Study Guide

All the President's Men

All the President's Men Introduction


Release Year: 1976

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Writer: William Goldman, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (novel)

Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford


Tricky Dick isn't a Google search that's blocked from your school or workplace. And it isn't a delightful British dessert either: that would be Spotted Dick—seriously. (It's a kind of pudding with raisins. Yum?)

Even though it sounds X-rated, Tricky Dick is the sticky nickname for the 37th President of the United States: Richard Milhous Nixon. As Matt Groening of Simpsons fame said, this is the "most unfortunate name [he] could think of for a child." (Source)

Maybe because of that name, Richard Nixon turned out to be one of the U.S.'s most infamous presidents. If you know anything about Nixon, it's his "I am not a crook" quote, 20% of which is a bald-faced lie. (Hint: it's the "not" part.) You also probably know the term "Watergate." If you need to know more, check out our video on the scandal here.

In that video, we say about Nixon's involvement in the scandal as it broke, "There was no concrete proof…just yet." All the President's Men can best be summarized as the "just yet" part. This film's the incredible story of two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and their quest to uncover the truth behind the nation's greatest political scandal.

Woodward and Bernstein, who were known as "Woodstein" long before celeb portmanteaus like "Brangelina," published a tell-all book called All the President's Men in 1974. By publishing their hit book, the two men ended up not just reporting the news, but becoming part of the news themselves.

Like all of America at the time, Robert Redford was fascinated with the investigation, and purchased the rights to the film. Directed by Alan J. Pakula (Klute), distributed by Warner Bros. ("What's up, Dick?") and starring Redford and Dustin Hoffman (who wears his hair more feathered than when he played Tootsie), All the President's Men hit theaters in April 1976.

Instead of being about the scandal itself, which all the nation knew at that point, the movie's conflict centers on the reporters, who are trying to get information from an administration that won't talk. They're assisted by Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who has their back, and a shady informant who only goes by the name Deep Throat.

(Yup, we said Deep Throat. For a presidential scandal not involving Bill Clinton, there's an awful lot of X-rated talk here.)

  

Like the book, the movie resonated with the American public, who didn't appreciate being hoodwinked by their own government. It raked in over $70 million at the box office and took home Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor Jason Robards, who portrays Bradlee, and screenwriter William Goldman.

However, it was delivered a knockout punch by Rocky¸ which defeated it in the Best Picture category. The loss didn't affect the film's legacy, though. The biggest blow had already been delivered—from Woodward and Bernstein to the Nixon administration. Hard work and solid journalism defeated corruption and scandal in a total KO—maybe Woodward and Bernstein's theme song should be "Gonna Fly Now."

What is All the President's Men About and Why Should I Care?

There's a saying that "you can't fight city hall." But whoever coined that phrase was thinking small, because it could have as easily been "you can't fight the White House." It can make the so-called little guy feel helpless when they know that a people in charge are doing something wrong, but they often don't think they can do anything about it.

But what happens when city hall—or, in the case of the Watergate Scandal, the White House—is doing something worth fighting against?

All the President's Men shows us that, when justice is on the line, someone has to try. It's appropriate that both Rocky and All the President's Men came out in the same year, because both films are about underdogs. One of them went the distance with a patriotic blowhard who fancied himself the next George Washington…and the other fought Apollo Creed.

And here's the thing: Woodward and Bernstein, unlike our favorite Italian Stallion, were real dudes. These guys faced incredible odds while researching their story: silent witnesses, the disdain of other news publications, and, oh, the entire United States government seemingly working against them.

It was enough to drive lesser men crazy.

But Woodward and Bernstein aren't lesser men. In this film, we see that they were hungry reporters that struggled against massive obstacles to bring to light one of the most famous conspiracies in American politics. And they not only made the national news, they made history. We lived in an era of greater mistrust—and greater observation of the nuances of politicking—thanks to these two journalists.

All the President's Men is the story of a scandal. But it also demonstrates that, with a lot of persistence (and a lot of scribbling down notes) right can triumph over wrong in the end.

We're going to hand the mic over to the character of Ben Bradlee to let you know just how much "right" and "wrong" this film deals with:

"Nothing's riding on [Woodward and Bernstein's news story] except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country."

Yeah. That pretty much sums up why this movie is worth a watch. Or two. Or three.

Trivia

Charles Colson, the special counsel to the President, allegedly had a sign on his wall that said, "When you've got them by the balls…their hearts and minds will follow." Ouch. It appears to be a phrase originally popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, the least cuddly Teddy of all time. (Source)

When Carrie Fisher guest-starred on 30 Rock, she criticized Liz Lemon for not being political, as she was on her Laugh-In-style variety show. She shows us "the mailbox sketch that shocked America," and tells Lemon, "Don't you get it? The mailbox was Haldeman!" After watching All the President's Men, we still don't get the joke. Help us, Carrie Fisher. You're our only hope. (Source)

Who was Deep Throat? In 2005, almost thirty years since becoming the most famous secret informant in history, Deep Throat revealed his true identity as FBI agent Mark Felt. Now you don't have to Google "Deep Throat." You can thank us later. (Source)

The movie doesn't address the Nixon tapes, which came to light during the Watergate hearings in 1973. Nixon must have really loved the sound of his own voice, because he recorded over 3,000 hours of conversations. That's a lot of tape! Got four months to spare? You can listen to many of the recordings at nixontapes.org. (Source)

In the comedy Dick, Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams play two high-school girls who uncover the Watergate scandal and become Bob Woodward's anonymous source. Woodward (played by Will Ferrell) says he's keeping their identity secret because, "It's just too embarrassing." Good call, Bob. (Source)

All the President's Men Resources

Websites

Conflict of Interest
Who better to turn to for additional information behind the Watergate break-in than the Washington Post, the paper that broke the story in the first place?

There's Something in the Watergate
Watergate.info has, believe it or not, info about Watergate, including a picture of Deep Throat. (No, not that Deep Throat.)

Just the Fax
UT Austin had an exhibit of Watergate documents, but you can peep the top secret sheets online.

Book or TV Adaptations

Presidential Seal of Disapproval
The book has been around even longer than the movie, and it has had dozens of covers over the years. Our favorite is this one of Nixon in color, but looking shady, and all his men in sketchy black and white.

History Repeats Itself
You don't have to wait for a rerun to see the History Channel's version of how the Watergate scandal went down. It's online 24/7.

Articles and Interviews

Historical Caricatures
Cartoonist Michael Cavna writes about the Post leaving its iconic offices, and gives us a crazy comic parody of All the President's Men.

Over Achievers
The Academy of Achievement interviews the real Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, and they answer questions about paranoia, journalism ethics, and the consequences suffered by the men behind the break-in. (Perhaps there's an Academy of Underachievers with a profile of Nixon.)

Old News is Good News
Robert Redford is officially old enough to be interviewed by the AARP, but he still remembers some behind-the-scenes tidbits of ATPM (that's All the President's Men).

Video

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
Forty years after their investigation, Woodward and Bernstein talk about the Nixon tapes, which came to light during the Watergate hearings. The journalists know this video will be seen by the public, unlike Nixon and his recordings.

A New Discovery
Men. They're never satisfied with just telling their story once. Hence the Discovery channel special All the President's Men Revisited, featuring interviews with Woodward, Bernstein, and Redford, among others.

Audio

Ask Him No More Questions, He'll Still Tell You Lies
What would Woodward and Bernstein ask Nixon if they could ask him one question? "Why?" is their answer. Or their question. And Nixon's response would probably be "because."

Sausage Fest
Wait, there were women involved? With names? NPR's Kate Dailey illuminates the story of Judy Hoback, the bookkeeper who played critical roles in uncovering Nixon's corruption.

Images

They're Not Journalists, but They Play Them on TV
Pictured: Dustin Hoffman, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Robert Redford, Robert Redford's boss moustache.

White Strips
The Criterion Collection knows the criteria for a good DVD cover.