How two journalists brought down a president and lived to tell about it.
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A guide for teaching the movie and the book in your classroom.
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Breaking into an office in the Watergate hotel and office building, even today, might amount to little more than burglary charges.
The news brief might read something like this.
Five suspects, well-dressed, wearing rubber surgical gloves and unarmed, were arrested about 2:30 a.m. Saturday after police surprised them inside the 29-office suite of the Democratic headquarters on the sixth floor of the Watergate hotel and office building.
The suspects had photographic equipment and electronic surveillance instruments capable of intercepting both regular conversation and telephone communication. Police also said two ceiling panels near Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence F. O’Brien’s office had been removed in such a way as to make it possible to slip in a -bugging device.
James W. McCord, a former CIA employee, was being held in the District of Columbia. jail on $30,000 bond yesterday. The other four were being held on $50,000 bond. All are charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other conversations.
But on June 17, 1972, in an era following the assassination of President Kennedy and at the height of the unpopular Vietnam War, it was this botched burglary that was the beginning of a chain of events that would ultimately result in the resignation of the president of the United States and dozens of other top officials.
Richard Nixon, on an edition of “Meet the Press” after his resignation, said, “It was a small thing that had become a big thing. It was a small thing, the break in. It was the cover-up that was wrong. That was the big thing. There was no doubt about that at all.”
But doubt, doubt about all facets of the cover-up, the investigation and the involvement of the president – what did he know and when did he know it – pervaded American society in the early ’70s.
In their original story published in The Washington Post June 19, 1972, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward quoted former Attorney General John N. Mitchell and then head of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President saying McCord and the other four men arrested at Democratic headquarters Saturday “were not operating either in our behalf or with our consent” in the alleged bugging attempt.
GOP National Chairman Bob Dole issued a similar statement, adding, “We deplore action of this kind in or out of politics.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence F. O’Brien said the “bugging incident … raised the ugliest questions about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century.”
But throughout the debacle, the Watergate incident brought out the true character of the president and certainly called into question his integrity. He was obsessed with enemies, obsessed with settling scores. He was obsessed with vengeance and kept a long list of enemies.
On an episode of “Meet the Press” in June 2002, Bernstein said, “What’s so fascinating about watching Nixon is that to him it was about a break in. This, Watergate, was about the real identity of this presidency.”
Bernstein and Woodward inspired a generation of reporters with their in-depth stories and their ability to continue following the story when everyone said there was no story.
On a Discovery Channel special on the 30th anniversary of Watergate John Dean said, “They did keep attention to this story when no one else was reporting it. They gave validity to the story.”
They couldn’t have done it without their still unnamed source, “Deep Throat,” a secret source that lurked in the shadows of Woodward’s and Bernstein’s book and subsequent movie, All the President’s Men.
“It’s probably the best kept secret in the world,” Bernstein said.
What we know about “Deep Throat” (the name obtained from a pornographic movie of the time) is sketchy at best. He could never be quoted, even anonymously, for fear of being identified. He had to be in the White House continuously from May of 1972. He sometimes fed bad information. He drank Scotch. And, rather than feeding factual information, he often offered guidance.
Only three people, Woodward, Bernstein and former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee, know Deep Throat’s identity, something that hasn’t stopped a generation of people from guessing.
Professor William Gaines, University of Illinois, posed the question to his class of investigative reporters: Who is Deep Throat?
After searching through microfilm, newspaper articles and talking with multiple sources, they narrowed the list to seven people: Stephen Bull, special assistant to the president; Fred Fielding, White House lawyer; Gerald Warren, Nixon press spokesman; Jonathan Rose, presidential aide; David Gergen, White House speech writer; Raymond Price, speech writer; and Patrick Buchanan, speech writer and special adviser to the president.
The students unanimously said they believed it was Patrick Buchanan, himself a former presidential candidate and active politician.
Woodward said, “We have talked about it, and we have eliminated some people. For us, it’s really a principle. It’s about keeping our word for 30 years. The process of reporting involves having those sources that will say, “Here’s what’s really going on.”
For Bernstein, the ability to keep this source anonymous is at the very foundation of America’s journalistic system.
“There are people in this country that would know virtually nothing about their government if it weren’t for confidential sources. We as journalists enter into agreement that we won’t reveal their identity as long as their information is truthful. If we were to break that pledge, our work as a reporter would be over.”
But the use of anonymous sources, when there is no alternative, also brings even more responsibility to the journalist, Woodward said.
“The process is to check and doublecheck. When you use an unnamed source, it’s all on your shoulders.”
Along these lines, Bernstein said there were many lessons that could be learned from Watergate.
“The lessons have to do with being careful, with using multiple sources, to putting information in context, to not being swayed by gossip, by sensationalism, by manufactured controversy, all of which have come to dominate our journalistic agenda in the past 30 years. The real thing is about responsibility.”
While Richard Nixon may have, as he said, “let the American people down,” he too acknowledged the responsibility he held.
“The man at the top must bear the responsibility. The responsibility belongs here in this office. I accept it,” he said.
According to Darrell West, Ph.D., of Brown University, “For most people who came of age during the 1970s, Watergate was the crucial political event. Before Watergate two-thirds of Americans trusted Washington, but then after Watergate two-thirds of Americans mistrusted Washington.”
However, if he did bring forth distrust in the political system, he brought to light the importance of a free press.
People like Ronald Zeigler, White House Press Secretary, attacked the Washington Post as Watergate unfolded.
“I don’t respect this type of journalism, the shabby journalism that is being practiced,” Zeigler said.
In the end, however, it was Woodward and Bernstein who showed the value of perseverance and a continuous predilection towards accuracy.
“The thing that was so extraordinary about Woodward and Bernstein,” Bradlee said, “is that they found out what was going on and that they did it quickly and they did it right.”
June 17, 1972
Break-in at the Watergate Hotel
Frank Wills, a young security guard working the graveyard shift at the Watergate Hotel, finds masking tape stuck to the lock of a door as he checks the building. After he removes the tape, he notices that several more doors have been taped to remain open. Upon his return to the first door, he finds that the tape he removed has been replaced. Wills telephones police at 1:47 a.m. Police follow the trail of masking tape to the Democratic National Committee headquarters and arrest the suspectsat 2:30 a.m. Among the arrested are former CIA agent James McCord, a security consultant for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), and three Cuban-Americans who describe their occupations as “anti-communists.”
Sept. 15, 1972
Watergate burglars indicted
The five men – Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, Virgilio Gonzalez and James McCord – arrested at the Watergate on June 17 are indicted by a federal grand jury investigating the crime. G. Gordon Liddy, a member of CREEP’s finance committee, and E. Howard Hunt Jr., a former White House consultant, are also indicted. The involvement of McCord and Liddy provide investigators with a link to the Nixon campaign. The involvement of E. Howard Hunt provides investigators with a link to the White House. The “Watergate Seven” are charged with conspiracy, burglary and violation of federal wiretapping laws.
Oct. 10, 1972
CREEP implicated in espionage ring
This news report appears in The Washington Post: CREEP is involved in political espionage, and its clandestine activities are financed by a secret fund controlled by former Attorney General John Mitchell.
Feb. 7, 1973
Senate Watergate Committee established
By a 77-0 vote, the Senate establishes the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, which later becomes known as the Senate Watergate Committee, led by Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C. The committee’s job is to investigate “the extent … to which illegal, improper or unethical activities” that occurred in the 1972 presidential campaign.
March 25-29, 1973
McCord links break-in to White House
Samuel Dash, counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, announces that James McCord has begun to deliver a “full and honest account” of the Watergate affair. The Los Angeles Times reports that McCord told Dash that both former Nixon aide Jeb Magruder and White House Counsel John Dean knew about the plans to bug the Democratic headquarters. Also, The Washington Post reports that McCord informed the committee that G. Gordon Liddy had told him that former Attorney General John Mitchell had approved the plans and that Charles Colson, a former special counsel to the president, was also aware of the plans.
April 30, 1973
First round of White House resignations
In a nationally televised speech, Nixon announces the resignations of White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, chief domestic adviser John D. Ehrlichman, White House counsel John Dean and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. He also unveils his nomination of Secretary of Defense Elliot L. Richardson for attorney general.
May 18, 1973
Archibald Cox appointed special prosecutor
Elliot Richardson, the attorney general-designate, announces that he will appoint Harvard law professor Archibald Cox as the special prosecutor for the Watergate case. Meanwhile, convicted Watergate con-spirator James McCord testifies before the Senate Committee that he has been facing White House pressure to plead guilty and remain silent in exchange for executive clemency.
June 25-29, 1973
John Dean implicates Nixon in cover-up
Granted limited immunity, former White House counsel John Dean alleges, before the Senate Watergate Committee, that as of September 1972, the president was aware of White House efforts to “cover-up” the Watergate break-in. On national television, Dean recalls a conversation in which he warned the president that “there was a cancer growing on the presidency, and if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it.”
July 10, 1973
Denials by former Attorney General Mitchell
In televised Senate hearings, the stoic former Attorney General Mitchell contradicts the sworn testimony of a number of former campaign and White House officials. Mitchell asserts that he did not give prior approval to the plan to break into the Watergate. Mitchell also protects Nixon by testifying that he purposely kept the president in the dark about the cover-up that followed the break-in.
July 16-26, 1973
Nixon tapes revealed, subpoenaed
Alexander P. Butterfield, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Haldeman, reveals that all of Nixon’s private conversations were automatically taped by a set of hidden recording devices. Following the Senate testimony of this surprise witness, the White House confirms that all of Nixon’s conversations had indeed been recorded since the devices were installed in the spring of 1971.
July 30, 1973
Denials by Haldeman
In sworn testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, the former chief of staff denies any role in the cover-up. Furthermore, Haldeman admits that he disbursed money to pay for political “dirty tricks” and denies that the president had any knowledge of the cover-up.
Oct. 3, 1973
Segretti testifies about ‘dirty tricks’
After pleading guilty to three misdemeanor charges, Donald Segretti, a paid “political prankster” for the Nixon campaign, is granted limited immunity and testifies before the Senate committee about the “dirty tricks” he played on the president’s Democratic opponents. In his testimony, Segretti describes a number of his actions, which include false pizza and liquor orders to Muskie campaign workers and bogus campaign posters.
Oct. 10, 1973
After pleading no contest to charges of income tax evasion, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns. He is sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and fined $10,000. Agnew had not been implicated in the Watergate scandal, but his conviction further taints the administration’s image in the eyes of the American public. Two days later, the president names Rep. Gerald R. Ford, R-Mich., as his choice to replace Agnew.
Oct. 20, 1973
Saturday Night Massacre
Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox refuses a presidential order to make no further attempts to subpoena the Nixon tapes. The president orders Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refuses and resigns. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus also refuses the presidential order and is fired by Nixon. Robert H. Bork, the Solicitor General and next in line at the Justice Department, becomes acting attorney general and fires Cox. The events of the evening become known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Later that evening, FBI agents seal off the offices of Richardson, Ruckleshaus and Cox’s entire team.
Nov. 1, 1973
Special prosecutor named
Leon Jaworski named special prosecutor Acting Attorney General Bork names Leon Jaworski, an attorney from Houston, as the new special prosecutor. Nixon names Sen. William Saxbe, R-Ohio, as the new attorney general.
Nov. 17, 1973
‘I am not a crook”
Nixon tells America, ‘I am not a crook.’ Associated Press managing editors take part in a televised question-and-answer session with the president. Nixon continues to assert his innocence, at one point turning to the camera and saying, in a now famous remark, “… people have got to know whether or not their president’s a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
March 1, 1974
Indictments for White House cover-up
John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, as well as Charles Colson, Robert C. Mardian, Kenneth W. Parkinson and Gordon Strachan, all former White House aides, are indicted by the federal grand jury for conspiring to hinder the investigation of the Watergate burglary. Nixon is named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
April 11, 1974
House subpoenas Nixon tapes
The House Judiciary Committee votes to subpoena the tapes of 42 presidential conversations. Nixon is given until April 25 to comply, but this deadline is later extended to April 30.
April 29, 1974
Nixon promises to release tape transcripts
In a televised speech, Nixon publicly responds to the subpoena with the announcement that he will release over 1,200 pages of edited transcripts of Watergate conversations.
May 9, 1974
House impeachment inquiry begins
The president’s failure to produce the actual tapes leads the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Peter Rodino, D-N.J., to formally open impeachment hearings.
July 24, 1974
Supreme Court rules on tapes
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rules that Nixon did not have the authority to withhold the subpoenaed tapes and orders him to surrender the tapes to the special prosecutor. Nixon defense attorney James St. Clair later announces that Nixon will comply with the court’s decision.
July 24-30, 1974
Final phase of house impeachment inquiry
In a nationally televised session, the House Judiciary Committee begins to debate the articles of impeachment. By a vote of 27-11, the committee approves an article of impeachment charging the president with obstructing justice. By a vote of 28-10, the committee approves a second article of impeachment charging Nixon with misuse of presidential powers in violation of his oath of office. By a vote of 21-17, the committee approves a third article impeachment charging Nixon with defying committee subpoenas. The committee rejected two other articles of impeachment.
Aug. 5, 1974
Nixon implicated in cover-up
After releasing transcripts from conversations that took place with H.R. Haldeman on June 23, 1972, President Nixon admits that he attempted to halt the investigation of the Watergate break-in for political and national-security reasons. He refers to his impeachment by the House as a “foregone conclusion” and urges the Senate not to convict him.
Aug. 8-9, 1974
Nixon resigns; Ford sworn-in
In a nationally televised address Aug. 8, Nixon announces that he is to resign the presidency. On Aug. 9, his last day in public office, the president delivers a heartfelt farewell speech to his staff and supporters. A smiling Nixon boards the presidential helicopter and turns with both hands upraised to begin the trip to his home in San Clemente, Calif. Gerald Ford is sworn in as the 38th president of the United States at 12:08 p.m. Aug 9. In his inaugural speech he uses the soon-to-be-famous phrase “our long national nightmare is over.”
Sept. 8, 1974
Ford pardons Nixon
After only one month in office, Ford delivers a nationally televised address in which he gives Nixon an unconditional presidential pardon for all federal crimes that he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” while in office. Nixon accepts the pardon, an action that Ford later calls tantamount to an admission of guilt.
All The President’s Men
CAST & CHARACTERS
This 1976 award-winning film tells the story of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story. Over the years, however, most of the names in the film have faded from the front pages of the nation’s newspapers although some are still active in American politics.
- Spiro Agnew — vice president; resigned in 1973 after pleading no contest to tax evasion
- Carl Bernstein — Post reporter played by Dustin Hoffman
- Robert H. Bork — solicitor general; became attorney general after “Saturday Night Massacre” on Oct. 20, 1973
- Ben Bradlee — executive editor of the Post
- Patrick Buchanan — speech writer and special adviser to the president
- Stephen Bull — special assistant to the president
- Alexander P. Butterfield — a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Haldeman; disclosed presence of tapes in Nixon’s office
- Dwight Chapin — Nixon’s appointments secretary
- Charles Colson — former presidential special counsel
- Archibald Cox — special prosecutor for the Watergate case
- Samuel Dash — counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee
- John Dean — White House counsel
- “Deep Throat” — undisclosed source
- Bob Dole — Republican national party chairman
- John Erlichman — Nixon’s chief domestic adviser
- Sam Ervin — A Democratic senator from North Carolina; chaired the Senate Watergate Committee
- W. Mark Felt — deputy FBI director; disclosed in 2005 that he was “Deep Throat”
- Fred Fielding — White House lawyer
- Gerald R. Ford — A Republican from Michigan; replaced Agnew as vice president in the fall of 1973; became president on Aug. 9, 1974
- David Gergen — White House speech writer
- Virgilio Gonzalez — arrested in Watergate break-in
- Katharine Graham — publisher of The Washington Post
- H.R. “Bob” Haldeman — White House chief of staff
- E. Howard Hunt — a former White House consultant, indicted after break-in
- Leon Jaworski — named by acting attorney general Bork as new special prosecutor
- G. Gordon Liddy — member of CREEP’s finance committee
- James McCord — a security consultant for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP); former CIA agent
- Robert C. Mardian — indicted by the federal grand jury for conspiring to hinder the investigation of the Watergate burglary
- Eugenio Martinez — arrested in Watergate break-in
- John Mitchell — former U.S. attorney general; Nixon’s campaign manager
- Richard Nixon — The 37th president of the United States; a Republican from California
- Lawrence F. O’Brien — Democratic National Committee chairman
- Kenneth W. Parkinson — indicted by the federal grand jury for conspiring to hinder the investigation of the Watergate burglary
- Raymond Price — speech writer
- Elliot L. Richardson — secretary of defense; nominated as attorney general in April 1973; resigns on Oct. 20, 1973 as part of “Saturday Night Massacre”
- Peter Rodino — A Democratic representative from New Jersey who chaired the House Judiciary Committee; formally opened impeachment hearings
- Jonathan Rose — presidential aide
- William Ruckleshaus — deputy attorney general; fired on Oct. 20, 1973 as part of “Saturday Night Massacre”
- James St. Clair — Nixon defense attorney
- William Saxbe — A Republican from Ohio named as the attorney general in November 1973
- Donald Segretti — a paid “political prankster” for Nixon
- Gordon Strachan — indicted by the federal grand jury for conspiring to hinder the investigation of the Watergate burglary
- Frank Sturgis — arrested in Watergate break-in
- Gerald Warren — Nixon press spokesman
- Frank Wills — a young security guard working the graveyard shift at the Watergate Hotel; discovered the break-in
- Bob Woodward — Post reporter played by Robert Redford
All The President’s Men
1. The date is ______________________________.
2. Five men are about to be caught breaking into the Washington, D.C. offices of the __________________ located in the __________________________ building.
3. Their purpose for the break in:
4. A Republican, ___________________________, is president. He was first elected in _________, and is running for a second term. He wins.
5. Thanks largely to the work of two reporters from The Washington Post newspaper, Nixon’s administrations is found to be guilty of:
a) unethical and illegal campaign ___________________________,
b) the misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars of unaccounted for ___________________________, and
c) a _____________________ campaign headed by the _____________________, and
involving the __________________, ____________________, and
the ______________________________ department.
6. By the time it’s all over in the summer of ________, many White House officials and others are charged and convicted of felonies, and do serious jail time, and, faced with impeachment, President Nixon __________________.
On your own paper, write definitions of the following as you watch and discuss the movie.
- General Accounting Office (GAO)
- Canuck letter
- on the record
- Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP)
- set up
- cover up
- slush fund
- covert operations
- verbatim notes
- deep background
- Near the end of the movie while standing outside his house at night, Managing Editor Ben Bradlee tells “Woodstein,” “Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country.” In a one-page essay on your own paper, explain exactly what he meant by that statement.
- In a one-page essay on your own paper, explain why is it important to “follow the money”?
ANSWERS to fill-in-the-blank guide:
1. June 17, 1972
2. Democratic National Committee, Watergate
3. to plant bugs in various offices
4. Richard Nixon, 1968
5. activities, campaign donations, political espionage, CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President), White House, campaign officials, Justice
6. 1974, resigns