Uncovering a cover-up

All the President’s Men is the story of the journalism undertaken by Carl Berstein and Bob Woodward to uncover the full scope of the activities behind the Watergate break-in which ultimately led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. The book was written by the two journalists after the events and is an account of how they uncovered the truth which they published in a series of award winning articles in the Washington Post. This is a classic book about investigative journalism (and yes, virtually all the characters in the book with any power at all are men).

The story builds slowly from the original break-in at the Watergate office space of the Democratic Party. Initially the journalists wanted to know who had paid for the crime. This led them to a cash account held by the campaign to re-elect Nixon. They then needed to know who controlled that account and what connection they might have with the men who ran the White House. They used a number of informants to get evidence for their stories, some of them anonymous such as the man known as Deep Throat. As the stories continued other people came forward with information and it slowly became apparent that the Republican Party had developed a campaign of dirty tricks, misinformation and diversion tactics to damage their political opponents – all funded by the cash which came from donations to the campaign and which were funnelled through Mexico. Ultimately, it was revealed that senior officials were behind the activities and that Nixon knew about them.

This book is full of names of sources and officials which did get confusing occasionally. Also, as I am not American, I wasn’t as aware as I probably needed to be about all the roles and organisations involved. This didn’t take away too much enjoyment for me and I found that I could understand what was going on well enough – there is a list of characters in the front. It was interesting to see the methods used in the book too – lots of typewriters and telephone boxes !

The interest in this book for me was watching the two reporters build up a story from the very small beginning. They certainly never expected it to go as far as it did but they kept asking questions about who did what and who knew about it until the cover up was revealed. Obviously, an examination of a corrupt administration, covering up their wrongdoing and protecting the man at the top is a story that resonates in today’s society.

The book is clear about how the reporters used ethical means to build their story but also tells us when they didn’t and when what they did actually harmed people. I suggest that maybe they were more forceful than they like to remember but it is true that a lot of sources spoke to them under a cloak of anonymity which they maintained.

I enjoyed reading this book which told me all I wanted to know about the Watergate affair but also about how investigative journalism works. Next time I see a small story about something political that appears to be insignificant I will wonder what might lie behind it and whether we have people still working in journalism who will do the work to uncover the truth.

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