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All the President's Men: Book Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Background to the Book
  • 0:42 Book Summary
  • 3:30 Book Analysis
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Raudenbush
'All the President's Men' is a work of nonfiction that depicts the Watergate investigation by Washington Post investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. This lesson describes a book of journalistic, political, and historic significance.

Background to the Book

All the President's Men reads like the kind of political thriller you take to the beach in the summer. A pair of mismatched newspaper reporters with a mysterious source probes a burglary at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC, and uncovers a conspiracy that leads all the way to the White House.

However, All the President's Men wasn't a conspiracy thriller spun from the fertile imagination of someone like Robert Ludlum. In the 1974 nonfiction bestseller, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein recount their Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign and sent several of his closest advisors to federal prison.

Book Summary

Ironically, the news story of the century began as a routine assignment Bob Woodward didn't want. He had spent most of his first nine months at The Washington Post reporting relatively routine stories but had recently completed a series on the attempted assassination of controversial Alabama governor George Wallace. A burglary at the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel struck Woodward as a step back to the type of daily assignment reporting he wanted to escape.

In court for the arraignment, Woodward begins making startling discoveries. The burglars weren't common thieves; they packed listening devices for bugging the Democratic Party offices. Furthermore, the burglars are a suspicious combination. Four of them are Cubans from Miami, and the fifth, James W. McCord, claims to be a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. Woodward quickly links the Cubans and McCord to two individuals with close White House ties: E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA employee, and Charles Colson, a former special counsel to President Nixon.

Back at The Washington Post offices, editors assign veteran reporter Carl Bernstein to work with Woodward as a blockbuster investigation emerges. First, the reporters connect the Watergate break-in to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (or CREEP, as the reporters call it), Nixon's campaign organization.

Next, with the help of an anonymous source known only as Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein uncover a secret CREEP slush fund used to spy on and sabotage two Democratic presidential candidates: Edmund Muskie and George McGovern. The buzzwords for their investigation become 'follow the dollar,' as they attempt to find the highest ranking officials with access to the fund.

Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee adds a necessary complication to the investigation. Woodward and Bernstein must confirm every detail they uncover with reliable sources who can go 'on record.' Bradlee realizes these rules are essential to make every story credible. Meanwhile, Deep Throat reveals the burglary and CREEP slush fund are only small parts of a deeper conspiracy involving the U.S. intelligence community and spying on American journalists, activists, and other citizens. The mysterious source warns Woodward and Bernstein that revealing those connections could cost people their lives - including their own.

Ultimately, the dominos fall in the Nixon administration. The Post reporters uncover sources who establish that the president's Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, former Attorney General John Mitchell, and White House Counsel John Dean knew about the CREEP slush fund and efforts to undermine Democratic campaigns. The events depicted in the book end with Nixon's inauguration for his second term. It would take another year of reporting and a Congressional investigation to end Nixon's presidency.

Book Analysis

In listing All The President's Men among the 100 most important nonfiction books, Time magazine called it 'perhaps the most influential work of journalism in history.' What makes it so influential?

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