suborning perjury in a criminal case.  Nixon had no problem with that.

 "We could get that. On the money, if you need the money you could get that. You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. It is not easy, but it could be done. But the question is, Who would handle it? Any ideas on that?" -- Nixon to John Dean, March 21, 1973.

In the most ironic twist of that era, all was revealed on the audio tapes that Nixon himself made of his phone calls and meetings in the Oval Office

 By early 1973 the rest of the media (and, lo and behold, even the Congress!)  had begun to sit up and take notice.  Senate Hearings were held, chaired  by the amiable Democratic Senator from North Carolina, Sam Ervin.  I recall they made for much more interesting viewing in the Summer and Fall of '73 then any programing of game shows and local news I'd even seen.  

After numerous denials by the inner circle of the White House that the powers-that-be knew anything about a secret money laundering and black-bag operations, one man, Nixon's personal lawyer, John Dean, came forward and spilled the beans on his boss. A lot of other things fell into place after that. Soon  Special Counsels appointed by Congress (Harvard professor Archibald Cox and later  Leon Jarworski)  demanded some of those White House tapes and transcripts be made available for the public to see just how deep in the scandal the White House "men" were.  

Nixon fired Cox during the famous "Saturday Night Massacre" on a weekend in October of 1973 and also had to fire two of his Attorney Generals who refused to do the deed. No matter; the wheels of justice ground on. Eventually the Supreme  Court ordered Nixon to turn over all documents related to the scandal, including the tapes, a system revealed under oath by Presidential aide  named Alexander Butterfield.   

 Nixon's taping system had "hoisted him on his own petard", as Shakespeare might have said, repeating himself from "Hamlet".  Many of Nixon's men went to jail. The Man himself was pardoned by his appointed vice-President Gerald Ford a month after leaving office. Nixon was one step ahead of losing his office (and his pension and other perks)  when he quit and likely facing jail before being  pardoned. The system had worked, and at least a  certain amount of justice served. 

But the narrative of this fine film only goes up to  the beginning of Nixon's Second term. No matter. Everyone seeing it like me in a theater in 1976 knew what the ending would be already.  The end of "Nixonland" in the USA was  broken down in a series of camera shots of headlines spiting out on a telex machine--headlines ending with Nixon's resignation as the last piece of news in the film.

I wonder if the modern media really goes in much for investigative journalism these days if there's not a sex scandal involved?   Certainly more could have been done to refute the case for the war in Iraq in 2003 for instance. But this film reminds us at least  that there was one time in American politics, to quote the newsman Jimmy Breslin, that "the good guys  finally won."    

Here Robert Redford (as reporter Bob Woodard) gets a strong idea just how far into the Executive Branch this story of five burglars caught at the DNC headquarters might go.

 It's perhaps the greatest irony of the whole "Watergate Crisis" that the Democratic party challenger  for the top job, the ill-starred Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, or any other nominee would likely have lost the campaign anyway thanks to Nixon's trip to China and the ending of the direct American role in the War in Vietnam. 


 But Nixon didn't know alll that in 1971, when he unleashed his goons and employed illegal money schemes to try and ensure himself another four years of power.    




  1. One of the "Deep Throat" scenes in the film, where Woodward goes to a dark parking garage to speak to his key contact on the story, a person given the name of a popular porno movie of the time. Only Woodward, Bernstein and the Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee knew who the contact was.

    In 2005, it was revealed that "Deep Throat" was a man named W. Mark Felt, a high-ranking official at the FBI, a secret kept for 33 years until just before the ex "G-Man" died and his family revealed the news. His true identity had kept pundits guessing for years.

  2. arrogance and over confidence by some very powerful people...Bob Woodard is still a reporter and can been seen often on the cable news outlets on high profile news stories. I think he was the reporter who broke the story wasn't he?

  3. Well put, Mike! (Re: Watergate) Arrogance and overconfidence is the best summation.

    Woodward indeed broke the story, along with Bernstein. And, yes, I still see him often as a "go-to" commentator. Bernstein is around much less. I think he retired from ABC News.

  4. It seems to me that after the assassination of Kennedy and death of 'conviction politics' in America the sleaze and corruption that Bernstein and Woodward exposed was simply the new political status quo in Washington in its early stages of development.

  5. Good point, AA. A lot of real conviction among possible reformers seems to go out the window these days, or turns to be so much eyewash at the end of the election season.

    The ignorance and impatience of many in the electorate does the rest.

    A lot of people and myself would agree that bad things really started with the end of JFK, if not sometime later in the Watergate period. Certainly the corrosive effects of money buying influence in government was only temporarily checked.

    The current majority in the US Supreme Court and its "Citizens United" case has busted open the last of the panadora's boxes and unregulated corporate money is now able to travel without identification into campaign coffers. The ghost of Nixon may have the last laugh.

  6. This is something to read and shall but will return - this was a time that was certainly interesting.
    Shall be back...Doug.

  7. Good deal Jack. Interesting it was!

  8. I honestly don't think they do now Doug. I remember this movie here, which was not in fiction. As it was pretty close to the truth within what all took place. But there is more of a sensationalized manner of reporting that is done within America right now in comparison to some countries. Here thus far, seemingly we have still maintain reporting that has not went sensationalized and that may very well be due to what is called the CRTC as it's regulated here, but you do have very good reporting that is on facts. But right now things are more on scandal it's something that catches the eyes of people. Possibly due to people having seen so much and now can look for the truth online. Mind you it's hard to decipher fact from fiction.
    I remember watching him resign I was in Sears in what is called the "Penn Can" Mall and not till later did I really understand all that he had done. As he really did get away with much and was a very paranoid president if I may say...only China seemed to be the area that he did make some progress but he literally. When Watergate came out it was done in a manner that literally Dean had to come out as at that point most all was out by way of much work. That back then was tremendous reporting as no one cared whom Nixon was sleeping with nor Kennedy within earlier years - although Hoover had a fixation to get Kennedy but the press where different then.
    Yet there seems to be a little bit of a change that is seemingly happening right now. But Nixon was exposed by way of good reporters getting the truth on what he was doing within the Oval Office and outside of it for that matter.