39A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

All the Government’s Men
August 31, 2008

In late 1976, a team of intrepid artist/entrepreneurs released the film “All the President’s Men,” an historic account of two Washington Post reporters who followed the Watergate break-in story to its unlikely end: the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.  The team focused on a book of the same name written by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two young Washington Post reporters, one of whom had only nine months experience at the paper.  The film’s screenplay written by William Goldman,  directed by Alan J. Pakula, featured Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford* as the two leads, Jack Warden played Post Local News Editor Harry Rosenfeld, Martin Balsom Managing Editor Howard Simon, Hal Holbrook was “Deep Throat” and Jason Robards brilliantly portrayed Post Publisher Ben Bradlee.  Few motion pictures have displayed more insight into the duties of the American free press.   Deeply sobering is the idea that this story could never be told today. 

The nineteen seventies’ political and moral influences were colored by the sixties achievements in civil rights, women’s rights and anti-war movements.  The press and electronic media reflected popular attitudes by fearlessly rejecting the status quo.  The mainstream press operated mostly as free and independent entities.  Papers like the Washington Post owned by Beltway insider Katherine Graham, cow-towed to no corporate puppet master.  The film underlines this fact in a scene where the highest law enforcement officer in the United States, Attorney General John Mitchell threatens Graham with the words, “If you publish that story, Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in the wringer…”   John Mitchell was found guilty on all counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury - he was sentenced to two to eight years in prison.  In one of the most powerfully understated endings in motion picture history, a teletype machine hammers out the names of thirteen former Administration officials found guilty of criminal acts in connection with Watergate.  Included are two former Attorneys General.  The last two teletype lines dated August 9, 1974 read: “Nixon resigns.  Gerald Ford to become 38th President…”

The story behind “All the President’s Men” is loaded with intrigue and subterfuge.  The entire investigation was buoyed by the corroboration of a shadowy deep background source positioned high up in the Administration code named “Deep Throat.“  As more and more Washington officials pled guilty, the lives of Woodward, Bernstein and publisher Ben Bradlee were in jeopardy.  They were forced to have conversations out of doors after being tipped to “electronic surveillance.”  Deep Throat confirmed lives were in danger and that, “Everyone’s involved.”  When Bradlee pushed for details, Woodward told him, “The cover-up had little to do with the break-in, it was to protect covert operations, the covert activities involve the entire U.S. intelligence community.” 

Today’s media “reporters” are incapable of publishing this story.  They are company employees in the service of their corporate parents.  Look through the ownership records of mainstream media, all owned by a handful of conglomerates - each with an effective market monopoly.  The result is there are no real news stories anymore.  There are no intrepid reporters or publishers to hold a candle to Woodward, Bernstein or Ben Bradlee.   Today’s newsmen and women are minstrel show reporters, trained to parrot the company line of terror, threat and fear.  They flee from hard investigative reporting and cower in the shadows of their corporate overseers who remind them they are “expendable.”  The end result is the usurpation of our democracy.  Because American democracy works in the balance of three independent branches of power, all of which must be kept in check by a fourth entity - outside of government.  That entity is a functioning free and independent press.  One that is unafraid to report disturbing facts about our government and the hazardous paths they lead us down.  Hence the position of the Constitutional protection of a free and independent press by the First Amendment.

Without the oversight of a real free press, there is no democracy;  the political system enumerated in the Constitution of the United States is a laughable sham.  After the Congress and Executive have been consolidated we are left with only the Judiciary to preserve the principles of democracy.  And the Judiciary is far too small and easily overburdened to effectively oversee the massive tendrils of federal government.  As a result the three branches of power are reduced to one and a half.  With the absorption of a free press by the military/industrial complex we have abdicated the last opportunity for balance.  We are left with a structure that marches to an inner circle that holds a death grip over Congress, the Executive and a somnambulist press corp.  All that is left in defense of democracy are nine men and women sitting at the Supreme Court.  And as we have seen in three different rulings against the Administration with regard to habeas for prisoners - that circle flouts the law and obstructs justice.  There are few who will speak out against it.

At the conclusion of “All the President’s Men,” director Pakula gives us an wide angle shot of the bustling Washington Post newsroom.  Amidst the frenetic movement of newsmen beneath harsh florescent lights, a television set sits in the foreground; Woodward and Bernstein in the background, typing furiously.  The television shows the inauguration of Richard M. Nixon’s second term.  The Chief Justice of the United States orders Nixon to place his left hand on the bible, and to raise his right hand.  He then leads Nixon in the oath sworn by every federal law enforcement officer, Judge, Congressman and member of the military:

“And [I] will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… So help me God.”

What needs no words but is brilliantly underscored is the fact that the duty to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States falls not only upon its government - but upon its citizens.  Because when government fails to live up to its sacred oath - its people must take up the torch.  That torch is carried highest by a free and independent press.  And by a handful of courageous, unflinching citizens who believe that democratic principles are well worth fighting for.

*To his great credit Redford's own production company purchased the rights to the Woodward/Bernstein book and in an end acknowledgment accepts full responsibility for the content of the motion picture.