What Did the President Know, and When Did He Know It?
"All the President’s Men" shows July 14 at the Paramount Theatre.
At a certain point in the 1970s, journalism schools were deluged with applications. The catalyst was not, as you might imagine from this distance, the work of two Washington Post reporters that stemmed from a bungled burgling of Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel and led directly to the resignation of President Richard Nixon two years later. Sure, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s dogged efforts won awards and made history, but the two weren’t pop culture icons and cool, disheveled exemplars of their profession until A-list stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played them in a hit movie. That was the inspiration for most of those would-be journalists.
All the President’s Men (1976) was both a reassuring and an idealistic film, in that it depicted how crucial institutions (like newspapers) and moral individuals (such as Bernstein, Woodward, and the anonymous informant Deep Throat) protected our democracy against the scheming overreaches of a paranoid president and his malevolent underlings. It’s fair to assume that the movie’s big-screen reappearance in Oakland this month in the splendid, long-running Paramount Movie Classics series is intended as more than a history lesson. (Or as entertainment, although all credit to Alan J. Pakula’s masterful staging and pacing of William Goldman’s expert adaptation of the reporters’ book, which turned an earnest tale of well-meaning persistence into a hold-your-breath thriller.) We’re meant to consider the need for fact-based investigative journalism in the Internet Age, and the same questions that Woodward and Bernstein provoked in 1972: What did the president know (and when)? Is the president above the law? And are powerful individuals in Washington more committed to their careers (and wallets) or to the nation’s founding principles? The lasting lesson of Watergate, remember, is that it’s the cover-up—not the crime—that trips you up.
All the President’s Men, 8 p.m. July 14, $5, Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland, 510-465-6400, ParamountTheatre.com.
This report appears in the July edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.
Published online on July 11, 2017 at 8:00 AM