❚ ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN should be compulsive viewing for everybody in public life in the UK right now. This, Robert Redford’s greatest achievement as producer, is also the greatest movie about how good journalism works. It examined the greatest crime in the history of American politics: the Watergate conspiracy that disgraced the White House in 1973. The scandal gave to our language the all-purpose suffix “-gate” for any corrupt activity in public life.
The film showed American journalism at the height of its power, and gave the language the team nickname “Woodstein”, derived from the two 30-year-old reporters who scooped the world, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their investigations would lead in 1975 to the takedown of the highest office in the land: the presidency of Richard Nixon.
This half-hour TV doc, Telling the Truth About Lies (above) about the of making the film, All the President’s Men, is as steeped in the integrity of the screenwriters and film-makers as much as the feature movie itself faithfully tries to honour the diligence and persistence and courage of everybody at the Washington Post, under the editorship of Ben Bradlee and the enlightened direction of its publisher Katharine Graham.
This film inspired Nick Davies, the Guardian’s key reporter who has dug deep into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, to become an investigative journalist. Given the current climate of ineffectuality and guilt spreading through Britain’s parliament, police and press — as documented in this week’s Spectator under the claim that “The omertà of Britain’s press and politicians on phone-hacking amounts to complicity in crime” — All the President’s Men should be a reminder to everybody in the British press today of the campaigning John Pilger’s famous charge that the first duty of journalists is to be “tribunes of the people”.
❏ Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee: “You guys are about to write a story that says the former attorney general, the highest ranking law enforcement officer in this country, is a crook. Just be sure you’re right.”
❏ Producer and star Robert Redford who played reporter Bob Woodward: “I had to be extra diligent on being authentic. I spent so much time focussing on detail — the tiniest, tiniest details were important.”
❏ Bob Woodward on writing the book on which the film was based: “Carl Bernstein and I were going to do a standard narrative about Watergate from the perspective of the Nixon White House” . . . Redford: “I said my interest is different, my interest is you guys and how you worked” . . . Bernstein: “Woodword came up to me one day and said he’d gotten a call from Robert Redford, and I said what the hell about? And he said, well, he thinks the story is really us. At the time we were still reporting the story and we sure didn’t think the story was really us.”
❏ Redford on the Woodstein team: “One guy was a Wasp, the other guy was a Jew. One was a Republican, the other guy was a radical liberal. They didn’t really care for each other but they had to work together. Now, that dynamic is character driven.” It is also so often the truth about working relationships in a newspaper office. You don’t have to like each other to produce first-class journalism.
❏ The Washington Post was sceptical about cooperating, Redford said, because the film could turn out to be “Hollywood crap”. Screenwriter William Goldman: “I was terrified because you knew that everybody who was going to talk about this film had at one time or another been in a newsroom. We knew if we Hollywooded it up we would be in terrible trouble.” The film nevertheless won four Oscars in 1976.
➢ ATPM on video — Ben Bradlee: “Run that, baby!” Fingertap. Clap. [Exactly the same gesture as an elated Charles Wintour]
➢ News of the World fallout could change Britain’s media culture: “Do we want to replicate the media culture of countries such as France where three or four posh papers are read by a tiny proportion of the population?” — John Kampfner in today’s Guardian