Reflective blog post midterm: “All the President’s Men” and investigative journalism themes

Addi Tarr
5 min readMar 28, 2021

The 1976 Drama/Political thriller “All the President’s Men” displays countless journalistic themes throughout the course of the film based off the Watergate scandal in 1972.

The film accurately portrays the struggles faced by investigative reporters, such as: being adrift in a sea of names that may or may not be connected, following up on false leads, and the frustration of being so close to the truth but needing more evidence.

Content from “The Investigative Reporters Handbook” touches on supporting themes from the film. The first chapter of the book for instance, discusses journalist Paul Williams’ theory on investigative journalism, also known as “The Paul Williams Way.”

This theory can be described in 11 key steps and is demonstrated in the film by the way that both Woodward and Bernstein went about their investigation process — taking each step cautiously and methodically in order to achieve the best result. Following this 11 step process will ensure that the investigative reporter produces a good, well-structured piece.

Similarly, primary sources and secondary sources are a common theme throughout the film and the textbook. In the film, many sources would present things as fact, which required Woodward and Bernstein to further investigate and ensure that this was the truth. It is through utilizing these primary and secondary sources that Woodward and Bernstein come into contact with “Deep Throat.”

As discussed in chapter 5 of the textbook, people trails make up a large part of the investigative process. Throughout the film, “Deep Throat,” is observed leading Woodward and Bernstein throughout their investigation and confirming suspicions and questions the reporters have pertaining to their story.

Chapter 9 of the textbook discusses investigating the Executive Branch, which relates to “following the money,” a reoccurring theme in the film. This technique was used by Woodward and Bernstein and eventually led to them investigating President Nixon.

In order to achieve this Woodward and Bernstein spoke to a variety of sources slowly following leads and working their way up, eventually putting together all the right pieces to find the connection between the 1972 Democratic Party Headquarters burglary and President Nixon.

Throughout the film, the two reporters are seen conducting interviews with everyone from secretaries to political operatives. The information they gathered from such a diverse group of individuals eventually lead to piecing together the story that would expose the Watergate scandal.

Chapter 7 in the Investigative Reporters Handbook discusses the ethics behind investigative reporting. This chapter discusses maintaining credibility throughout investigations, dealing with anonymous sources, fact checking, and more ethical procedures.

In the film, Woodward and Bernstein were portrayed in a way that lead me to believe they investigated this story in an ethical manner. They fact-checked and verified the information they received from sources, and kept their word to anonymous sources that they would be kept anonymous. Woodward and Bernstein regularly met with the editors of The Washington Post to ensure they maintained good ethical standing throughout their investigation.

The Watergate Scandal was not only historically significant, but it was also seen as a breakthrough for investigative reporting. Because of the work of The Washington Post’s own Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the public saw the need for investigative journalists to hold people in power accountable.

The film spared no details regarding the struggles, frustration and obstacles faced by Woodward and Bernstein. The two reporters are seen chasing down leads, running into dead ends, and interviewing sources who were stubborn or vague with their information.

Despite these obstacles, Woodward and Bernstein are persistent in seeking the truth. Even when exhausted and discouraged they consistently confirm reliable sources, follow people trails, and verify information.

It was in 1972 that the first report regarding Watergate was made by The Washington Post. Woodward and Bernstein continued their Watergate investigative over the course of nearly two years, relying on a variety of sources and information.

In today’s society, small inconveniences — such as traveling to interview a source — could be avoided by taking advantage of technological advancements like video chat. Similarly, researching and confirming sources would be much easier with access to the internet and public government websites.

An article published by The Washington Post titled, “GOP Security Aide Among Five Arrested in Bugging Affair” written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein contains a variety of anonymous and identified sources, along with some paraphrasing.

Without the quotes from sources in this article, it would be nothing more than an opinion piece or “conspiracy theory” by the two authors.

As portrayed in the film, the relationship between editor and reporter is important on a variety of levels. The editor is the first person a reporter runs their story through — second only to the source, who usually does not see the big picture until the publication.

The editor meets regularly with the reporter(s) and ensures that the information they are receiving is valid. The editor is responsible for asking the difficult questions to confirm the story is factual and all possible facets are being explored. In order for this relationship to reach its full potential, the reporter has to trust that the editor is critiquing them in the best possible way.

Throughout the course of this film I have learned how detrimental it is to remain persistent in seeking the truth. Although discouraging at times, if the reporter remains consistent in their passion for uncovering the entire story, there is always more information than meets the eye.

I also discovered the importance of fact-checking. While it may be dull to ask the same questions over and over again, it is imperative that the information you publish is undeniably accurate.

Woodward and Bernstein were consistently checking up on sources and facts. If even one detail from the information they published had a flaw or was inaccurate in some fashion, they would likely never be viewed as reputable reporters again.

Aside from Woodward and Bernstein, one character that stands out is executive editor Ben Bradlee. Bradlee showed passion for the truth and put his career on the line by approving Woodward and Bernstein’s work to be published. I think that Bradlee’s trust and loyalty to Woodward and Bernstein demonstrated throughout the film is admirable.

Another character who played an important role in the film was President Richard M. Nixon. Although Woodward and Bernstein never spoke directly to President Nixon during the duration of their investigation, his presence can be felt throughout the film even in scenes where he was physically absent.

Lastly, a scene that holds a lasting impact over me, involved a character who was not given a name. This character can best be described as the anonymous woman who was a bookkeeper to re-elect the President. This character becomes a crucial source for the reporters in their effort to determine the story behind the Watergate break-in.

If ever given the opportunity, I would ask Woodward and Bernstein what inspired them to keep pursuing the truth despite the criticism and discouragement they were receiving. I would also ask what advice they had for an inspiring journalist, and how their relationship developed over the years of working together.

On my honor, I have watched “All the President’s Men” in its entirety.

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