This summer I embarked on what I now consider an American rite of passage: I read through All the President’s Men, the story of Watergate. If Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward didn’t give their book the most ambitious name possible, they certainly gave it the most ambitious subtitle possible: The Greatest Reporting Story of All Time. It does read almost as a sort of guide to investigative journalism.
We follow Woodward to the dark garage where he meets “Deep Throat,” later identified as Mark Felt, the most famous anonymous source ever. We sit in with Bernstein on his many cold calls to potential sources, many of which are dead ends.
But All the President’s Men is so much more than simply a book on journalism. It raises the curtain on the inner workings of the Washington Post, sure. But it also raises the curtain to reveal how our government works and the important role of those journalists keeping it accountable.
First of all, the story itself. You likely know how it begins and ends. A few men are arrested while attempting to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Two reporters start digging and find connections to the Oval Office itself. A cover-up ensues. Many of the “President’s Men” go to prison. Richard Nixon himself ends up resigning. Those are the facts of Watergate. But the story of Watergate and how it came to be is so much better than mere facts. And, as I mentioned earlier, it’s very important.
The lasting effects of Watergate have been both beneficial and very unfortunate for American politics. The Nixon scandal led to the election of Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter, an honest, earnest peanut farmer who had campaigned as a Washington outsider. The secrecy of Watergate led most state legislatures to enact “government in the sunshine” laws, making most public documents and meetings easily accessible to the public. Sadly, Americans’ close-up view has led to a steady decline in faith of government, as regular Gallup and Pew polls show. Either way, Woodward and Bernstein’s work uncovering the Watergate scandal drastically altered American life, and All the President’s Men explains how it came to be.
My first week working at the Bookshelf, Annie asked me to compile my shelf of favorite books. At the time, I was still about 50 pages from completing this book. It impacted me so much I had to include it in my favorites, knowing it would stand the test of time as one of my all-time favorites.
Until next time,