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All the President’s Men

John Simkin

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All the President’s Men has always been one of my favourite political films. It also helped me see the “investigative journalist” as a hero. After watching the film I was encouraged to read about those journalists in the late 19th century and the early 20th century (unfortunately named “muckrakers”) who successfully tackled political corruption in America. It seemed to me that these journalists contributed more to the growth of democracy than the politicians who were busy taking bribes from all and sundry.

It has been claimed that All the President’s Men inspired a whole generation of young men and women to become investigative journalists. It is even possible that I would not have become active in exploring political corruption without seeing this film (I read the book much later).

One of the reasons I enjoyed the film so much was its apparent unwillingness to change the story for dramatic effect. However, I recently discovered that this was not the case. In fact, All the President’s Men was part of the conspiracy to keep secret something called Operation Sandwedge. This was a far more serious dirty tricks campaign than Operation Gemstone that eventually resulted in the Watergate Scandal.

Rather than being a courageous investigative journalist, Bob Woodward was allowing himself to be manipulated by senior figures in the CIA. In turn, Woodward helped to direct attention towards Operation Gemstone (what the CIA call a “limited hangout” strategy). Nixon was willing to go along with this because he could not afford the details of Operation Sandwedge to be exposed.

Recently the family of Mark Felt have claimed that he was “Deep Throat”. Woodward has confirmed this and has rapidly brought out a book to cash in on this revelation. The only problem is that it is not true. Although clearly Felt provided Woodward with information about the FBI investigation of the Watergate burglars, he was not in a position to reveal all the information that Deep Throat gives to the reporter in All the President’s Men. For a long time students of this case have realised that Deep Throat was in fact several people. This included a couple of senior figures in the CIA who were seeking revenge on Nixon for sacking Richard Helms and imposing James Schlesinger on the service. It was also clear that some of the information given to Deep Throat came from a figure within the White House. This includes information about Nixon’s taping system and the 18 minute editing on the important conversation between Nixon and his aides.

Last month David Obst, Woodward’s literary agent in the 1970s, gave an interview to the journalist Sharon Churcher. Obst was the person with the responsibility of trying to sell the manuscript of All the President’s Men. He pointed out that Deep Throat did not figure in the early manuscript. Nor did he appear in any of the Watergate reports in the Washington Post. Obst admits that the manuscript was originally a straightforward political analysis of Watergate that was turned down by seven publishers. Deep Throat was only added to the manuscript after Woodward met the screenwriter William Goldman at a party. It was then accepted by Simon & Schuster. It also became part of a film deal with a script written by Goldman. Obst claims that the character of Deep Throat was inserted in order to get a film deal and a contract with Simon & Schuster.

One of the key elements in the film was a fabrication. The meetings with Deep Throat in the underground car park was one of the most important aspects of the film. Does this stop All the President’s Men being a great film? Yes it does. A film should be judged not only by the skills of the people that made it. Each film has a “moral dimension”. It is now clear that All the President’s Men was part of a conspiracy to hide the truth of what was really going on in Washington in the early 1970s. As a result, in my judgement, it is no longer a great film.

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Hi John

As I messaged you yesterday afternoon U.S. time, but perhaps a bit too close to the event for you to tune in, I learned at the last moment that Bob Woodward was going to be on line at the Washington Post yesterday afternoon talking about his new book The Secret Man about his major Watergate informant "Deep Throat" whom he now identifies as Mark Felt, former second in command at the FBI until his resignation in June 1973.

The chat session is at

Book World Live.

The following question, which I wrote based on your posts expressing reservations about the Felt-as-"Deep Throat" scenario did not get asked, either because Woodward chose not to answer it or else he didn't get to it.

Hi Mr. Woodward

I have great admiration for your work and that of Mr. Bernstein in exposing the Watergate scandal and the machinations of the Nixon administration.

My understanding is that Mark Felt resigned from the FBI in June 1973, and yet All the President's Men appears to describe Deep Throat still providing information six months later, including information about Nixon's Oval Office tape recordings. If Felt was Deep Throat, how was that possible, or did he continue to provide information after his retirement? Another aspect is that most of the important information that Deep Throat revealed did not come from the FBI. Instead it came from the CIA and the White House. How did Felt get hold of this information?

Best regards

Chris George

Edited by Christopher T. George
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Chris, thank you for letting me know about last night’s question and answer session with Bob Woodward on the Washington Post website. I looked at all the questions and answers. It was clear that Woodward refused to take difficult questions on the subject of Deep Throat. It seems you could not ask a question unless you accepted that Mark Felt was Deep Throat. Thank goodness we have Forums like this where we can freely express our opinions on subjects like this.

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