All the President's Men Summary
On July 17, 1972, five burglars break into the Watergate Hotel. A security guard notices the door open, and he alerts the cops. The cops catch them.
The end. Finish your popcorn and go home, folks.
Oh wait, that's the beginning of the movie? Usually the big heist happens at the end of a film. But we're just getting started.
Bob Woodward, junior reporter, is called by his editor at the Washington Post to truck on down to the courthouse for the arraignment of the crooks. ("We are not crooks!" is not a recommended defense here.) Woodward notices something fishy—the criminals, who are from Miami, already have a local attorney, even though none of them made a phone call. Yeah, something stinks here.
Things get even smellier when a fellow reporter finds a note in one of the burglar's notebooks: the name of a White House employee. To us, this seems as easy as a connect-the-dots puzzle made of two dots, but the correlation doesn't definitively indicate a cause. Woodward needs cold, hard proof to publish a story, but no one will talk.
His editor, Harry Rosenfeld, encourages him to keep reporting, and partners him with fellow journo Carl Bernstein. With their powers combined, they don't quite summon Captain Planet, but they do form the unbeatable team "Woodstein."
The two follow a long and convoluted trail. Along the way, doors are slammed in their faces and phones are hung up on them. Bernstein flirts with a personal assistant to get information, and he tricks a secretary to gain access to an ADA's office. Pretty sneaky, Carl.
Meanwhile, Woodward has an anonymous source who goes only by Deep Throat. Woodward meets him in a shadowy parking garage and Deep Throat gives him a variety of cryptic hints, like "follow the money." But follow it where, Mr. Throat? That's the real question.
This "money" leads Woodward and Bernstein to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. They are aptly nicknamed CREEP, and their task is to secure re-election for that creep Richard Nixon. The reporters learn that they will accomplish this using any means necessary, including blackmail, robbery, and maybe—maybe—even murder.
One key source is a former bookkeeper for CREEP. She's the only person to talk to Bernstein. He pushes and pushes and pushes her until she gives him the initials of high-ranking officials involved in the scandal and cover-up. It's like a game of charades. First word: sounds like smolitical. Second word: sounds like blurruption.
Woodward and Bernstein follow the money chain almost to the top of the administration: Nixon's Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. But the government is doing what it does best—denying everything. Their constant denials, and the fact that Woodward and Bernstein can't get any of their sources to put their names in the paper, make them seem like crazy people.
But national news editor Ben Bradlee believes Woodward and Bernstein. He pushes them harder to keep investigating. Reaching his breaking point, Woodward demands answers from Deep Throat, who confirms that Haldeman is the man behind the break-in. Finally! Why didn't you say that months ago, Mr. Throat?
Mr. Throat warns Woodward that his life is in danger, and Woodward becomes increasingly paranoid, watching every shadow as if Nixon might summon Freddy Kruger himself to slaughter him in his dreams. Bradlee encourages Woodward and Bernstein to remain fearless and write their story, which they do.
It's published on January 20, 1973. Within a year and a half, we learn through footnotes before the credits, the entire administration has toppled. Even Nixon himself. And all the president's horses (does he own horses?) and all the president's men couldn't put Nixon together again.
- We open looking at a foggy sky.
- Whoa, take cover. With a loud snap, giant letters fall from above.
- Then numbers.
- 1, 1972
- Ohhhh, it wasn't a sky after all. We were really close up on a piece of paper inside a typewriter.
- After the date is typed out, we see a helicopter land at 9:30 in front of Capitol Plaza.
- It's carrying the president, and the House of Representatives is waiting for him.
- President Nixon enters to thunderous applause.
- He's happy. So smiley, he's practically a walking emoji.
- But before he can address the room, we cut to black.
- Men in suits break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel. Suits don't seem to be good burglar attire. Were they in too big a hurry to change into a comfy ski mask after a hard day at the office?
- One of the men radios another group, and tells them, "We're home."
- Plainclothes cops are called to the scene.
- When the cops arrive, a man across the street from the hotel radios the burglars, informing them of the police presence.
- He tells them to be quiet, then he keeps radioing them asking if they're there. (No, you told them to be silent.)
- As the cops search the suite, the men in suits run and hide.
- They must never have played Sardines as kids, because they all try to hide under one desk and get caught.
- In the Washington Post newsroom, two men talk about the details of the case.
- Harry Rosenfeld, the editor, calls reporter Bob Woodward, informing him of the break-in at the Democratic headquarters.
- Carl Bernstein walks in and tells the editor he has a source at the Watergate, but the editor tells him to focus on his own assignments.
- Woodward goes to the court where the burglars are being arraigned.
- Woodward sits behind an attorney named Markham and asks him if he's there in relation to the burglary.
- Markham says, "I'm not here." That trick doesn't work when Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door, and it won't work now.
- Woodward continues to ask questions, and Markham says he isn't the attorney in the question. That would be Mr. Starkey.
- Woodward sidles over to question Starkey.
- Near the water fountain, Woodward approaches Markham. He got the identities of the burglars from Starkey.
- Woodward doesn't understand how the burglars have their own counsel if they never made a phone call.
- Markham still declines to comment.
- Woodward follows him back to the courtroom, and Markham reminds him that they're not his clients.
- He says he's simply an acquaintance of one of the men. This is called pleading the Gotye defense.
- The men enter the room, and Mr. Starkey says he represents all five.
- The accused state their names and occupations.
- Bernard Barker: "Anti-Communist."
- James McCord: Security Consultant. Not just anywhere, but for the CIA.
- Frank A Sturgis: Salvage Operator.
- We don't hear the other men talk.
- Woodward returns to the newsroom, and the reporters speculate they were there to bug the room.
- If so, why?
- Woodward returns to his apartment and looks at notes while snacking on a delicious box of Ritz crackers. Ritz, your favorite round, buttery, flaky cracker, brought to you by Nabisco. (Yes, product placement existed even in the 1970's)
- He receives a phone call from his colleague Bachinski at police HQ, letting him know that strange entries were found in two of the men's address books:
- "HH at WH" and "Howard Hunt, W. House"
- Woodward calls the White House asking to speak to Hunt.
- He's transferred to Charles Colson's office.
- He's told Hunt also works at Mullen & Company, Public Relations.
- Woodward asks Harry, the editor, who is Charles Colson?
- He's special counsel to President Nixon. The pieces are falling into place.
- Woodward calls Hunt and asks him why his name was in the address books of the burglars.
- "No comment."
- He make some more phone calls, including one to a publishing house that said he wrote spy novels, and another that reveals Howard Hunt was with the CIA. Shocking.
- After checking as many sources as possible, Woodward fills the chief in on all he's found.
- A PR man had told Woodward that the White House denies all involvement in the Watergate break-in.
- Woodward finds the comment suspicious because he's asked about Howard Hunt. Not Watergate. Bum bum bummmm.
- Howard Simons, the managing editor, tells Harry to kick Woodward off the story and get a top political reporter instead.
- Harry disagrees, because he knows Woodward is a hard worker.
- So is Bernstein, even if he is a little kooky (according to Harry) and has ridiculous hair (according to us).
- In the newsroom, Woodward sees Bernstein pick his story up from the copy desk.
- Bernstein tells Woodward he's just "polishing" the story for him.
- Woodward concedes that Bernstein's version is better.
- Harry walks by and tells them that they're on the story together. #Woodstein is born.
- Bernstein flirts with a girl who allegedly worked for Colson.
- She denies it. But she worked for an assistant. An assistant's assistant.
- The rumor around the office was that the White House was investigating Ted Kennedy.
- Allegedly Hunt checked out all the books at the library on Kennedy.
- Bernstein calls the White House library, and the librarian offers to give him all of Hunt's records (and his height, weight, blood type and inseam. When they say "public library" they really mean public.)
- However, when the librarian returns, she sounds nervous and weird and she denies having a card for Hunt, or even knowing him.
- Bernstein calls Nixon's spokesman, Ken Clawson, and asks for clarification.
- But like the second to smallest little piggy, he gets none.
- Clawson calls back and says the librarian denied ever speaking to Bernstein.
- Woodward and Bernstein rush from the office to the library faster than anyone has ever ran to a library before.
- They find a librarian who provides them with every request from the library in the past year.
- Time to flip through them all.
- All that flip-flip-flipping and they find no-no-nothing.
- Back in the newsroom, they work on their story. Wonder how many ways they can find to say "no comment"?
- Harry presents the story to Ben Bradlee, the executive editor, who doesn't think it belongs on the front page.
- Bernstein is angry, but Woodward agrees with Bradlee. The story isn't yet where it should be.
- Woodward goes into a phone booth. Will he come out as Superman?!
- Nope, he's just making a phone call.
- His unnamed source tells Woodward not to call him again.
- However, that night Woodward gets a note from his source filled with secret codes.
- If he wants to talk, Woodward should put a flower pot with a red flag on his balcony.
- He does.
- Or maybe he's just really into apartment gardening?
- He meets his mysterious source in a parking garage, where the source is smoking a cigarette in the shadows.
- Woodward says he's stuck, and he assures the man that he can be trusted not to quote him.
- Woodward tells the cigarette-smoking man what he knows so far.
- He's also been hearing about future Fear Factor contestant G. Gordon Liddy, but isn't sure what his connection may be to the story.
- His smoking source tells him to "follow the money."
- The next day the Times does a story about calls from the burglars to a G.O.P. Committee to Re-Elect the president.
- Bernstein finds out that the Miami DA is trying to find out if any Florida laws have been broken, because the burglars are from Miami.
- Bernstein makes an appointment with Dardis, the DA.
- However the secretary doesn't let him in to see Dardis.
- He leaves, but he calls pretending to be a clerk with urgent records for Dardis.
- The secretary leaves to retrieve them, and Bernstein makes his way to Dardis's office.
- Dardis attempts to blow Bernstein off, but eventually gives him Barker's phone records and bank records.
- Let this be a lesson, Shmoopers: don't do anything illegal, or someone will find out how much you spend on fast food every week.
- One of the checks is from Kenneth H. Dahlberg, and Bernstein thinks that name is important.
- Bernstein phones Woodward with the name so he can get on Dahlberg's trail.
- A secretary finds a picture of him, but no other info. He's from Minnesota.
- Woodward finds a phone number for Dahlberg in a Minneapolis phone book.
- Dahlberg actually answers the phone, and says that all his money is turned over to the Committee to Re-Elect.
- Suddenly, Dahlberg blurts out that his neighbor's wife has been kidnapped. Minneapolis is a lot more dangerous than we thought.
- He hangs up.
- Woodward calls the Committee to Re-Elect the President to speak with Clark MacGregor, head of the committee.
- MacGregor says that John Mitchell was head of the committee then.
- Dahlberg calls back—guess the kidnapping isn't that urgent—and Woodward takes the call.
- Dahlberg says he's caught in the middle of something, but he doesn't know what.
- He says he gave to cashier's check to Maurice Stans, the head of finance for Nixon.
- Rock, meet hard place.
- At a news meeting, the executives argue about the Watergate story and whether or not they should have two relatively inexperienced journalists (#Woodstein, y'all) on it.
- The editor-in-chief doesn't even believe the story.
- Bradlee calls a meeting with Woodward and Bernstein.
- Bradlee isn't happy that Woodward has an unnamed source named "Deep Throat" and that the White House denies everything they write.
- He wants good sources. With names. Real names, not porn film names.
- They approach Kay Eddy, who works in the newsroom, because she was engaged to a guy on the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
- They ask her for a list of the people who work there.
- But she doesn't want to see that guy again.
- Woodward walks away. He tells Bernstein that "it's over." Like disco and bell bottoms.
- However Kay soon delivers the list of names. Kay is a-okay.
- Woodward and Bernstein start calling up people on the list.
- One woman says the attorney general John Mitchell was there one night, supervising the shredding of documents.
- Woodward still thinks they don't have enough facts to continue. If only they could unshred the documents…but they don't have that much scotch tape.
- They go back to question the woman.
- She says, "Please go away before they see you."
- They? Who's they?
- She starts to cry. Way to go, guys.
- Bernstein thinks this is evidence of a cover-up, but Woodward wants more hard evidence.
- Cue door-slamming montage showing us the gathering of evidence is not going well.
- After Woodward writes about a delayed Federal Audit Report, Bernstein makes a house call to another woman on their list.
- She's a bookkeeper, but she says she never worked for Sloan or Stans. (Stans is a name.)
- Bernstein knows she's lying, and he pushes her on the money that can't be accounted for.
- The woman says that there was a list of fifteen names, and each person was supposed to receive a chunk of that money.
- She says Hugh Sloan quit because his wife pressured him to do what's right.
- Bernstein suggests Sloan's a fall guy for John Mitchell.
- She suggests Mitchell and Liddy planned the break-in, and then she says it would be "beautiful" if they could get John Mitchell (and freaking gorgeous if they could do it while listening to Joni Mitchell).
- Bernstein appears to be on the right track.
- Bernstein takes all his notes about the slush fund to Woodward. Slush fund? We could go for a slushie about now. Blue raspberry, please.
- The woman gave Bernstein some initials, but she wouldn't give names.
- They think L is Liddy, P is Porter, and M is Magruder.
- Bernstein offers Woodward a cookie. "I don't want a cookie." He must be really stressed to not want a cookie.
- Woodward and Bernstein decide to pay her another visit.
- They give her the ol' good cop, bad cop routine. Well, it's more like good reporter, bad reporter.
- She confirms that this episode is brought to us by the letter P for Porter and M for Macgruder. Jackpot.
- Next stop: the Sloan residence.
- Sloan, played by a young Seventh Heaven dad, lets them in.
- He says he believes in Richard Nixon, and that Nixon didn't know anything about the Watergate break-in.
- However, he says that the White House never encouraged them to come forward with the truth.
- The silence itself is a cover-up, in Bernstein's opinion.
- Sloan says that Colson wasn't involved, but he won't confirm who is.
- Woodward asks Sloan how it worked when he handed out the money.
- Sloan elaborates, and says John Mitchell would order him to hand out the money, and that's how it worked.
- They fill in the executives back at the Post.
- Bradlee isn't happy. "Goddammit, when is somebody gonna go on the record in this story?!" People are more tight-lipped about this than they are with Star Wars spoilers.
- Bernstein calls John Mitchell and asks for his comment on the story that he, the former attorney general, controlled a secret cash fund.
- His comment: "Jesus."
- And, "All that crap."
- We think that's a denial.
- After Bernstein hangs up the phone, Bradlee talks to the reporters.
- He asks Woodward if he trusts Deep Throat. He does.
- Bradlee says he hates trusting anybody, but he gives them the okay to run the story.
- With the John Mitchell expose hot off the presses, Vice President Agnew defends John Mitchell against the "unattributed report" on TV.
- However, Bradlee points out that the White House never once says the story is inaccurate.
- Bernstein's FBI source, Joe, talks to him, and is surprised that Bernstein knows info that even the FBI doesn't.
- Mainly because all the FBI interviews with the Committee are conducted with their attorney present, who makes sure their answers slyly evade the truth.
- At night, Bernstein tells Woodward he got a tip from Alex Shipley, the ADA of Tennessee.
- Allegedly Shipley's friend Donald Segretti were recruited to sabotage Democratic candidates.
- Woodward and Bernstein find travel records for Segretti, which make it look like he traveled all over as part of this sabotage campaign.
- Bernstein visits Segretti to get him to go on the record.
- As they talk, Segretti starts to cry because he'll probably go to jail. Somebody get this guy some cheese to go with his whine.
- Segretti got the job from Dwight Chapin, and Segretti says he and Dwight were just doing what they were told.
- Bernstein wants to know, "Told by who?"
- Woodward talks to Deep Throat about everything Bernstein found out from Segretti.
- But Deep Throat won't give him a specific name of who in the White House is behind the whole plot.
- Woodward also wants to know why the FBI isn't pursuing this more closely. Someone ordered them not to, but who?
- They're ending up with more questions than answers here.
- Suddenly, a car tears out of the parking garage. Woodward watches it go, and when he turns back around, Deep Throat is gone.
- Woodward and Bernstein are told by a fellow reporter that Ken Clawson wrote "the Canuck letter" a fake letter used to sabotage democratic candidate Edmund Muskie.
- Woodward calls Clawson, who issues what Woodward calls "a non-denial denial."
- Clawson immediately calls Sally Aikin, the reporter who told them about the letter.
- Woodward and Bernstein listen in to the phone call.
- The reporters relay this info to Bradlee, and Ken Clawson calls as they're talking to him.
- Clawson says he never wrote the letter, and he doesn't want his wife to find out he was in Sally's apartment.
- Bradlee says he won't print that Clawson was in Sally's apartment…as long as he tells him what he said in Sally's apartment. Smooth move, Bradlee.
- Woodward calls Bernstein, saying he believes Haldeman, Nixon's Chief of Staff, is the fifth name to control the fund.
- It has to be him, because the only person above him is Nixon. He's the highest person in charge.
- They decide to pay Sloan another visit.
- But Sloan refuses to be their source on Haldeman.
- The reporters get tricky with their words, like reporters do, and ask Sloan if they'd be in trouble if they ran a story naming Haldeman.
- Sloan says, "I would have no problems if you ran a story like that." Why can't anyone give a straight answer around here?
- In the newsroom, the executives argue over whether or not to print the story.
- Bradlee deems it "too thin" to print without another source. Thin-shaming is not cool, Bradlee.
- They scramble for a source.
- Bernstein calls his guy at justice, who confirms the story by not denying it.
- Even though this guy doesn't have a name, Bradlee agrees to run the story. Off it goes.
- The next morning, he calls them into his office.
- In a deposition, Sloan has denied naming Haldeman.
- The White House press secretary, Ron Ziegler, attacks Ben Bradlee, saying the Post's story is incorrect.
- Clark MacGregor, Nixon's campaign manager, also condemns the Post.
- Woodward and Bernstein double-team Joe, the FBI source.
- They ask if they're being set up.
- Joe's response: "Fuck you." Wait, is that a yes or a no?
- Despite all this, Bradlee says he'll stand by the story.
- Woodward meets Deep Throat, who criticizes Woodward for not only letting Haldeman slip away, but also getting people to feel sorry for him.
- However he won't tell Woodward if he was actually wrong.
- Woodward is fed up with Deep Throat's games. ("And I'm not inviting you over to play Catan ever again, Throat.")
- So Deep Throat finally confirms the whole thing was Haldeman's operation. Why didn't he say this from the very beginning?
- He continues, saying the whole government is involved in this cover-up.
- And finally, he says Woodward's life may be at stake. In other words, "Woodward, you in danger, girl."
- Woodward rushes to Bernstein's apartment, where he blares classical music in case they're being bugged. Wiretappers hate Beethoven.
- They type to each other on the typewriter.
- Bernstein types that Sloan would name Haldeman to the Grand Jury, but no one asked him! His exclamation point, not ours.
- The reporters visit Bradlee at home, and talk to him outside in case his home is being tapped, too.
- They fill him in on the scale of the situation, and the danger of it.
- Bradlee says half the country doesn't even know what Watergate is. "Nobody gives a shit."
- He tells them to go home and rest up anyway.
- But only for fifteen minutes.
- "Nothing is riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters."
- Looks like they still have their jobs.
- On a small TV in the newsroom, Nixon takes the oath of office.
- Everyone watches, except for Woodward and Bernstein, who type furiously at their desks.
- The final words are Nixon's: "So help me, God." At least he didn't try "sock it to me" again.
- However, the wire shows us a quick succession of headlines.
- Basically everyone Woodward and Bernstein suspected was behind the cover-up was actually behind the cover-up.
- They're all found guilty.
- And finally, Nixon resigns.
- Our boys were right all along.