History of the World According to the Movies: Part 85 – The Watergate Scandals

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The 1976 film All the President’s Men is perhaps the definitive film in relation to the events of the Watergate scandals. It stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as two young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Though not always true real events, this movie shows the first seven months in uncovering one of the biggest political scandals in American history that led to the fall of a US president. Yet, while it portrays the press as the hero, it was actually a group effort between journalists and government whistle blowers.

Perhaps no event in American history during the 1970s takes no more significance than the Watergate scandals of the Nixon administration. Political corruption has always existed in American politics even at the time of the founding Fathers (look it up). Yet, among all the political scandals in US history, Watergate remains the most infamous in which a midnight break-in gone wrong at the eponymous Washington DC hotel and office complex (at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, no less) would lead to a massive coverup of Richard Nixon and his administration once the burglars were found to have connections to Nixon’s reelection campaign. Watergate would then be the term that would cover an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by the Nixon administration including “dirty tricks” like bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious as well as ordering harassment of activists groups and political figures, using the FBI, CIA, and the IRS. When Congress discovered a conspiracy as well as multiple administration abuses, Nixon’s resistance would lead to a constitutional crisis, articles of impeachment, and Nixon resigning from the presidency leaving the office in disgrace. However, though there are some movies about the Watergate scandals, there are some things that these films get wrong which I shall list.

Richard Nixon:

Richard Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in before it happened. (Actually he didn’t until after it happened. Yet, since the burglars consisted of a CIA agent and were funded by his reelection campaign, Nixon became worried that the full extent of his illegal activities would be known. Thus, proceed with the coverup.)

Richard Nixon felt guilty about Watergate and had some regard for the law. (Nixon never felt sorry about Watergate and had little regard for the law to get what he wanted and had no qualms about covering up illegal activity. Yet, his lack of guilt had more to do with the fact that he was a power-hungry social climber all his life {with a horrible childhood to boot as well as had to make concessions in his life like going to Whittier College instead of Ivy League}. Sorry, Oliver Stone.)

At his resignation, Nixon said, “To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. I have never been a quitter.” (He actually said, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body.”)

Richard Nixon signed his resignation letter the day before he left office and prior to it being publicly announced. (Contrary to Nixon, he publically announced his resignation and signed the letter the next day before departing from the White House that noon.)
Robert Preston landed a helicopter on the White House Lawn the day before Richard Nixon answered with “the boil must be picked” in front of the House Judiciary Committee Subpoena for Additional Presidential Tape Recordings. (Contrary to The Assassination of Richard Nixon, these events happened a couple of months apart with the former in February and the latter in April of 1974.)

The key motive for the Watergate cover-up had a lot to do with Cold war politics and Richard Nixon’s pre-presidential involvement in the Kennedy Assassination. (Contrary to Nixon, the Watergate Scandals had nothing to do with either {and he certainly wasn’t involved with the CIA on the latter since Nixon had almost nothing political against John F. Kennedy except for beating him in a presidential race}. However, the cover up became necessary not because of anything Nixon did in the Eisenhower administration, but because his own presidential administration used government power {FBI, IRS, and CIA} illegally. Such conduct was so widespread, it was a habit. And when some of his own operatives were caught in the Watergate burglary, they were silenced before they led to what Nixon attorney general John Mitchell called, “the White House horrors.”)

The 1972 Election:

Richard M. Nixon described George McGovern as “that pansy, poet, socialist.” (Maybe, yet contrary to Nixon, the real McGovern says that “Nixon never once mentioned my name in public in the 1972 presidential campaign. He would neither debate me, nor appear on the same stage, or even in the same city. So I think my family was cheered to hear my name at long last on Mr. Nixon’s lips—courtesy of Oliver Stone and Anthony Hopkins.” Man, apart from the behind the scenes of the Nixon reelection campaign, the 1972 election must’ve been pretty boring. Also, to call McGovern a “pansy” is highly inaccurate since the guy was a freaking war hero {which he didn’t mention probably because he didn’t want Nixon’s guys to swiftboat him}.)

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein:

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein directly caused the fall of Richard Nixon. (Contrary to All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were just the messenger boys. The film ignores the contributions of various conscientious public servants. There’s Senator Sam Ervin whose select committee held the first congressional Watergate hearings and discovered the existence of the White House tapes. Then there’s Congressmen Peter Rodino who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee that approved 3 articles of impeachment against Nixon. Next you have the embarrassingly named Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor fired in the Saturday Night Massacre and his replacement Leon Jaworski. Finally, you have tough minded federal district court judge John Sirica who made it clear that he’d squeeze the burglars until they talked and the president until he turned over the tapes. It was collective action of the press, bureaucrats, and politicians that brought the fall of Nixon. And not all of them had pure motives to bring Nixon’s fall either as in the Mark Felt example. Of course, some of these guys are mentioned in the book but you’d understand that Bob Woodward has an ego a mile wide despite not being as attractive as Robert Redford. Carl Bernstein looks more like an emo version of Dustin Hoffman.)

The name of the lawyer who encountered Bob Woodward at the arraignment of the Watergate burglars was named “Markham.” (His name was Douglas Caddy.)

Herbert Sloan was reliable source for Carl Bernstein. (Contrary to All the President’s Men, their relationship was more complicated. The last minute conversation between Bernstein and Sloan resulted in a massive miscommunication that led to the printing that Sloan had implicated H. R. Haldeman to a Grand Jury {Sloan couldn’t verify the claims of Haldeman’s involvement in the Watergate burglary directly. Sloan’s lawyer would deny such claims}. Later the White House would denounce the Washington Post for “shabby journalism” and the newspaper’s investigation was greatly set back while it made the validity of the previous Watergate articles public. As for Woodward and Bernstein, it took them 5 weeks to regain credibility and publish another front page article.)

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein worked like the perfect team during their time on the Watergate story. (While it’s implied in All the President’s Men, they had a rocky relationship, often fighting and disagreeing on the details of their stories. Also, after Nixon’s resignation, they split up and while they would collaborate on The Final Days and The Secret Man together, they pretty much didn’t collaborate much.)

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s homes were bugged. (They weren’t as far as we know.)

Bob Woodward was a confident and take charge kind of guy. (Contrary to Robert Redford’s portrayal in All the President’s Men, he’s described in the book as “a registered Republican, was cautious, an awkward writer and shy interviewer.” Also, he had only been at The Washington Post for 8 months prior to Watergate and still had a lot to learn from his colleagues.)

Carl Bernstein was a shaggy chain-smoking journalist who almost seemed to stumble through his investigation at times. (Yes, he was but contrary to All the President’s Men, he’s described in the book as “brash, ready to take a chance, a polished writer and cunning interviewer.”)

Bob Woodward was blond. (His hair was as brown as a mahogany table.)

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were on the Watergate story for 7 months. (Their time on the story lasted for a year and a half.)

The Washington Post:

Barry Sussman played no role in breaking in the Watergate story. (While he’s absent in All the President’s Men, he was one of the major players since he was the first person of the Washington Post to pick up the Watergate story and would continue to write and edit stories about it for the duration. He would be a major supporter for Woodward and Bernstein.)

Washington Post managing editor Howard Simons was a passive man. (Contrary to All the President’s Men, he was an aggressive and outspoken reporter who supported Woodward and Bernstein throughout their entire story.)

Katherine Graham played little role in the Watergate story. (For God’s sake, she was the publisher of the Washington Post and she’s not portrayed in All the President’s Men at all. Sure most of the Washington Post employees were male during the 1970s but she was the one who helped the paper gain power and even helped its notoriety by publishing “The Pentagon Papers.” When Woodward and Bernstein were writing about the Watergate scandals, she had to defend the newspaper from attacks by the federal government and it was because of her leadership that the company managed to survive and flourish. Also, Graham was the person at the Washington Post who made the final decision to publish the Woodward and Bernstein’s stories.)

Deep Throat:

No one knew who Deep Throat was. (Deep Throat’s identity was an open secret for years even Nixon suspected that Mark Felt was leaking information to Bob Woodward but decided not to go after him. However, Mark Felt wasn’t a saint for it’s more likely that he leaked the information out of revenge against Nixon for not promoting him to replace J. Edgar Hoover. As Woodward would say, “Felt believed he was protecting the bureau by finding a way, clandestine as it was, to push some of the information from the FBI interviews and files out to the public, to help build public and political pressure to make Nixon and his people answerable. He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and their efforts to manipulate the Bureau for political reasons.” Though Deep Throat’s identity was a mystery for over 30 years, Felt was the main candidate. Still, having Hal Holbrook portray him in All the President’s Men is actually a historically accurate approximation.)

Deep Throat was two ditzy teenage girls. (This was the premise for the comedy Dick, though it’s implausible. Also, Felt’s identity as Deep Throat wasn’t much of a mystery to many in Washington.)

Deep Throat wasn’t an informant for Bob Woodward until the Watergate scandal. (Though it’s implied in All the President’s Men, Mark Felt had passed information to Woodward a month before Watergate. Woodward’s story at the time was the attempted assassination of Governor and Presidential candidate George Wallace, a case that Felt was investigating. Also, contrary to the film, Felt didn’t approach Woodward on Watergate, Woodward called Felt in his office just days after the break-in.)

Donald Segretti:

Donald Segretti seemed like a decent guy who just happened to destroy Edward Muskie’s presidential campaign. (He was also a mentor to Karl Rove. Yes, old Turd Blossom himself.)

Donald Segretti felt regret for his actions in Watergate for he didn’t know what he had gotten himself into or the full extent of repercussions. (Contrary to All the President’s Men, Segretti was recruited for these dirty tricks and knew exactly what he was doing all along. According to a blog on the movie, “On 27th October, 1972, Time Magazine published an article claiming that it had obtained information from FBI files that Dwight Chaplin had hired Segretti to disrupt the Democratic campaign. The following month Carl Bernstein interviewed Segretti who admitted that E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy were behind the dirty tricks campaign against the Democratic Party {Spartacus Educational}.” Perhaps Segretti was playing Bernstein for a sap in the film, but he certainly didn’t feel any regret at least until he got caught. By then, he just ratted out his co-conspirators.)

The Frost/Nixon Interviews:

Richard Nixon apologized to David Frost about Watergate. (Contrary to Frost/Nixon, Nixon’s team prepared a confession but when it came down to the interview, Nixon couldn’t bring himself to say it until his staff had to coax him.)

Richard Nixon and David Frost discussed Watergate on the last night of the Nixon interviews. (They discussed it on the first night. Also, Frost/Nixon ignores the fact that Nixon received 20% of the ad revenue from the interviews enticing him to want to get more people to watch it. Also, the ratings for the interviews dropped dramatically after all the Watergate material had been discussed and he didn’t admit anything that wasn’t public knowledge.)

David Frost and Richard Nixon didn’t meet before the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1976. (They first met in 1968 when Nixon was running for president. Apparently, Nixon enjoyed the interview so much that after he was elected, he met Frost at the White House to discuss producing a TV special.)

David Frost thought Richard Nixon did a terrible job on the first three interviews. (Frost thought that Nixon did a great job.)

Nixon confessed to David Frost about Watergate. (He didn’t but he did apologize for disappointing the American people. Also, many people thought Nixon got the best of David Frost during the interviews.)

Richard Nixon made a late night telephone call to David Frost just before their last interview. (The late night telephone call in Frost/Nixon never happened.)

Jack Brennan was a humorless military man who had no problem bullying and threatening people in order to protect Nixon’s image. (Though he was a former Marine, he was known to be friendly and good natured person as well as quite funny. It was also said that Brennan might have been able to talk Nixon out of Watergate if he had served on his staff during the latter’s presidency.)

Miscellaneous:

TV reporter Sally Aiken claimed that Ken Clawson wrote the infamous “Canuck Letter.” (Her name was Marilyn Berger yet All the Presidents Men {the book} states that it was a female bookkeeper who isn’t named anyway so that could be forgiven.)

“The bookkeeper” wasn’t a particularly bright woman who didn’t play a vital role in uncovering the Watergate story. (While All the President’s Men downplays her role in the scandal, she was a very smart woman who played a critical role as a bookkeeper for Nixon’s reelection campaign under Maurice Stans. She had direct access to accounts and what was being done in spite of Richard Nixon. She contacted the FBI considerably earlier than her boss Herbert Sloan, informed investigators about money being disbursed to G. Gordon Liddy and others, along with the shredding of the ledgers and important documents that would incriminate the committee. Her name was Judy Hoback and Carl Bernstein probably didn’t have to speak very softly to her or use the first letters of her last name to coax verification of Nixon campaign members involved in illegal actions.)

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3 responses to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 85 – The Watergate Scandals

  1. I haven’t been in the U.S.A yet, but I watched some parts of this movie and now if someone say Nixon I suddenly though “the corrupt president”… And I see Nixon in Futurama like a corrupt, too. I want to say: in my country we had had a lot of Nixons, but we got something worst that it… We got people indeferent to the corruption problem…! Sorry for my English!

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