ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991, the Press & Politics (the Watergate scandal, Nixon, Woodward & Bernstein);
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage; Teamwork;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Fairness; Citizenship.
AGE; 12+; MPAA Rating — PG;
Drama; 1976; 135 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
THE BEST OF TWM
ONE OF THE BEST! This movie is on TWM’s short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level. This iconic film is strikingly accurate and is used by journalism professors in colleges to demonstrate the hard work of investigative reporting. It shows the best of journalism. Most Americans view the Watergate Scandal through the prism of this film.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary (because the film is like a documentary in its accuracy); and
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
This movie describes how two young reporters from the Washington Post broke and pursued the story of the Watergate scandal (1972 – 1975). All the President’s Men has become the way that many, if not most, Americans remember this important event in U.S. history.
However, “All the President’s Men” describes itself as the tale of the downfall of President Richard Nixon, but the true focus of the film is the work by the press that started the process that led to the President’s resignation. The film ignores the important and necessary contributions of other persons and institutions in exposing the scandal and bringing President Nixon and his co-conspirators to justice. Teachers using this film should add descriptions of the role played by other institutions of government in unraveling the scandal. See Helpful Background Section.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1976 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Robards), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Sound; 1976 New York Film Critics Awards: Best Film, Best Director (Pakula), Best Supporting Actor (Robards); 1976 Writers Guild of America Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay; 1976 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Pakula), Best Supporting Actress (Alexander), Best Film Editing.
Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards Jr., Martin Balsam, Jane Alexander, Hal Holbrook, F. Murray Abraham, Stephen Collins, Lindsay Crouse.
Alan J. Pakula.
Benrstein — the Reporters
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
All the President’s Men is an excellent way to introduce an important episode in American history in which a President and his co-conspirators attempted the wholesale subversion of the U.S. Constitution and the democratic process. It accurately describes the work of newspaper reporters investigating criminal activities of high government officials. It displays the inner workings of a major newspaper.
The discussion questions and assignments in this Learning Guide will assist teachers in maximizing the educational benefits of the film.
MODERATE. The movie contains a substantial amount of profanity, with the “F” word used frequently.
This is a great film to show children who are learning about 20th century U.S. history or who are interested in a career in journalism. Before watching the movie, tell them that it shows how two young reporters in their late 20s started the process that forced the most powerful man in the world to give up power and leave office in disgrace. After watching the movie be sure to tell your children that the reporters were not alone in trying to stop corruption in the government; there were many heroes in the Watergate saga. They include witnesses who talked to the reporters or came forward to testify before Congress or in Court, other reporters who pursued stories related to the scandal, the Senate investigating committee, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee that recommended articles of impeachment, U.S. District Judge John Sirica (who pressured the Watergate burglars to reveal much about the conspiracy and who ordered President Nixon to turn over recordings of White House conversations that turned out to show his criminal activity), and many more. All of these people played important roles in calling President Nixon and his aides to account for their crimes. Children might also be interested in the identity of Deep Throat.
The efforts to make the movie accurate were truly extraordinary. Woodward and Bernstein reviewed the script and insisted that each scene be accurate or, where accuracy had to be sacrificed to the needs of the narrative, that the scenes were consistent with the characters and events involved. The actors, Redford and Hoffman, would consult with Woodward and Bernstein on many of the scenes. In interviews, the principals have complimented the movie on its accuracy. For example, Ben Bradlee (editor of the Washington Post) and Carl Bernstein, when interviewed on the History Channel, stated that while the screenplay did not repeat their exact words, the film accurately portrayed the events that occurred. Bradlee stated that the film was like a documentary in its adherence to the truth.
OTHER PEOPLE AND INSTITUTIONS WHO PLAYED IMPORTANT ROLES IN UNRAVELING THE SCANDAL, FORCING THE RESIGNATION OF THE PRESIDENT, AND AND BRINGING MANY OF THE CO-CONSPIRATORS TO JUSTICE
Woodward and Bernstein got the ball rolling and kept pursuing the story. However, Richard Nixon would have succeeded in his subversion of democracy and served out his full second term if other people and institutions of American society had not stepped up to the plate and performed their duties in important and sometimes courageous ways. These include the following:
- Citizens and public servants, including W. Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”), who came forward with information for the press, sometimes at great risk to their careers;
- The witnesses who testified truthfully, again sometimes at great risk to their careers;
- Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post, and Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post, who withstood immense pressure from the Nixon Administration and allowed Woodward and Bernstein to pursue their investigation;
- Other investigative reporters including Seymour Hersh, who pursued the story and contributed to the investigation; Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer who hosted the PBS gavel to gavel coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings;
- U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica who pressured the Watergate burglars to reveal what they knew about the conspiracy and who later ordered President Nixon to turn over recordings of White House conversations that turned out to show Nixon’s criminal activity;
- The Senate Watergate Committee, known officially as the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, its Chairman Sam Ervin and its ranking member, Howard Baker (later U.S. Secretary of State), who investigated the scandal and held televised hearings;
- The House Judiciary Committee, its chairman Peter Rodino, and its ranking member Edward Huthinson, and chief counsel John Doar, who conducted a bipartisan, disciplined, and leak-free impeachment investigation;
- The Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski who pursued the investigation and prosecuted the criminals;
- Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, both of whom resigned rather than obey President Nixon’s order to fire Special Prosecutor Cox; these resignations and the ultimate firing of Cox by then Solicitor General Robert Bork were called “the Saturday Night Massacre;” and
- Republican leaders who looked at the evidence and made independent decisions that Nixon was guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and who convinced him to resign.
DEEP THROAT, HERO OR VILLAIN?
In June of 2005, after more than 30 years of anonymity, when Deep Throat was 91 years old and suffered from dementia, his family disclosed his identity. He was W. Mark Felt, who had been second in command of the FBI during much of the Watergate period. Here are some highlights of Mr. Felt’s career:
- Over a 31 year career, from 1942 to 1973, Mr. Felt worked his way up the FBI career ladder. By 1972 Mr. Felt was third in command of the Bureau. J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the FBI and built the organization. Hoover kept secret files on many political leaders, including presidents, and used those files to keep his post at the FBI. Few dared speak against him when he was alive, but after he died many of his abuses of power became known and his reputation was badly tarnished. However, Mr. Felt always remained loyal to Hoover and to Hoover’s legacy at the FBI.
- J. Edgar Hoover died in office on May 2, 1972. His Associate Director, Clyde A. Tolson, had been in failing health and he resigned a week later. Mr. Felt was the logical choice to move up to the post of director, and he lobbied for the job. However, President Nixon wanted to control the FBI as he controlled the CIA, the Justice Department, and other parts of the government. See, for example, Oval Office Transcript (Nixon and Haldeman, June 23, 1972) . He appointed a political loyalist, L. Patrick Gray, III, as acting FBI director. Mr. Felt, now second in command at the FBI, was disappointed and angry. He was also concerned about Nixon’s attempt to interfere with the independence of the Bureau. During his tenure as acting director, Mr. Gray was absent from Washington much of the time, either because of illness or while traveling to FBI field offices. In Mr. Gray’s absence, the administration of the FBI was left to Mr. Felt. Mr. Gray later resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that on instructions of the White House he had burned files that incriminated a White House aide.
- Mr. Felt served as Woodward’s deep background source on Watergate beginning in June of 1972. During that time, he was suspected by the Nixon White House of being Deep Throat, but he was defended by Mr. Gray. During 1972 and 1973 Mr. Felt was placed in charge of several attempts to find leaks from the FBI. In this capacity, he was able to deflect attention away from himself. See How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI.
- From the beginning, Mr. Felt established strict ground rules with Bob Woodward: he would not provide information, and he could never be quoted; he would confirm facts that they had obtained elsewhere and occasionally add some perspective.
- In the early 1970s, the Weather Underground, a small domestic terrorist organization, had planted bombs at the Capitol, the State Department, and the Pentagon. On nine occasions in 1972 and 1973, Mr. Felt and other FBI administrators authorized FBI agents to break into homes of persons linked to the Weather Underground without a search warrant.
- In 1976, many FBI agents were under investigation for their roles in the “black bag jobs”. Mr. Felt publicly announced that he had ordered the break-ins. He contended that individual agents had merely been following orders and should not be prosecuted. He claimed that the black bag jobs were justified and stated that he would do it again if faced with the same circumstances. Admitting that the break-ins were “extralegal,” he asserted that they protected the “greater good”. Mr. Felt and another FBI official, Edward S. Miller, were indicted, tried, and convicted for the conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by searching their homes without warrants. Seven hundred current and former FBI agents demonstrated on Mr. Felt’s behalf outside the courthouse. Ironically, Richard Nixon and several of his assistants testified for the defense at the trial. Their claim was that black bag jobs had been authorized by American presidents in foreign intelligence and counterespionage investigations beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nonetheless, the jury convicted Felt and Miller.
- In 1980, Felt and Miller were pardoned by President Reagan. The proclamation of the pardon stated that:
Their convictions in the U.S. District Court, on appeal at the time I signed the pardons, grew out of their good-faith belief that their actions were necessary to preserve the security interests of our country. The record demonstrates that they acted not with criminal intent, but in the belief that they had grants of authority reaching to the highest levels of government.
America was at war in 1972, and Messrs. Felt and Miller followed procedures they believed essential to keep the Director of the FBI, the Attorney General, and the President of the United States advised of the activities of hostile foreign powers and their collaborators in this country. They have never denied their actions, but, in fact, came forward to acknowledge them publicly in order to relieve their subordinate agents from criminal actions.
Four years ago, thousands of draft evaders and others who violated the Selective Service laws were unconditionally pardoned by my predecessor. America was generous to those who refused to serve their country in the Vietnam war. We can be no less generous to two men who acted on high principle to bring an end to the terrorism that was threatening our nation.
- The pardon was criticized as a political gesture because President Reagan had not consulted the prosecutors before issuing the pardon. (The usual process for issuing a pardon is for the President to receive input from the prosecutors to assist the President in making the decision.) The Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Mr. Felt said, “I would warrant that whoever is responsible for the pardons did not read the record of the trial and did not know the facts of the case.” Judge Allows Appeals by Ex-Officials Of FBI Despite Pardons by Reagan, by Joe Pichirallo, The Washington Post, June 24, 1981.
- After the pardon, former President Nixon, still unaware that Mr. Felt had been Deep Throat, sent him a bottle of champagne with the message, ” Justice always prevails.”
There has been much speculation about why Mr. Felt agreed to serve as a source for the Washington Post. Obviously he had a patriot’s justifiable concern about the criminal conspiracy emanating from the Nixon White House. He was also probably concerned about Nixon’s attempts to dominate and subvert the FBI, an organization to which Mr. Felt had devoted his professional life. Finally, he may have also been angry over the fact that after the death of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime head of the FBI, President Nixon passed over Mr. Felt and appointed L. Patrick Gray, a person who Nixon felt would do his bidding to the post of FBI director. Mr. Gray did not disappoint, burning incriminating evidence at President Nixon’s instructions. Public disclosure of Mr. Gray’s actions forced him to resign as Director of the FBI.
OTHER BACKGROUND NOTES
- Since the late 20th Century, the two premier newspapers in the U.S. have been the Washington Post and the New York Times. They are in constant competition with each other.
- After President Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford became President and, within a month, pardoned Nixon for all of his Watergate-related crimes. President Ford denied that he made a deal to pardon Nixon in return for being appointed Vice-President. The Nixon pardon is considered the primary reason why Ford lost his effort to be elected President in his own right in the 1976 elections.
- The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States. Established in 1800, it is now the largest library in the world. It receives two free copies of each book copyrighted in the United States. Each book copyrighted in the United States is given a Library of Congress number. There is also a library in the White House for use by White House staff. This library was the location of a scene in the story of the movie.
- By law, the CIA cannot operate inside the territorial limits of the U.S. The members of the CIA, the National Security Agency (which conducts electronic spying), the military intelligence services, and the other agencies of the Government which conduct overseas intelligence gathering are called “the Intelligence Community.” See Wikipedia Article on the U.S. Intelligence Community.
- During the Watergate scandal, it came out that FBI agents, on orders from the White House, had conducted burglaries of files from the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who gave the press copies of the Pentagon Papers, a confidential government history and analysis of the Vietnam war.
- The city of Miami is located in Dade County, Florida. A district attorney (sometimes called a state’s attorney or city attorney) is a state or local government official who prosecutes violations of state laws. The Dade County District Attorney was involved in investigating some elements of the Watergate scandal because some of the illegal activities occurred in Dade County and were violations of state law.
DUTIES OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
- Preserve, Protect and Defend the Constitution: Article II, Section 1, Clause 8, sets out the oath that a President must take before assuming the office:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
- Serve as Chief of the Executive Department: According to Article II, Section 1: “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
- Faithfully Execute the Laws: The President, pursuant to Article II, Section 3, “… shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed…”
- Command the Armed Forces: Article II, Section 2: “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States”
- Serve as Chief diplomat: Article II, Section 2: “He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls…” Also Article II, Section 3: “…he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers…”
- Participate in the Legislative Process: Article I, Section 7, Clause 2: “Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it.” Article II, Section 3: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
THE 25TH AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION
Section 1: In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Section 2: Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
The only two men who have been appointed to the post of Vice-President were Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller. Ford was appointed by President Nixon after Nixon’s first Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, resigned in a plea bargain with prosecutors. Apparently Agnew had been taking payoffs from people interested in government business while he was Vice President. Nelson Rockefeller was appointed by President Ford when President Nixon resigned and Ford moved up to be President. Gerald Ford was the only person to become President who was not elected by the people to be either President or Vice-Present.
THE USE OF LIGHT AND IMAGE IN THE MOVIE
The light in the Washington Post pressroom is bright, but most of the exterior scenes are in dark, dimly lit streets or parking garages. This is where the reporters do their detective work. Note also the claustrophobic effect of the small living spaces occupied by the reporters and the CREEP employees. The government buildings are large and seemingly immovable while the exterior photographs of the reporters often shows them as small creatures against the facade of the buildings.
Deep Throat is, of course, filmed in shadow. Woodward meets him in parking garages in the dead of night. These are frightening and dangerous places.
As Woodward and Bernstein research White House withdrawals of books in the Library of Congress, the camera shows Woodward and Bernstein at the center of concentric rings of research desks. As the camera pulls back to the high-domed ceiling, they appear so small that they are almost insignificant.
Most questions asked on the background information worksheet are appropriate for discussion. The following questions are not addressed in the worksheet.
1. What might have happened had Nixon and his aides succeeded in their efforts to cover up their illegal conduct in the 1972 election?
This question calls for speculation, and all answers that can be supported are acceptable. Here are some valid points: President Nixon had already undermined the 1972 Presidential election by ensuring that candidates (like Senator Ed Muskie of Maine) who Nixon feared could beat him in the general election would not be nominated by the Democrats. Nixon had an “enemies list” and was using agencies of the federal government such as the IRS to go after them. Nixon and his aides would have continued to find ways to undermine the democratic process in the U.S.
2. The U.S. and state governments have taken the position that reporters must disclose their confidential sources when called to testify to a grand jury or in a trial. Had Woodward and Bernstein been forced to identify their sources in the Watergate scandal, what would have happened?
All answers that are logical and can be supported are acceptable. Here is a likely scenario. A judge, following the law, would have ordered them to testify. Bernstein and Woodward would have refused to obey and eventually they would have been sent to jail or fined or both for contempt of court. They would have been kept in jail until either they decided to testify or the grand jury was dismissed. If they had been called to testify at a trial, they might have been held until the case was over. They could also have been prosecuted for criminal contempt of court or for obstruction of justice. This could have stopped the disclosure of the criminal activity of President Nixon and his aides. It could have intimidated other reporters from working on the story. If they had disclosed their sources, it would have discouraged other people from coming forward and giving information to reporters.
3. One of the reporters involved in the breaking of the story of the Watergate scandal said that the important thing wasn’t that they brought down the President of the United States. The important thing was that they made the system work. Do you agree or disagree? Support your position.
All opinions that are logical and can be supported are acceptable. Here are some thoughts on the question. Richard Nixon was just one president in one period of time. However, the idea that the President is not above the law is an enduring principle which was served by the reporters’ actions.
4. What are the differences and the similarities between President Nixon’s actions in the Watergate scandal and President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election?
There is no one correct answer to this two-part question and we are still learning about President Trumps illegal actions. All well-supported responses acceptable. The following is presented merely to serve as a basis for discussion. Nixon committed several felonies and tried to influence the outcome of an election. He and his henchmen committed many crimes and induced other agencies of government such as the CIA, the FBI, and the Justice Department to participate in the wrongdoing. His actions clearly constituted an egregious betrayal of the trust that had been placed in him by the people.
As for Trump, as this Learning Guide is being written, the full extent of this actions have not yet been exposed. However, we do know that:
(1) he pressured Vice President Mike Pence to violate the Constitution, the vice president’s oath of office, and federal law by refusing to accept the electoral college votes on January 6 (fortunately, Vice President Pence resisted this pressure); (2) he pressured other public officials, such as the Georgia Secretary of State, to betray their oaths of office and violate state statutes to “find” votes for him that didn’t exist (fortunately, the state officials resisted this pressure); (3) he maintained “the big lie” that the election had been stolen from him when he knew it wasn’t true and he had no evidence to support his claims; (4) many of the January 6 insurrectionists, who came to the Capitol directly after being addressed by Trump and others in a “Stop the Steal” rally, believed they were acting on his instructions and (5) President Trump delayed in asking the rioters to leave the capital and delayed efforts to protect the Congress putting the lives of Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi and Capitol police officers in danger. He contributed to the deaths of several persons (police officers and one protester), to injuries for many others, and to the breaching of the Capitol by hostile forces for the first time since 1812. Trump is protected by blindly loyal Republican politicians who protect him from conviction and an ardent, and equally blind, political base. Many Republican politicians of 2020 – 2022 care more about power than they do about the Constitution. As Liz Cheney stated on June 9, 2022, at the first hearing of the January 6 House select committee, “I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible, there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.” President Trump contributed to and then failed to take prompt action to stop an armed insurrection, violated his oath of office by failing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, attacked the democratic process at its very core by, for the first time, not cooperating in the peaceful transfer of power, and failed to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
5. What are the differences and the similarities between President Nixon’s actions in the Watergate scandal, the actions of President Trump after he lost his bid for reelections, and President Clinton’s actions in the Monica Lewinsky scandal?
There is no one correct answer to this two-part question. All well-supported responses are acceptable. The following is presented merely to serve as a basis for discussion. For a description of President Nixon’s actions and those of President Trump, see the suggested response to the preceding questions.
President Clinton took sexual advantage of a subordinate and then committed perjury by lying about his actions in a deposition in a civil case. Clinton’s wrongful actions were isolated to the one area of sexual activity. These actions were reprehensible but they did not implicate Clinton’s core duties as President, nor did they directly attack the democratic process as did the actions of Presidents Nixon and Trump. Unlike Nixon and Trump, Clinton had not sought to implicate government agencies in his wrongdoing. There was a perception that the effort to impeach President Clinton was partisan, i.e., the Republican leaders wanted President Clinton out of office because they disagreed with his policies, not so much from any abhorrence of his actions. Note that during the time the Republican-dominated Congress was trying to impeach President Clinton, two Congressional leaders were forced to resign their posts and retire from politics because of their own sexual misconduct.
6. President Ford was appointed to be Vice President by Richard Nixon on December 6, 1973, when the Watergate Scandal was already rocking Nixon’s administration. Some have charged that Mr. Ford was required to promise to pardon Nixon. President Ford adamantly denied that there was any quid pro quo that he would pardon Nixon. In his pardon of Nixon, President Ford stated that:
It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.
Do you think that the pardon of former President Nixon was the best policy?
There is no one correct answer to this question. A number of concepts that should be considered in a good answer are as follows:
Supporting the pardon: Nixon had given his life to service of the U.S.; he had been an effective President in many ways; he had no previous record of criminal misconduct; a trial of a former President on criminal charges could lead to the disclosure of classified secrets; a trial of a former President could divide the country and prevent the wounds of Watergate from healing.
Against the pardon: Nixon had appointed Ford to be his Vice President when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors when it was discovered that Agnew was taking payoffs in cash while he was Vice President of the U.S. There was therefore an appearance that Mr. Ford’s appointment was in exchange for the pardon. Not even the President is above the law, but the pardon made it seem that he was. President Nixon had violated one the most basic duties of a President: to “… take care that the laws be faithfully executed…” Article II, Section 3. He had subverted the democratic process, which violated his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution . . . ” Article II, Section 1, Clause 8. There was no question that he had committed several felonies. Had Nixon been tried and convicted the country might have been spared the perjury of Bill Clinton with respect to the Monica Lewinsky matter or, more importantly, the January 6, 2021, attempted coup by Donald Trump.
7. Was Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) a hero, or did he betray his country and his duty to keep official secrets confidential?
It should be noted that Mr. Felt would only confirm information that Woodward and Bernstein had already discovered and would tell them if they were headed in the right direction. Ultimately, Mr. Felt helped to stop a criminal conspiracy in the White House. That was beneficial for the country. What else was he to do? He couldn’t go to the prosecutors. Their boss, the Attorney General of the United States, was a leading member of the conspiracy. He couldn’t go to the President. Nixon was the director of the conspiracy. The fact that Mr. Felt had a personal axe to grind (anger over being passed over for the directorship of the FBI) tells us that his motives may not have been entirely pure, but it is often the case that people who do public spirited acts have mixed motives. Whatever were Mr. Felt’s motives, the secrets of the Watergate scandal should have been disclosed and he did the right thing. The U.S. is a better place because of what Mr. Felt did.
8. What is the role of the anonymous source in the process of journalism and the operation of democracy?
Anonymous sources are necessary tools of journalism and essential for American democracy. Anonymous sources tell journalists, and through them the public, what is happening behind closed doors. This, of course, can be abused. A source might demand anonymity because his or her information is incorrect or because the information is being planted for a political purpose. (See, for example, the Valerie Plame affair described in the Suggested Response to Discussion Question #11.) Good journalists will be sensitive to this risk and will not allow themselves to be tools of their sources.
9. Jonathan Alter, an editor for Newsweek Magazine, said that “If you don’t know what’s going on in your government, you don’t live in a democracy.” Do you agree or disagree?
Mr. Alter was correct because in order to make government responsive to the people, the people must know what’s going on. If public officials know that their actions will be made public and that the press will tell the people what they are doing, the government officials are more likely to act in the public interest.
10. Should a reporter disclose his source in this situation: The investigation relates to a murder. The source agrees to talk to the journalist only on deep background with a solemn promise from the reporter that the source will never be identified. In the course of the conversation, the reporter becomes convinced that the source is the killer and is trying to use the reporter to spread disinformation to deflect suspicion from the source. What should the reporter do? Does it make a difference if the crime is not as serious as murder?
First, the reporter should not allow him or herself to be used as a tool to spread disinformation. Second, the reporter should go to the police. What if the murderer kills again? The fact that the murderer is misusing the promise of confidentiality to protect himself relieves the reporter of his or her obligation to maintain the promise of confidentiality. As to the question of whether the reporter should go to the police, it makes a difference if the crime is relatively minor and does not involve injury to a person. But relatively minor is a value judgment. What about the theft of millions of dollars? What if the crime is dumping toxic materials and degrading the environment for hundreds of years? It is the legislature that writes the laws. It is the prosecutors who decide who to prosecute. The issue of whether the reporter should go to the police is more complicated the less serious the crime, but the law should be obeyed.
11. Is there a difference between Mr. Felt’s actions in leaking information about criminal activities in the government and the leak in the following situation? An experienced diplomat is dispatched to a foreign country to evaluate claims that another country was trying to purchase uranium to make atomic bombs. The White House has publicly taken the position that this has occurred. The investigator reports that the White House is wrong, and this is very embarrassing to the President. Someone in the government, seeking to punish the investigator, leaks the fact that the investigator’s wife is an undercover CIA operative. It is a crime to publish the name of a CIA undercover operative. Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (50 U.S.C. 421 et seq.) Answer these three questions: (1) Should the reporter publish the name of the CIA operative? (2) Should the reporter, when called to a grand jury to testify, divulge the name of the source? (3) Should the reporter go to the police and report the source?
This example is taken from the Valerie Plame affair. There are two differences. First, Mr. Felt did not provide specific information. He told the reporters only whether their investigation was going in the right direction. In the case posed by this question, the leak itself is a criminal act in which someone in the government seeking to suppress dissent tries to get the reporter to publish the name of the CIA agent. If the journalist published the name, in effect, he or she is aiding and abetting both a crime and government repression at the same time. If the reporter was able to protect his source, no one would know the identity of the criminal. Second, there was no public benefit in the publication of the name of the CIA agent, while there was a great public benefit to that actions of Mr. Felt. In these circumstances, the reporter should be required to disclose his or her source. In addition, a strong argument could be made that if the reporter publishes the name of the CIA agent, the reporter, as well as the government official, should be prosecuted for violating the law prohibiting the publication of the names of CIA agents.
12. A government official with a very high-security clearance discloses a history of the government’s involvement in an unpopular war showing that the government lied to the public about the origins of the war and its actions relating to the war. The information is classified and the source, by disclosing it to a reporter, was committing a crime but he was not acting as an agent of the government seeking to punish someone for disagreeing with the White House. Should the reporter be required to disclose his source? Should the source go to jail for his or her actions?
This example is taken from Daniel Ellsberg’s publication of the Pentagon Papers. Here, as well, the leak itself is a criminal act, however, the purpose is to disclose governmental wrongdoing and deception. As the law stands now, the reporter must disclose or face jail for contempt or violation of the laws prohibiting the disclosure of state secrets.
The source must be willing to face jail time. His or her action in disclosing the information is a highly patriotic act which has many elements of
civil disobedience. Classic civil disobedience requires the civil disobedient person to come forward, disclose what he was doing, and take the punishment.There would, therefore, be no requirement for the reporter to keep the source confidential. In fact, Mr. Ellsberg expected to have to go to jail for a long time and was willing to undergo that punishment if necessary. Fortunately for him, before he could be prosecuted, President Nixon had the offices of Mr. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist illegally burgled by the FBI to try to find damaging information on Mr. Ellsberg. The burglary came to light in the Watergate revelations and the government decided not to press charges against Mr. Ellsberg.
13. Why did the reporters require that they get at least two sources for each fact that they reported?
Reporters need to corroborate what they hear from sources to make sure that they are right. Reporters, especially on controversial stories, operate in a world of doubt. They must doubt their sources, check their facts frequently, and make sure that the reporters themselves are not jumping to conclusions.
14. What is “investigative journalism” and how does it differ from other types of journalism?
Investigative journalism goes beyond repeating facts reported by other journalists or rehashing announcements of government officials, business people or others. Instead, it seeks out the actual facts. The announcer that you might see reading the news on television is not an investigative journalist because he or she just reports what has been told to them by others. They usually haven’t verified the facts themselves.
15. How is the media environment of today different from the media environment of the 1970s when Woodward and Bernstein were reporting on Watergate?
Differences include: (1) the distrust of mainstream media by many Americans; (2) the “breaking news” model of CNN and other outlets that garners viewers by exaggerating the importance or urgency of events; (3) Internet with blogs and websites that can be cheaply maintained and which do not have the resources to conduct investigative journalism; (4) the proliferation of channels on cable and satellite television; (5) the rise of talk radio; (6) the concentration of the different types of media outlets in the hands of a few large corporations or rich individuals; for example, most large cities have only one dominant newspaper, while in the 1960s most had two or three newspapers competing with each other; and (7) the rise of news organizations with a clear ideological bias who slant the news that they report.
16. It has been said that: “The press is the last resort when other institutions of government and society fail.” What is meant by that?
It is the press which can provide reliable information from which the people can decide to restrain politicians who are corrupt or who are not acting in the best interests of the public.
17. If the President and his aides were engaged in a criminal conspiracy today, would they be exposed?
The answer is that we hope so. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” (Wendell Phillips, (1811-1884), abolitionist, orator and columnist).
18. What is the tension between a television network and its news divisions and how does that express itself?
Commercial television is primarily in the business of providing entertainment. Serious news shows do not attract the viewers that entertainment draws. Therefore, television news will always have a tendency towards becoming entertainment in order to increase viewership and revenue. It requires great self-discipline for television news organizations to resist the pull to entertainment and to make sure that their newscasts contain substantive and important news.
19. Describe the relationship between journalists and government officials, from both sides.
From the journalists’ side: Journalists need good relationships with government officials to get interviews and information. However, at the same time journalists are charged with investigating the conduct of these public figures and the reputation and prizes for investigative journalism often go to those who expose government misdeeds.
From the government officials’ side: They often need journalists to get their message out to the public and sometimes need their help in correcting misinformation or defeating a bureaucratic or political rival.
20. Do you think that it is significant that Superman, one of America’s great fictional heroic figures, was a newspaperman?
Yes. In the early 20th century Americans had great respect for the press.
1. Do you think Mark Felt (Deep Throat) was cowardly in not coming forward or was he courageous to put his career at risk to expose the wrongdoing?
There was a tremendous risk of exposure in talking to the reporters, even on deep background. Courage does not require self-sacrifice when that is not necessary or would not be helpful. Mr. Felt was able to guide the young reporters so that the scandal and the cover-up were exposed. Had these efforts been unsuccessful, then Mr. Felt would have had to face the question of whether his involvement needed to be more active. However, his actions in serving as a source were courageous.
2. Why was the partnership between Bernstein and Woodward so effective?
They were both hard-working; neither asked the other to carry more than his share of the work. They each had different strengths that made up for the other’s weaknesses. The primary example was the way their minds worked. If a conclusion had six logical steps Bernstein would jump from A to B . . . to G. He had a good instinct for where the facts would lead. Woodward, however, made sure that they also went back and determined the C, D, E, and F.
3. Who were the people on the team at the Washington Post who exposed the cover-up? What would have happened if any one of them had not worked with the others?
They were Woodward, Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Post, and Katharine Graham, the Post’s publisher. (There were also probably other editors involved.) Had any one of them gotten cold feet or for some other reason stopped working with the team, the effort would have collapsed
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. President Nixon was loyal to his friends and associates. Loyalty is part of the Pillar of Trustworthiness. Why was Nixon’s loyalty to his friends and associates not only wrong but criminal?
He was dishonest, violating another part of the Pillar of Trustworthiness. Nor did he have the courage to do the right thing which would have disappointed his co-conspirators. Nixon also violated the Pillar of Responsibility by failing to do what he should have done to protect and uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. His actions in the Watergate affair violated the following ethical tests: the Golden Rule, the rule of universality, and the rule of disclosure.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
2. How did President Nixon’s actions violate the Pillar of Responsibility?
He broke the law, and he tried to avoid accountability for his choices.
3. Where would we be if Woodward, Bernstein, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliott Richardson, Judge John Sirica, and many others had not followed the ethical principle of Responsibility?
We would have a presidency that was above the law and could run roughshod over the rights of citizens and the other two branches of government. In short, we would have the makings of a tyranny.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)
4. Did President Nixon and his henchmen play by the rules?
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
5. In trying to expose the Watergate scandal, were Bernstein and Woodward, and the Washington Post acting like good citizens? Shouldn’t good citizens support their country and their government?
The reporter and the Washington Post acted as good citizens. The obligation of citizenship is to the country or community as a whole. Citizenship does not mean working for the benefit of one particular regime.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
- Many of the discussion questions are good essay prompts.
2. Draft a reporters’ shield law which will tell courts how to deal with each of the situations set out in Discussion Questions 12, 13, and 14. Make a policy argument justifying how your proposed law would resolve each of the scenarios.
3. Write an essay comparing and contrasting what Deep Throat did in providing information that exposed the Watergate scandal with what happened in the Valerie Plame affair. (See Discussion Question #10).
BRIDGES TO READING
There are many excellent books about Watergate suitable for reading by high school age children. They include: All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein & Robert Woodward, Final Days, also by Carl Bernstein & Robert Woodward; Blind Ambition by John Dean, The Selling of the President, 1968, by Joe McGinnis; The Imperial Presidency, by Arthur M. Schlesinger and The Making of the President, 1968, by Theodore White.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Wikipedia Article on the Watergate Scandal;
- Watergate duo savors the secret that was, New York Times, June 4, 2005;
- Wikipedia Article on Carl Bernstein;
- Wikipedia Article on Bob Woodward;
- Recalling Nixon’s Resignation, from NPR;
- Rodino on the Mechanics of Impeachment, a voice recording of an interview from NPR;
- Watergate, Gerald Ford, and the Nixon Pardon, from the White House Historical Association;
- The Watergate Days, by Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker Magazine, 6/13/2005;
- Watergate, The Scandal that Brought Down Richard Nixon;
- Article on Watergate, from Spartacus Educational;
- How “All the President’s Men” went from buddy flick to masterpiece by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, June 14, 2022.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU:
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary (because the film is like a documentary in its accuracy); and
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
Carl Bernstein reports that when this film was made, Dustin Hoffman, the actor who portrayed him, and Robert Redford, the actor who portrayed Woodward, spent months with them, watching them work, observing their mannerisms and evaluating their character traits. Bradlee stated that the actors seemed to know more about the characters than their psychiatrists. Bernstein said that he learned things about himself that he had not known before when he watched Hoffman’s portrayal of him in the film.
After watching the movie students will be primed for two discussions. First, teachers and parents can discuss the important role that other institutions played in uncovering the scandal and punishing the guilty. Second, the history and motivation of W. Mark Felt (Deep Throat) might provide a lively discussion.
Richard Nixon is the only U.S. President to resign from office.
Perhaps the most important piece of screen writing ever crafted are the words, “Follow the money.” In the movie, this was advice that Mr. Felt gave to Bob Woodward. However, that never happened. In fact, Woodward explains that he told Senator Sam Ervin, chairman of the Watergate Committee that “the key was the secret campaign cash, and it should all be traced.” The screenwriter William Goldman, who won an Academy Award for the screenplay, paraphrased the statement and put it into Deep Throat’s mouth. How “All the President’s Men” went from buddy flick to masterpiece by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, June 14, 2022.
The National Archives has developed a lesson plan entitled Constitutional Issues: Watergate and the Constitution
“Felt was a first-rate contact, but Woodward and Bernstein had many excellent sources. Their stories were as accurate as any group of newspaper articles could be. I also suspected that they were talking to many of the same people I was. On one occasion, I visited someone I assumed was a secret source of my own and found a handwritten note saying ‘Kilroy Was Here’ affixed to the outside office door — a token from Woodward.” Seymour M. Hersh, in The Watergate Days, New Yorker Magazine, 6/13/2005. Good reporters can often get people to tell them what they don’t want the reporter or other people to know.
Some of the risks of using anonymous sources are: People have agendas which lead them to dissemble. Anonymous sources often deceive, spin and exaggerate. Dependence on anonymous sources makes reporters lazy because they don’t have to do the hard work to prove the facts themselves.
Investigative reporting is very expensive. A news organization must have the money to allow reporters to work on stories for a long time, to travel and to copy documents. They should have lawyers available to review what is written for potential libel and slander.
Note that Bernstein did not go to college but had worked for newspapers since he was 16. He had learned to write in the newsroom. He was a better writer than Woodward, who had been educated at Yale, an Ivy League college.
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