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Thoughts: ‘All the President’s Men’ by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Thoughts: ‘All the President’s Men’ by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward post image

I’m 26-years-old, not even close to old enough to remember Richard Nixon’s presidency and the Watergate scandal. But ever since I knew I wanted to be a journalist, I’ve meant to read All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein:

In the most devastating political detective story of the century, two Washington Post reporters, whose brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation smashed the Watergate scandal wide open, tell the behind-the-scenes drama the way it really happened.

Beginning with the story of a simple burglary at Democratic headquarters and then continuing with headline after headline, Bernstein and Woodward kept the tale of conspiracy and the trail of dirty tricks coming — delivering the stunning revelations and pieces in the Watergate puzzle that brought about Nixon’s scandalous downfall. Their explosive reports won a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post and toppled the President. This is the book that changed America.

I have a serious weakness for books about the history of journalism or books that show how the process of journalism works. Watergate is one of those huge moments in the history of my profession, a time when the full power and importance of the press was made totally obvious. If it weren’t for the work of Woodward, Bernstein, and other journalists at major newspapers and magazines around the country, Nixon and his closest aides would have gotten away with a massive political conspiracy. It’s awesome they were caught! By reporters!

As you probably can’t tell, this isn’t a proper review because I couldn’t honestly tell readers at large (or even a reader individually) whether or not I think this would be a good book for them to read. It’s just so very particular and so tied into my interests as a journalist and a political junkie that I can’t really think about it as “literature” in the same way I can about other works of nonfiction that I’ve read.

Part of what I loved about this book was how “inside baseball” the whole thing was about the process of journalism. Every chapter details how Woodward and Bernstein went about gathering information or putting together key puzzle pieces in the process of uncovering the Watergate scandal. Given that the book was originally written in 1974, almost before the full extent of Watergate was revealed, there are a lot of vague sources and veiled references to who each of the journalist talked with to confirm key details. That was  fascinating to me because showed how committed both Woodward and Bernstein were to protecting their sources (an important value for a journalist).

It was also cool to really see how the process of old-school reporting works. Today we rely so heavily on the Internet for information, it’s easy to be lazy about looking up things as basic as a phone number, address or job title. But when the Washington Post reporters were trying to track down a lead, they often had nothing but the phone book and a long afternoon to try and get what they needed. I admired Woodward and Bernstein’s tenacity and willingness to just put in the amount of time it takes to do a big story like this, particularly the time it takes to let a story develop and see how the pieces will fit together.

I think it’s easy to get down on journalism today, especially if you just look at what is happening online or on cable news (which… don’t even get me started). If All the President’s Men did one thing for me, it was remind me how much the big picture, investigative, combative but factual type of reporting matters. I love my job as a community journalist, and I know for a fact that I don’t have the personality to be the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein. But someone has to do good journalism like this ethically and effectively to keep people in power honest. When the good stuff happens, it matters. And now I’ll get off my soapbox.

I loved this book. I had a ton of fun reading it, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily a book for everyone.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Word Lily May 23, 2013, 10:08 am

    I haven’t read the book, but we watched the movie several times in J-school. Such a thrilling story!

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:14 am

      I’ve never seen the movie, but now I really want to. I don’t think it’s on Netflix Instant (fist shake!), but it’ll get in the queue soon.

  • bermudaonion(Kathy) May 23, 2013, 10:16 am

    Boy do I feel old right about now. I read this in college and then went to see the movie.

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:15 am

      I think reading this at that time would have been so interesting — getting an inside scoop on a story that was still evolving.

  • What’s really amazing about this story (now, to me, also a 26-year-old in journalism) is that the Washington Post had the resources and the will to pay for two investigative reporters going through the phone book hunting for leads all day. I’m not so sure that would happen today – which is a massive, massive shame, because I totally agree this kind of journalism is IMPORTANT.

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:16 am

      Yes, absolutely! It was an incredible investment of time and money that is really hard to make today. There are some models where it’s working, but not to the degree that this project demanded.

  • Bettina @ Books, Bikes, and Food May 23, 2013, 1:22 pm

    This sounds really, really great. When I was starting University, I wanted to be a political journalist or foreign correspondent. Things changed a bit, but I’m still a news junkie and political animal, so I think I might enjoy this book a lot. Putting it on my reading list!
    Thanks for your glowing review! These moments when you realise what you do for a living has a meaning beyond the everyday treadmill are so precious.

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:17 am

      You’re very right — the moments when you see how your job can matter are important. That’s probably why I love reading books about journalism so much.

  • Shannon @ River City Reading May 23, 2013, 5:11 pm

    I totally love this book, too. I always try to weave at least bits and pieces into my history classes because it’s such an amazing story. Funny that you mentioned the old style journalism, it’s just as amusing to watch the movie version – every wide shot of the office is basically a singular cloud of puffy smoke.

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:17 am

      There are several other books about journalism that I’ve read that mention the smoking and dusty offices — I don’t know if I could have worked like that!

  • Jennifer May 23, 2013, 8:39 pm

    This sounds so great and I’m almost embarrassed to say that I haven’t read it. YET.

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:18 am

      It’s such a weird and wonderful book. The style is very particular and immediate and detailed. I loved that, but I can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. I hope you’ll give it a try!

  • jenn aka the picky girl May 24, 2013, 12:49 pm

    I haven’t read this book, but that movie is one of my all-time favorites. It’s partly what made me want to be a journalist once upon a time. So glad you enjoyed it. I definitely need to get to this one.

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:18 am

      Now I really want to watch the movie! I hope the boyfriend will let me move it up the queue so it arrives soon.

  • susan May 24, 2013, 1:16 pm

    I worked at the Post for 15 years as a copy editor before moving on. I have seen the movie a few times and the recent special on the making of it and all the new stuff on who Deep Throat was. Watergate will always be quite fascinating — how the president & his aides overstepped their bounds and finally were uncovered. It’s relevant in today’s politics. cheers.

    • Kim May 26, 2013, 10:19 am

      It’s so cool you worked at the Post! I get super nerdy when I hear people worked there or at other big newspapers. It’s not what I want to do, but it seems like such an achievement compared to what I imagine I will end up doing.

  • Jenny May 27, 2013, 7:12 pm

    Aaaa, I need to read this. I know I do. It’s one of those nonfiction classics that I always know I should read but never actually do. Right now I am still in the midst of finishing off all my TBR books, but once I’ve done that — or, ooh, maybe I could order this from PaperbackSwap and just add it to my TBR pile.

    (This is why my TBR pile is so huge. I have no self-control.)

    • Kim May 27, 2013, 10:01 pm

      That is exactly how I justify buying new books even in the middle of a TBR pile push. It’s a little absurd, actually 🙂 My TBR pile is outgrowing the shelves I have, and I don’t think we have room for more shelves. Ugh.

  • Christy June 15, 2013, 10:09 pm

    Yeah, I don’t think one needs to be an journalist or an aspiring one to make this worthy of a to-read list. I haven’t read it, but it does seem to be one of those non-fiction classics that anyone interested in American politics /history should read.

    • Kim June 17, 2013, 9:35 pm

      Absolutely. There’s a lot to learn from it in a lot of different areas (especially for government nerds of any kind).