The Watergate scandal in the 1970s is a pivotal moment in United States history that is still remembered to this day. It’s had such an impact on journalism and reporting that any scandal related to politicians is given the suffix ‘-gate.’ It is also an event still remembered to this day for the effects it had on politics in the country.
The 1976 film “All The President’s Men” shows a close-up view of the work journalists did to break this important story. It was Bob Woodward’s keen eye with a hint of suspicion that snowballed. Woodward was sent to the hearing about the Watergate robbery and saw that the suspects had a notable lawyer representing them. After only working for The Washington Post for nine months, he went to cover this story. Higher ups at the office believed this would be a simple story to report on a robbery. That would come to be quite far from the truth.
Believing he had a lead on a larger story, Woodward looked into backgrounds of the robbery suspects and discovered an interesting connection. Two of the robbers had Howard Hunt, a former CIA agent, in their contact lists. Another had received a substantial sized check from Hunt. Woodward wrote an initial draft on the matter. Then the editors added Carl Bernstein to aid in investigating. The story had potential but management didn’t have faith in Woodward due to his inexperience.
With the rookie Woodward and the veteran Bernstein now working together, they needed more sources. The Committee for the Re-Election of the President came up quite frequently in their research, so they started there. Their endeavor came with many roadblocks. Everyone the committee employed refused to answer questions or share anything they knew. They feared retaliation.
If the pair wanted to get any answers, they would have to be creative. They would also have to offer anonymity wherever they could to protect their sources. They were beginning to fly close to the sun. Some of their findings were bringing high ranking politicians into the fray. Higher ups at the paper asked for more sources. They wanted complete certainty that the story they were publishing was as accurate as it could possibly be. In order to get this, Bernstein used a creative strategy to get what he wanted while also not putting his sources at risk. He would call a source, pose a question, then tell them to hang up before he counted to 10 if anything in the story wasn’t true.
This is an incredibly important story. It shows the great role that journalism has in challenging power. The result of these journalists’ work implicated many in high positions of power, including the president. If it was not for their work, these individuals would have gone unchallenged for their bad deeds. This would set a terrible precedent and potentially encourage more bad acts. It would confirm the suspicion that those in power can get away with anything. People expect lawfulness from those they have elected who are in positions of power. If the Post had not printed this story, the American people would know nothing about it. These are also principles that are important to a functioning democracy, something that all Americans benefit from.