W. Joseph Campbell

Mythmaking on Blu-ray?

In Cinematic treatments, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on December 20, 2010 at 11:11 am

All the President’s Men, the most-seen movie about the Watergate scandal, may be released on Blu-ray early next year, according to a post yesterday at a blog sponsored by a Canadian newspaper.

“Word is that Warner Bros. will release the Watergate movie … in a feature loaded  Blu-ray book in February,” said the item at the Leader-Post newspaper in Saskatchewan.

Now at best, the Blu-ray version of All the President’s Men is of mild interest to Media Myth Alert. What caught the  eye, though, was this characterization in the Leader-Post item:

“The 1976 movie is perhaps the greatest ever on newspaper journalism. It tells the true story of how Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward exposed the real story behind the break-in at Democratic Party offices in the Watergate building by Republican political operatives. Their exposé, fed by a mysterious source called ‘Deep Throat,’ led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.”

I placed the words in bold for emphasis.

As I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Woodward and Bernstein didn’t expose the Watergate scandal. It was at first a police beat story that spiraled into an intricate and sprawling scandal that sent to jail nearly 20 men associated with Nixon’s presidency or his 1972 reelection campaign.

And the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein didn’t lead to Nixon’s resignation.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong:

“To roll up a scandal of such dimension [as Watergate] required the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.

“Even then, Nixon likely would have served out his term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House. Only when compelled by the Supreme Court [in 1974] did Nixon surrender those recordings, which captured him plotting the cover-up and authorizing payments of thousands of dollars in hush money.”

Against the tableau of subpoena-wielding investigative authorities, the work of Woodward and Bernstein for the Washington Post fades into relative insignificance.

Even so, as I write in Getting It Wrong, the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate–the endlessly appealing notion that the  reporting of Woodward and Bernstein did bring down Nixon’s  presidency–“has become the most familiar storyline of Watergate.”

The heroic-journalist interpretation is, I note, “a proxy for grasping the scandal’s essence while avoiding its forbidding complexity.”

Perhaps the factor most important in propelling and solidifying the heroic-journalist meme of Watergate was the movie All the President’s Men, an adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein’s 1974 book by the same title.

“The book in fact had been written with the cinema in mind,” I write in Getting It Wrong, noting that the actor Robert Redford “had taken keen interest in the Woodward-Bernstein collaboration in reporting the scandal and encouraged the reporters to structure the book around their experiences.”

Redford paid $450,000 for the rights to All the President’s Men, and he played Woodward in the movie.

The cinematic version of All the President’s Men focuses on the work of Woodward and Bernstein while mostly ignoring, and even denigrating, the efforts of investigative agencies like the FBI.

I further note that the movie All the President’s Men allows no interpretation other than it was the work Woodward and Bernstein that set in motion far-reaching effects that brought about the first-ever resignation of a U.S. president.

The movie, I write, helped ensure the heroic-journalist myth “would live on by offering a neat, tidy, and vastly simplified account the Watergate scandal, one that allowed viewers to sidestep the scandal’s complexity while engaging in an entertaining storyline.”

The myth is solidly entrenched in popular culture. It is one of the heartiest of media-driven myths, those dubious, media-centric tales that masquerade as factual.

The Blu-ray version of All the President’s Men may serve to introduce the myth of Watergate to yet another generation of movie-goers.


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