To begin with, I want to send my best wishes to Diana in NoVa, and send her Congratulations! on the marriage of her son taking place this weekend. If she doesn't have time to join us, we will understand, miss her very much, and wish her well. Have fun, lovely lady, and we look forward to seeing you next week.
Now to my ever so humble attempt.
Although I already knew the denouement and the basic outline of the plot, when I first read All the President's Men, I had little knowledge of the smaller players who were nonetheless integral parts of the whole. I had no clue who Hugh Sloan was, much less his wife Deborah, the source of the quote in the title of this diary. But I soon discovered the parts they played in the unfolding drama that was the implosion of an imperial presidency.
Hugh Sloan was the treasurer of the Committee to Re-Elect the President*: Nixon, in this case. Sloan had been handing out money okayed by Mitchell without ever following up on what the money was actually buying. After the break in, however, all complacency about the piles of money was at an end. In the ensuing rush at CREP headquarters to get rid of the evidence, with ledgers being removed, shredded and some even burned, Sloan found he could no longer not see what was happening. His wife, Deborah, was said to be the impetus behind his resignation, but both of them were still loyal to the President. When he first talked to Bernstein and Woodward, Sloan felt sure the President had no idea what his hirelings had been doing in his name. At least that was his hope, which wavered as more information came to light. His sadness at the obvious becomes a barometer for how many true believers felt at the betrayal of someone in whom they'd truly believed.
The comment, "This is an honest house," was what Deborah Sloan told Carl Bernstein when he stopped by to question her husband about his knowledge of the large slush fund consisting of huge amounts of cash and large personal checks written by donors to the CREP.
In juxtaposition against the myriad fun house mirror distortions, outright lies, and what The Washington Post called the White House's "non-denial denials," Deborah Sloan's quietly dignified assertion is all the more striking. Pregnant at the time, Bernstein's respect and liking for her comes across on the page, and as a consequence, I saw her as sympathetic, where as being a true believer in Nixon at this point could make her seem either pathetic or sanctimonious.
In re-reading the book for this diary I found myself for the most part reacting in the same way I did all those years ago. The story starts off simply, but soon it reads like a combination mystery/spy novel. This time around I found myself laughing more at the sheer absurdity of some of the situations. Being older and wiser, or at least no longer quite as naive, I had a better appreciation of the risks that the reporters and the newspaper took. Details that shocked me years ago, now only leave me shaking my head. Partly I wonder that people at the level of the White House would do such things and think they could get away with it; partly I'm still amazed that two lowly reporters through a series of misadventures and sheer dogged persistence were able to hold the guilty people accountable in the court of public opinion, up to and including the leader of the free world.
I actually found myself surprised at one new thing I learned this time around. It wasn't in the book; it was information that I found doing research for this diary. I learned just how close we came to having a book that read more like a textbook. Since everyone already knew the outcome, a treatise that was didactic in tone would hardly have insured a ride to the best seller list, never mind making a critically aclaimed movie that was also successful at the box office. So it is with sincerity that I thank Robert Redford for saving us all from another boring Watergate book.
According to Ben Bradlee, the executive editor from 1965-1991, the Post had 400 Watergate stories in the two-and-a-half years between the June 18, 1972, story of the bungled break in at the Democratic Headquarters and the August 9, 1974, story of Nixon's resignation. Although some people wonder why there isn't a compilation of all The Washington Post's Watergate stories into one download, to date you still have to look up the stories on a one-by-one basis. Amazon's listing for kindle is misleading; not every story is included. I think a compilation of every story in the order they appeared would be valuable, but it wouldn't be as pleasurable to read as Bernstein's and Woodward's book.
Both Bernstein and Woodward had planned on writing a book together, but they had envisioned a step by step outline of events leading up to Nixon's resignation. The very last thing the book buying public needed was another dry recitation of facts. Luckily, Mr. Redford had been following the story and he saw the potential for a movie version of events. At first those in charge at The Washington Post, were leery of their respected paper receiving the "Hollywood treatment," but Redford was able to convince Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham to trust his vision.
Both Woodward and Bernstein were easier to convince, and at Redford's suggestion they told the story as a whodunnit. We watch as the original tension and competition between the two reporters turns into mutual respect. The synergy of Bernstein's and Woodward's burgeoning relationship becomes a counterpoint to the slow inevitable unraveling of the Nixon White House.
Except it wasn't inevitable; had "Woodstein," as their co-workers referred to the duo, quit pushing back and accepted the White House's whitewashed version of events, the constituents who voted Nixon in on the largest landslide in U.S. history may never have learned the extent of the malfaesance and the cover up.
Another aspect readers of the book now know is the identity of Deep Throat, Woodward's mysterious friend in the upper echelons of politics who had a garage fetish. Mark Felt had always made the top ten lists of people in the know. As the #2 man at the FBI, many had thought he could be Deep Throat. The world found out for certain May 31, 2005. People can, and will, argue whether he had an axe to grind or whether his motivation was patriotic. Whatever side you choose, the veracity of his information is less open to debate.
I will leave my take on what I see as the consequences of Watergate to our political process for another diary, and wrap this one up with what I feel are the biggest effects reading the book had on me. First was the validation that our government does not always get everything right, and sometimes they get it completely wrong. I had thought this for awhile about the whole Vietnam experience, and the fact that no one would talk about both sides in my government class at school had pretty much confirmed it for me.
One thing was for sure: after I read the book, I was never going to be a complacent citizen who had blind trust in my government. My patriotism doesn't consist of blind adherence to a party line, either. One of the big lessons that I learned from All the President's Men was that it was not only okay to question our government, it is our duty as citizens to hold our representatives accountable. For that reason alone, I think it should be required reading in high school. I have been proud to call myself a liberal since before I was old enough to vote. The only difference now is that I proudly add "progressive" to my self-description.
Below are a few quotes I still found interesting reading it the second time.
John Mitchell's wife Martha, talking to Woodward, said: "I think there shouldn't be an election. (referring to Nixon's re-election.) If you ask me, the President should have a seven-year-term and, boom, then put him out. They start running again after they're in office two years. I don't care which party you're talking about."
"Nine months after Watergate, the White House demonstrated once again that it knew more about the news business than the news business knew about the White House." (re White House offer of staff testifying to the senate committee and the President's claim of executive privilege.)
A high placed official in the CREP, talking to Woodward, sounded fed up about the whole situation, and said the following: "If there was an honest and a dishonest way to do something, and if both ways would get the same results, we picked he dishonest way....Now tell me why anyone would do that?"*I still wonder whose bright idea it was for the committee's title, and did they stick their kids with names where the initials spelled out something like G.A.S. or F.A.T.? Or did they knowingly use the acronym CREP to allude to something we would all know soon enough: Nixon was the head creep in charge. Unfortunately, that's a question that Bernstein and Woodward didn't answer.
8:17 AM PT: Thanks you so much for moving this to Community Spotlight. It's an honor.