For this week’s Learning Curve I’ll be rambling about the 1976 film All the President’s Men, which is based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward chronicling their investigation of the Watergate break-in.
The thing about this movie is that I put off watching it all last week because even though this is only the second assignment that Tim has given me for this column, it already feels way too much like homework and I’m getting horrible flashbacks of all-nighters in the computer lab at Wittenberg where I’m banging my head on the desk and staring wide-eyed and mystified at Gretchen as we both try to figure out how it’s possible that we’ve drank so much coffee and smoked so many cigarettes and looked at so many photo albums on Facebook and so many hours have passed and we still aren’t anywhere measurably close to finishing the papers that we put off writing until the absolute last minute. I’m a little bit of a procrastinator, you see, and so watching All the President’s Men got pushed back to Sunday night even though I had planned to have the review of it written and POSTED by Friday.
The other thing about this movie is that I watched it in journalism class in high school and I think I wrote a paper about it back then, so watching it again to write about it for the Learning Curve felt even more like homework, and I was really unnerved at the thought of Tim chastising me for not posting the review on time or for being an airhead who doesn’t really care about Watergate or why it was important for journalism and the First Amendment and all that. But thank god he didn’t. Or hasn’t yet anyway.
His prompt for watching this movie was to ask myself the question, “is journalism dead?” and after watching the movie again I’m not entirely sure I have a solid answer for that. There were points throughout the movie where I found myself feeling really on edge, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that I have a horrifically short attention span these days and can barely watch a movie without getting up to make a sandwich in the middle or something, but I think it was also because the character of Deep Throat is creepy as fuck, and the whole premise of the movie is just wildly unsettling. I think the discussion of whether or not anything we see in the media is reliable or truthful is very interesting, and when you think about the implications of Watergate it’s really scary to ask ourselves if we can ever really trust anything we read. If the president and all his men are corrupt, then who are we supposed to put our faith in? And with so many people these days who actually buy into the propaganda that saturates the media, it’s easy to feel like the essence of journalism as an ethical medium for relaying facts has really died out over the years, if it ever even existed as such to begin with.
The thing that is really eerie to me about this movie, aside from Bob Woodward’s sketchy shadowy encounters with Deep Throat in the parking garage at 2am, is what Deep Throat says to him during the first of these encounters. He advises Woodward, simply, to “just follow the money.” To me, this really epitomizes everything you need to understand about the movie and the scandal, because the fact of the matter is that when it comes to politics and journalism and basically everything that involves power or influence in this country, it is all about the money. And that’s really terrifying, mostly because even if we understand the truth in that, there is usually little we can do to change it or to make things right. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein risked their careers and basically their lives to do what was right, and their story is an inspiring one that highlights the importance of journalistic ethics and the significance of the Washington Post’s quest for truth and clarity in the midst of the shady political dealings and murky corruption of Nixon’s presidency.
I very rarely read the paper or watch the news because I maintain a certain measure of skepticism for the truth that is to be found in the media these days. It’s also just because I’m sort of in my own little world, and it seems like every time I turn on the news there is some ridiculous story about a mobile meth lab or a man raping elderly women in a local park, and I just don’t have the capacity to accept things as crazily depressing as those into the jumble of mostly selfish thoughts that is already filling my head from day to day. I’m too preoccupied worrying about
if when I’m going to end up stranded on the side of the road when my car finally crumbles to dust underneath me to be concerned with conspiracy theories about Obama’s religion and birth certificate, and I’ve been so busy wondering if I’m ever going to find a job that will allow me to feel really and truly financially stable that I haven’t even gotten the chance to read any WikiLeaks.
I don’t think that journalism is dead, because I think there are plenty of people out there who still value the truth enough to have noble aims when it comes to reporting and sharing information. WikiLeaks seems like a perfect example of that, but as far as traditional journalism goes, you always have to wonder what motivates journalists and whether or not the obligation to be truthful and ethical outweighs that simple, age-old fact that money talks.
I liked this film a lot better the second time, but it was easy for me to get distracted from the actual storyline by the fact that Robert Redford is strangely sexy and Dustin Hoffman looks like my dad. His ridiculous chainsmoking throughout the movie cracks me up, and I got a real kick out of watching him light up in elevators and while he was cradling the crank-dial phone between his shoulder and cheek. Watching Robert Redford look up numbers in a phone book made me laugh a little bit too, and I couldn’t help thinking about how hard it must’ve been to be a journalist before the internet. Also, the bottom line of this movie seemed to be that typewriters are badass and that every serious writer needs to be able to bang away on one in order for the story to really resound. The final scene of this movie is awesome and further illustrates this point.