“Just follow the money.”
Famous words uttered to reporter Bob Woodward by the silhouette of a man in an underground parking garage. For 33 years, that shadow – an informant on deep background – chose to swallow his pride, if you will, and live with the pseudonym Deep Throat in exchange for his anonymity.
The information Deep Throat shared with Woodward eventually led to Richard Nixon’s resignation and prison sentences for six of his disciples – the granddaddy of all political scandals we know as Watergate.
Truth really is so much stranger than fiction. Really – stuff this good is simply beyond the parameters of even the most skilled authors of political fiction. You just can’t make this up.
In all my idiosyncratic glory, I’ve been fascinated with Watergate since high school. It was then I first read the 1974 book All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It’s one of those books I re-read (now listen to on audio) every few years. It never fails to leave me scratching my head and thinking Holy shit. I bet this little episode would curl the toes of the Founding Fathers.
On 9 April 1976 – 35 years ago last weekend – the Academy Award Winning movie All the President’s Men opened in theaters. Like the book on which the film is based, it too would become one of my favorites.
Robert Redford purchased the film rights to the book upon its publication for $450,000 and set out to make a film about Watergate with painstaking exactitude. The film stars Redford and Dustin Hoffman and was directed by Alan J. Pakula. To me, it’s a cinematic masterpiece, although I’m no film scholar and I’ve never claimed to be normal. It’s one of those movies I can watch repeatedly and enjoy it every time. I can however see how some find it a bit slow and draggy. In fact, many people who’ve watched it with me over the years found it about as enjoyable as a 2 hour and 17 minute barium enema. There are no shootouts, no car chases, and no T&A (with the exception of whatever images may come to mind with each mention of Deep Throat – which, by the way are completely your responsibility.) But it is the gripping story of one of the greatest Constitutional crises in American history.
Washington is a great backdrop for a riveting screenplay. This one in particular makes great use of the city. The filmmakers captured Redford and Hoffman amongst Washington’s enormous federal buildings, illustrating the contrast of these two virtually unknown reporters with limited resources against the entire United States federal government – or at least the executive branch thereof.
Redford insisted on filming each scene where it actually occurred, when possible. Only a handful of scenes were filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, most notably the Washington Post newsroom, and even with that, they went to great lengths to achieve authenticity, They measured the actual newsroom of the Post down to the fraction of an inch, reproduced 1972 phone books to sit on the desk, and they even had actual discarded paper from newsroom trash cans flown in to be used in the trash cans on the set, among other things.
Scenes in Woodward’s apartment were filmed in a unit in my building, as it is where Woodward lived in 1972. It’s surreal to watch those scenes and see from the window and balcony in the movie exactly what I see from mine. And seeing Redford riding in a cab on Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House brings back memories – I remember when Pennsylvania Avenue was open to traffic between 15th and 17th Streets.
My intrigue in all things Watergate should not be misinterpreted as celebratory – it isn’t. This is no proud moment in American history. That is, unless you look at it from the perspective of the free press playing its role in keeping the power of government in check. It certainly changed the relationship between the press and government. And lest we forget, it also made a household name out of the title of a pornographic film.
Unless you’ve been in a coma since 2005, you’re aware that Deep Throat finally revealed his own identity. W. Mark Felt was serving as the Deputy Associate Director of the FBI in 1972. Hal Holbrook played Deep Throat in the film and did an extraordinary job portraying the informant as the mysterious, unidentified figure he remained for 33 years. Mark Felt died in 2008.
My fixation with the Watergate as a real property may or may not have something to do with its notoriety. Admittedly, I am very “it happened here,” always intrigued by addresses of historical distinction. But even had the events in June 1972 never happened or had never been discovered – I think the bizarrely unique architecture would still catch my attention, for that reason – it’s unique. It’s salient. It’s a creature of different stripes than the rank and file stately buildings of Washington. Its sweeping, curved lines, sharp points, serpent teeth balconies, and its unmistakable and imposing presence make for intriguing real estate. And if the stars would just align correctly, perhaps I’ll call it “home” someday.
Brevity evades me today, but I leave you with one final thought from the movie:
Carl Bernstein called John Mitchell (former Attorney General) late one night for a comment on a story naming Mitchell as one of the men who controlled a secret cash fund from which the Watergate burglars had been paid. Bernstein read the paragraph to him, after which Mitchell shouted, “Jesus! Jesus! All that crap! You’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied! You tell your publisher – tell Katie Graham she’s gonna get her tit caught in the big wringer if that’s published.”
It might have been denied, but it was true. Oh, those charming Nixon White House cabinet members
…And so it goes…
Peace be with you,