Al the President’s Men takes a look at one of the most notorious episodes in our country’s history. The issue behind it, Watergate, is still discussed today and considered to be the worst scandal ever suffered by the office of the President of the United States, One of the central figures of this event was the media and the role it played in unveiling the corruption and illegal practices that occurred. As we look back on the scandal we see it set a precedent for the future on how the media could conduct itself and changed the way news was released.
If one were to look at the way the Washington Post handled itself during the ongoing detective work done by the two reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, and how scandals of today, such as Bill Clinton Sexgate, are handled, we can see a huge contrast.
Today the media conducts itself in a tell first, verify the second manner. If a story is scandalous, then it will get written about, regardless if there is a possibility it may turn out to be false.
In All the Presidents Men huge emphasis was placed on how the Washington Post put its neck out on the line for the story and the ramifications that would occur if it turned out to be all false. Clearly, this movie showed how different the roles journalists played dig the Watergate scandal versus the role they play today.
It is easy to draw parallels between what happened to President Nixon and what happened to President Clinton.
In both cases, we had a President that seemed to be on the brink of impeachment. Nixon dodged his judgment day by resigning and getting pardoned by his former Vice President Gerald Ford and Clinton dodged his with simply luck-a Democratically dominated House of Representatives. In both cases, the media, along with assistance from informers, brought the scandal to light. Little by little more and more of each case was revealed, until in each situation, it was clear that there was much more going on than what was originally portended. How many people thought that Nixon or anyone affiliated had committed such crimes? And the same could be said about Clinton, although not as completely shocking given the fact that this was not the first time accusations had been made about the president.
What divided the two situations was the role that journalists played in both cases and the atmosphere that surrounded the events. In All the Presidents Men, Woodward and Bernstein had to do an incredible amount of legwork to find information for the story. It was on a controversial topic with confidential sources, little tangible evidence, and other papers weren’t covering it, and as a result, its legitimacy of it was questioned. The movie
showed meetings by the executive editors of the paper and the debates that ensued over where to put the story in the paper and eventually whether or not to even continue with New the story.
For every new, control of evidence that was introduced and written about, the Washington Post took more and more heat from not only the accused but also politicians, police agencies, and some of the general public. At one point the reporters were even told that their lives may be in danger and the Posts chief editor says in the movie that at risk as we know it. The freedom of speech and the future of democracy in this country journalists, Woodward and Bernstein, were groundbreakers at that time and continued the story in an uncooperative, negative environment. Yet if you transplanted those two reporters and the actions they took, into today’s media environment you would simply see two ordinary, standard journalists.
The role that journalists and the media play today, and this is a general blanket statement, is to find and report news that will either bring in the most viewers or sell the most papers/magazines. To do this a delicate balance is needed. Journalists don’t go the way of The National Enquirer or Star and report on celebrities and alien sightings. But give them some inkling of a scandal and they will run with it. When Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair known was first reported, there were an incredible amount of rumors.