I hadn’t seen “All the President’s Men” since high school, which I attended during the Reagan years. Watching it, I was really struck—as I’m sure many revisiting it now are—by the parallels between the Watergate years and what’s been happening the past few years. What really amazed me was seeing archival footage of various Nixon administration folks questioning the political leanings of the editors at The Washington Post, an idea that seems to have borne fruition in recent years with all the braying over the “liberal media.”
Of course, what’s even more amazing is the fact that Bob Woodward is a Republican, and was one during the Watergate investigation.
Many people have remarked in recent years that today’s media should try as hard as Woodward and Bernstein did when they took on this story, but I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment of the current situation. There certainly have been attempts to uncover bad stuff going on in the present administration, but the most significant work seems to be happening in blogs and other non-mainstream news sources. If you’re looking to mainstream media to produce another Watergate-like explosive investigation (which itself, to be fair, took a couple years to actually bear fruit), you’re searching in vain.
On top of that, Watergate, along with the partisanship that seems to be hardening all the time, leaves the average American dismissing all politicians as crooks and all stories about scandal as more evidence of that. So, if people think everyone in politics is a bad guy, then they hardly feel the need to get up in arms over the corruption that unsurprisingly rears its ugly head. It’s just another day in this country, they figure. On top of that, Jason Blair and other eggs tossed in the face of the media make many people distrustful of the news in general, leaving them with little desire to get worked up over a story that could be false anyway.
Keep that last thought in mind when you watch “All the President’s Men,” especially as you reach the end. Despite how history views them now, Woodward and Bernstein, as well as the editorial staff of The Washington Post that took a chance on them, actually wound up with quite a bit of egg on their faces in the early days of the Watergate investigation. It all worked out in the end, but with today’s relentless scrutiny of the media, there’s little chance to recover from a screw-up and still deliver a history-altering series of articles (or newscasts).
This film comes to us in a two-disc Special Edition that features a Robert Redford commentary, along with trailers for some of Alan J. Pakula’s other films, on disc one. Since Pakula has been dead for several years, Redford was an obvious choice to step in, although it would have been fun to bring Hoffman in too, since his track suffers a bit from dead air, as well as the old “Let me explain what you’re seeing onscreen right now” syndrome. A track with Woodward and Bernstein would have been cool too.
Redford’s track, however, does fill in information that’s not present on disc two, which leads off with “Telling the Truth About Lies: The Making of ‘All the President’s Men,’” a new documentary that runs about half an hour. It covers all the bases and includes interviews with the principal players. “Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire” looks specifically at the two reporters, who, at the time, were among the most unlikely people to take on Watergate. It also covers some of the territory I discussed at the beginning of this review.
Since we learned last year about the identity of Woodward’s most important source, disc two also includes “Out of the Shadows: The Man Who Was Deep Throat,” a look at Marc Felt’s role in the investigation. Finally, we get the vintage featurette “Pressure and the Press: The Making of All the President’s Men,” which includes some great archival interviews, and a Jason Robards interview from a 1976 episode of the old “Dinah!” show.
This is a film worth revisiting given what’s happening right now in this country, and Warner Bros. has done a fine job with this DVD release.