The Rear-View Mirror: All the President’s Men (1976)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The Watergate scandal and its complexities holds many stories worth telling. The story of how Martha Mitchell tried to blow the whistle and got ridiculed, or the story of democratic candidate Edmund S. Muskie who was undermined by the Nixon administration and lost his cool. Or the story of the hilariously monikered whistle-blower “Deep Throat” – yes, after the Linda Lovelace porno – who was finally outed in 2005 as Mark Felt, FBI associate director. All the President’s Men is the story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), or “Woodstein”: two journalists who tried to make the public aware of the scope of Watergate, as if anyone at the time really cared. Later Gore Vidal would famously quip to Dick Cavett that he “…must get my Watergate fix each morning”.

AllTHePresidentsMen 4

With news about the Mueller investigation into Donald Trump seemingly never-ending, Watergate, and arguably All the President’s Men with it, seems to acquire new currency. How two journalists dig deep into matters which – at fist – seem innocuous and boring, but later manage to factor into the decline and fall of the entire Nixon administration and the resignation of the man himself. How the public seems uninterested, even jaded while subpoenas are being served and details keep surfacing. And how despite this, eventually, the news was entirely dominated by the latest developments surrounding the scandal.

Redford and Hoffman inhabit the characters of Woodward and Bernstein admirably. They are understated and interesting to watch. The pacing is taut for a film which is nearly all dialogue, even if the excitement of our two protagonists never quite translates to the audience. One of the best reasons to watch the film is because it is a faithful adaptation of the book, and the book is one of the Watergate stories worth learning about. An added point of interest after all these years is that the film shows so much on the craft of working journalists circa 1972. The movie is all about the details. Pre-databases and pre-internet, our protagonists sort through library slips by hand, go door to door to ask questions, and need dozens of phone-books to find possible sources. The supporting cast is wonderful, featuring such actors as Jack Warden, Jason Robards and Hal Holbrook (as a suitably sinister “Deep Throat”).

So if a lack of endless developments around Trump and the Mueller report have you jonesing for another “-gate”, you may enjoy a dive into another complicated and famous scandal: the granddaddy of all “- gates”: Nixon’s Watergate.

For other Watergate stories, check out Slate’s Slow Burn podcast by Leon Neyfakh.

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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