Bob Woodward is a busy little beaver, gnawing away at the base of the Watergate scandal until the dang Nixon presidency collapses into a pile of splinters.
In All the President's Men, Woodward is the first journalist to smell something rotten in Washington. He notices many weird details surrounding the Watergate break-in: the crooks have their own local attorney, they're connected to the government, and the current administration seems oddly unconcerned. All these details seem apparent in retrospect, but at the time, Woodward was the only one who noticed. No paper besides the Washington Post covered this story in such detail.
One reason the story is thoroughly investigated is because Woodward's a new reporter. He's "hungry" according to Rosenfeld, and he has something to prove, and he wants to do this story justice. As the story takes off, the editors don't want a youngster on it, and they often threaten to remove him from the story…so he has to make sure to get it right.
A problem for Woodward is his reliance on unnamed sources, like his cigarette-smoking man, Deep Throat. But Woodward knows this is a weak point of his journalism, and he tries extra hard to get proof:
WOODWARD: If there was just a piece of paper. […] We've got to get something on paper.
In today's paperless society, replace "paper" with "blurry surveillance camera video." Now, if only Woodward could get Nixon to sign a piece of paper/say in a blurry video, "Yes, I did it!"
Besides the small matter of trying to take down the government, Woodward's biggest conflict is an internal one. The deeper he gets into the investigation, the more stubborn all the sources become. No one wants to put their name on the story. Woodward probably feels the way Mulder feels on the X-Files—he wants to believe, but he wonders if he might be barking up the wrong tree.
At his lowest point, when none of his sources will go on the record, Woodward makes a confession.
WOODWARD: I don't have a gut feeling, and I wish I did.
Bob, honey, you can't print gut feelings either.
But Woodward utilizes his frustration and turns it against Deep Throat at the film's climax to get him to stop being sketchy and to get him to finally tell him the truth.
WOODWARD: Listen, I'm tired of your chicken-shit games! I don't want hints. I need to know what you know.
It was either that or play keep-away with his cigarettes until he talked.
Robert Redford isn't a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but he plays one in this movie. How close does he come to the real thing?
In the film, Woodward keeps his fear and paranoia in check. In the newsroom or when interviewing people, he seems cool and calm. He makes more phone calls than a telemarketer and gets more doors slammed in his face than a Jehovah's witness, yet he never cracks. As they'd say in the 70's, he's a cool cat.
But curiosity killed the cat. And we do see Woodward's paranoia manifest itself in quiet scenes at the end of the film. He runs through a dark alleyway and turns around, thinking he might be pursued. He also blares classical music and writes notes to Bernstein, afraid they might be wiretapped.
It's difficult to say if he's just playing it safe, or letting his paranoia get the best of him. Bradlee isn't too happy to be woken by a knock on his door in the middle of the night, but Bernstein offers an explanation.
BERNSTEIN: Woodward says phones aren't safe.
The paranoia makes for good drama, but it might be over-exaggerated, according to Woodward himself. In an interview, he admits that Deep Throat probably didn't mean that their lives were in danger, just their reputations and careers. Way to be a drama queen, Woodward. (Source )
Considering the government couldn't even cover up a break-in, we doubt they'd be capable of organizing a hit on these men. But you never know. Still, as inept as the Nixon administration is, governments don't take themselves down. We need journalists like Woodward and Bernstein to chip away at them until they crumble.
Woodward and Bernstein are like that other set of crime fighters from the 1970's: Charlie's Angels. Working for the editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, Woodward and Bernstein are Bradlee's Angels (and Bernstein even has the feathered Farrah hair).
Just as the Angels had their own personalities, so do Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein is a more veteran reporter than Woodward is, but he's still eager for success and fame…and fame. A line early on clues us in on Bernstein's style.
ROSENFELD: Bernstein, why don't you finish one story before trying to get on another?
He's hardworking, but he also tends to get on people's nerves, and initially grinds Woodward's gears by correcting his story.
BERNSTEIN: If you can't talk in specifics, you shouldn't say anything.
Unlike that person in your writing class too sensitive to take criticism, Woodward knows good advice when he hears it, and he begrudgingly admits that Bernstein is the better writer. With Woodward's investigative skills, they make a good team. They're an absolutely dynamic duo.
We don't mean to imply that Bernstein's a bad investigator. He is good at that, too. But Bernstein has no problem crossing lines. He flirts with sources to get information. He tricks a secretary to get into the Miami ADA's office and retrieve some files. And he pressures an FBI agent to get insider information.
In one memorable scene, Woodward and Bernstein interview a fellow reporter who's had a sexual relationship with someone close to the Watergate scandal. Instead of pushing her, Woodward stops her.
WOODWARD: We don't want you to do anything that would embarrass you…or that you don't feel right about.
But Bernstein has no qualms about pushing, and he gets irritated with Woodward for going easy on her:
BERNSTEIN: Don't let her just get off. I think she was going to say something. […] She was going to give us what we want.
Based on quotes like this (and Bernstein's general attitude toward women), it should come as no surprise that he was a serial womanizer. And when your second wife is screenwriter Nora Ephron, the whole world ends up finding out about it. Ephron wrote about his womanizing ways in a memoir of her own. (Source)
Yes, Bernstein: women can write too.
But Bernstein's a passionate guy, even in ways that have nothing to do with impressing the ladeez. He has a hotter temper than Woodward does, and tends to get angry, even if he doesn't direct his anger toward other people. Instead, he prefers to let off steam to Woodward, like after Bradlee criticizes the duo for not having enough sources to print.
BERNSTEIN: Asshole. Bradlee's just sticking up for the Kennedys.
(Um, don't get too wrapped up in these conspiracy theories, Carl. You already have your hands full with Deep Throat's secret identity.)
But Woodward agrees with Bradlee. They don't have enough sources. His cooler temper balances out Bernstein's:
WOODWARD: Do you think bitching about it is going to get the story where we want it?
Everyone needs a friend willing to tell them to cool their jets. Woodward and Bernstein are like yin and yang. Peanut butter and jelly. Sonic and Knuckles. They complete each other. At least in the movie—in real-life, they weren't so buddy-buddy. (Source)
We know: that's like finding out that Harry and Ron actually hate each other, but the truth is hard to take sometimes. And Bernstein and Woodward would want to truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to be told.
If Woodward and Bernstein are like the Harry Potter and Ron Weasley of Washington DC, Bradlee's their Dumbledore.
He guides them down the right path, while expecting them to do all the hard work themselves. And he's old and gray, too. All that missing is a beard. And a robe. And a staff. And magical powers…
He gives Woodward and Bernstein grief because he has to. It's his job as editor. Every time Woodward and Bernstein turn in a new article, Bradlee wants more. He often gives them the reality check they need.
BRADLEE: You haven't got it. A librarian and a secretary saying Hunt looked at a book. That's not good enough.
He wants more sources, more information, and most importantly: more names. It gets frustrating for everyone, especially Bradlee, who snaps at one point:
BRADLEE: Goddammit! When is somebody gonna go on the record in this story?
You know someone choked on their coffee when he yelled like that. But the reason he gets so frustrated is because he actually trusts the younger reporters:
BRADLEE: I can't do the reporting for my reporters, which means I have to trust them. And I hate trusting anybody.
If their story turns out to be a crock of manure, it's Bradlee's butt on the line. He's the face of the Washington Post, and you know he didn't get there by fudging his way to the top. He knows the value of good journalism, and he expects all of his reporters to live up to his standards.
As Woodward and Bernstein encounter more dead ends, everyone gets frustrated, Bradlee included. But by this point, he trusts them whole-heartedly. They haven't let him down yet. So even though they don't have the concrete evidence he would prefer, Bradlee utters a line that you know Dumbledore would say if the Harry Potter books weren't targeted toward youngsters:
BRADLEE: Fuck it. Let's stand by the boys.
It's a final vote of confidence that is priceless to Woodward and Bernstein.
Bradlee would be the type of teacher who has terrible scores on RateMyProfessor because he actually expects people to do their work. But under his guidance, Woodward and Bernstein excel.
No, you haven't accidentally clicked over to a part of the internet you don't want your mom to see. Bob Woodward's nameless informant has more in common with the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files than the infamous Linda Lovelace porno his nickname is from.
The real-life "Deep Throat" didn't reveal his true identity—FBI agent Mark Felt—until 2005. In the film, Deep Throat is kept secret by Woodward.
WOODWARD: I'll never quote you. I wouldn't quote you even as an anonymous source. You'd be on deep background. You can trust me. You know that.
Deep Throat takes his role as covert operative very seriously, meeting Woodward only in dark parking garages and cloaking himself in cigarette smoke. You always expect him to throw a smoke bomb and disappear into thin air like a ninja. In one scene, Woodward turns away for a second, and when he turns back, he's gone.
If this were a David Fincher movie, we'd be suspicious that Deep Throat existed at all. The film uses these mysterious scenes to create a feeling of suspense.
But we know from real life that Deep Throat does exist, although he only parcels out hints to Bob Woodward in little cryptic bits. He's like the Old Man in the cave in Legend of Zelda. Pop quiz: Two of the follow lines are from the Old Man in the cave, one is from Deep Throat. Which one is Deep Throat's quote?
A. It's dangerous to go alone! Take this.
B. Master using it and you can have this.
C. Follow the money.
The answer is…
DEEP THROAT: Follow the money.
Deep Throat's an expert in giving Woodward hints that frustrate him just as much as they help. Woodward can't publish anything he says, and he often can't figure out where he's being led. Basically, Deep Throat frustrates Woodward by being more cryptic than a Sudoku puzzle on Friday.
WOODWARD: All we've got are pieces. We can't seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like.
Finally, after much run-around, Deep Throat confirms that Haldeman was behind the break-in. Come on dude, why didn't you say that in first place?
Here's a tip from former House speaker Tip O'Neill: "All politics are local." Even the national Watergate scandal started off as local news.
In the context of All the President's Men, Harry Rosenfeld is Ben Bradlee, Lite. Rosenfeld is the local news editor who originally assigns Woodward to the story, before it becomes a national sensation. Early in the film, he's set up as a mentor figure, doling out bon mots (like a bon-bon but not as delicious):
ROSENFELD: I'm not interested in what you think is obvious. I'm interested in what you know.
He also isn't as harsh a critic as Bradlee, because local news doesn't have the same high stakes as national news. And once the story becomes national, Rosenfeld practically disappears from the movie. We think he'd be fine with that. In real life, Rosenfeld retired from the Post to head a local paper in Albany, New York. After all, he's a local boy at heart. (Source)
Being a bookkeeper isn't a very dangerous job. If you want action-packed adventure, you're better off as a fighter pilot, arctic base jumper, or hoverboard dancer.
But after watching All the President's Men, we can add bookkeeper of the Committee to Re-Elect the President to the list of suspense-filled careers. The bookkeeper is scared.
BOOKKEEPER: A lot of people are watching me. They know I know a lot.
Maybe because he isn't the one in danger, Bernstein pushes and pushes and pushes her until she cracks, becoming the only person from inside the committee to speak to the reporters. Her information is critical to cracking the story open, but she feels more like a victim than a hero because of her treatment.
The film doesn't even give her a name. In real life, her name is Judy Hoback, and she said and she later said that Woodward and Bernstein "were pushy young men. I was really scared and they played on that." (Source)
The film uses clever camera angles to show the bookkeeper's reluctance to talk to Bernstein. She's positioned behind a banister, as if she is behind bars, caged off. We can't even see her face. But as Bernstein chips away at her defenses, the camera gets closer to her until she finally spills the beans.
On the Down Low. Nobody is Supposed to Know
If anyone wants to make an All the President's Men computer game, in the style of Telltale's popular Walking Dead game the writing would be easy. The story is already filled with dozens of secondary characters called CREEPs, which is a great name for a zombie-type character. (If they bite you, you transform into a Richard Nixon lookalike.)
Proving that truth is stranger than fiction, the corrupt Committee to Re-Elect the President is given the appropriate acronym of CREEP. If this were a novel, the author would be accused of being cheesy and unimaginative. But this is real life, not fantasy.
The vast majority of characters in All the President's Men exist because they existed in real life. They're sources of information for our main characters, and nothing more. Here are two the real-life figures who show up to spout some info in All the President's Men.
Hugh Sloan is treasurer of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. He wants to tell the truth, but fears the repercussions of it. He's honest with the information he does tell the reporters, although that isn't much.
Second is Donald Segretti, who seems to be a professional troublemaker. His job is to literally manufacture scandals for the democrats. (We bet he wishes he could have done his job in the Twitterverse, and not in the analog 70's.)
One person we never see in All the President's Men is the POTUS: Richard Nixon. Nixon is like the Godot we're all waiting for, and he never shows up.