Exclusive: A Washington axiom holds that that when power and truth clash, power usually wins, but the contest can be complicated by competing personal agendas, as James DiEugenio notes about a new Watergate movie.
By James DiEugenio
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had two distinct advantages in putting their imprint on Watergate as the story’s principal heroes. First, timing: their book All the President’s Men was published in June 1974 before the scandal had run its course, indeed, before President Nixon resigned that August. Thus, they were out of the box before any rivals.
Second, they got sound advice: Robert Redford purchased the rights to their book when it was in the manuscript stage and he tilted its construction from a third-person objective view, to a first-person political adventure story to make the book more adaptable as a film. (The Secret Man, by Bob Woodward, p. 113)
Since the movie ended up being a big hit, this further enhanced the two reporters’ standing at the center of Watergate.
Redford’s influence also molded the use of an anonymous source who spoke on “deep background.” Hence, the memorable name given to him in the book, Deep Throat, an ironic play on the title of a pornographic movie that coincidentally was released just five days before five burglars working for Nixon’s campaign were captured inside the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building on June 17, 1972.
In 2005, in the pages of Vanity Fair, it was finally revealed that Mark Felt, the number-two man at the FBI, had been Deep Throat, a revelation that created a media firestorm and prompted another scramble for book and movie rights.
Yet, when Felt’s daughter Joan asked Woodward to co-author a book with her 91-year-old, ailing father, Woodward declined. Instead, he wrote his own book, The Secret Man, which beat Felt’s book (A G-Man’s Life co-authored by attorney John O’Connor) to the market by almost a year.
Woodward seemed to owe a great deal to Felt for his assistance as a Watergate source, yet in the book, Woodward went out of his way to demonstrate that…