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Written by Timothy Sexton
A cub reporter whose biggest exposure within the pages of the Washington Post prior to the break-in was in the form of health violations of local restaurants. On June 17, 1972, Bob Woodward’s greatest claim to journalistic fame was contributing to the shuttering of a few local D.C. eateries. Today, his fame rests upon his contribution to shuttering the White House to its then-occupant, Pres. Richard M. Nixon, before the end of his term. Woodward was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film version.
The chain-smoking, long-haired, liberal registered Democrat member of Woodstein—the shorthand nickname applied to Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein’s route to becoming one-half of the most pair of newspaper reporters of the latter half of the 20th century is like something out of a movie—a much different and older type of newspaper movie than All the President’s Men. Bernstein literally went from teenage copy boy with the Washington Star to sharing a Pulitzer Prize for his Watergate coverage in less than fifteen years and without a college degree in journalism or any other discipline. Dustin Hoffman nailed Bernstein’s more idiosyncratic character (than Woodward’s) in the film version.
The D.C. Editor for the Washington Post during the period of the Watergate investigation, Barry Sussman is perhaps the single most influential figure from the newspaper who is not portrayed by name in the Oscar-winning film adaptation of All the President’s Men. Some covers of the book and some movie posters feature the unattributed quote “We’ve never had a story like this.” The source of that famous line is none other than Barry Sussman and the context is his reply upon the revelation (based on Woodward’s early investigative work) that a check for $25,000 was the first evidence directly tying the Nixon re-election campaign to the burglars arrested inside the Watergate hotel.
Ben Bradlee’s position at the Washington Post during the Watergate investigation was Executive Editor and he is the only the character in the film adaptation to garner the actor who played him an Academy Award. In fact, Jason Robards actually took home the first of his back-to-back Best Supporting Actor Oscars for playing the second most powerful figure at the newspaper, behind only publisher Katherine Graham. Since Bradlee had a long career as a newspaperman himself, however, the buck essentially stopped with him. Considering that the Washington Post initially—and for some time—took a lot of heat from the White House, the Republican Party and even other newspapers for doggedly pursuing a story that many times seemed to destined to lead nowhere particularly important, Bradlee’s trust and loyalty to Woodward and Bernstein is deserving of particular commendation.
Perhaps the single most memorable character from All the President’s Men is never physically described, remains nameless throughout, is never directly quoted and could not even be referred to in polite company for many years because his nickname was derived from the title of an explicit pornographic film popular at the time. Deep Throat would go on to become the object of one of the most popular guessing games in political history. The only indication of his identity provided in the book is that he worked in the Executive Branch of government and somehow had access to high-level information within Richard Nixon’s re-election committee. Among those mentioned as serious candidates for being Deep Throat were Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Diane Sawyer and Pat Nixon, the President’s wife. When the truth was finally revealed, it proved something of a letdown to Washington outsiders: Mark Felt, Deputy Director of the FBI.
Another vital character to the narrative of All the President’s Men who remains an anonymous figure is a woman who was a bookkeeper for the Committee to Re-Elect the President. The scenes in which Bernstein is desperately trying to win her confidence, keep her talking and take notes on napkins and any other scrap of paper he can find is one of the highlights of the book as far as it reveals the sometimes brutally ugly reality of being an investigative reporter. The Bookkeeper becomes an instrumental source for Woodward and Bernstein in their effort to figure out who received the money that Deep Throat (in the film, but not the book) advises them to follow if they really want to get to the heart of the story behind the Watergate break-in.
Sloan was the Treasurer of the Committee to Re-Elect the President and the only person of high status working there that the Bookkeeper expresses admiration and loyalty. Sloan’s ambivalence toward the more sinister and underhanded shenanigans going on inside Nixon’s re-elected committee did much to convince Woodward and Bernstein of the true scope of the scandal taking place behind the “third-rate burglary” of the Watergate.
Kenneth H. Dahlberg
Dahlberg was the Midwest Finance Chairman of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. While his part in the Watergate scandal would ultimately pale in comparison to such far more powerful figures as H.R. Haldeman and John Dean and such integral players in the actual break-in of the Watergate Hotel, he remains one of the central figures in All the President’s Men. As Barry Sussman observed when Woodward’s mundane investigative techniques of making phone calls turned up an unexpectedly vital piece of evidence, Dahlberg’s part in the drama make it crystal clear that the newspaper had never had a story like this before. Dahlberg’s revelation that a $25,000 cashier’s check deposited into the bank accounts of the five men who broke into the national headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate hotel had been personally been handed over by him to the treasurer of Richard Nixon’s re-election committee essentially changed the entire playing field of the investigation by the Washington Post into that little burglary at the Watergate.
John Mitchell was Attorney General under Pres. Richard Nixon until he resigned to become the Campaign Director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. A phone conversation between Bernstein and John Mitchell figures prominently in the book.
H.R. Bob" Haldeman
Officially the White House Chief of Staff, Haldeman was widely viewed as the second most powerful person in the Executive Branch due to his close relationship with Pres. Richard Nixon. Woodward and Bernstein were savvy enough to know that if they could connect the money they were following to Haldeman, it would by definition mean establishing a connection to the President himself. And if that was the case, then the President of the United States would be accused of obstruction of justice; an impeachable offense. The climax of the film adaptation of All the President’s Men occurs at one of the lowest points of the investigation by Woodstein; apparently getting the story of Hugh Sloan fingering Haldeman’s involvement in the cover-up to the grand jury charged with hearing testimony on the issue wrong. In fact, Sloan did not name Haldeman before the grand jury…but only because they never asked if Haldeman did receive “hush money” from the slush fund. The movie ends on that dramatic misstep because by the time it was released, pretty much everyone knew the reporters would eventually be redeemed. Haldeman’s temporary escape from the clutches of justice occurs roughly halfway through the book.
Bernard L. Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, James W. McCord, Jr. & Frank Sturgis
These five men are the burglars whose arrest inside the National Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate kicked off the biggest political scandal in U.S. history.
John Dean's official title was Counsel to the President. Heavily involved in all aspects of the cover-up of the Watergate scandal, he would eventually discover his conscience and his testimony before Congress would the source of much detailed inside information that even Woodward and Bernstein could not penetrate as investigative reporters.
Butterfield was an aide to H.R. Haldeman and Deputy Assistant to the President. Butterfield plays only a minor role in All the President's Men, but would eventually become one of the key figures in the path leading to Richard Nixon's resignation of the Presidency. It was Butterfield who blew the lid off the Senate investigation with his revelation that Nixon had a secret taping system that essentially recorded every conversation which took place in the Oval Office.
Richard M. Nixon
Although Woodward and Bernstein never gained access to Pres. Nixon during their investigation, his presence hangs over All the President's Men in a way not entirely dissimilar to how the presence of Vito Corleone hangs over even those sections of The Godfather in which he is physically absent.
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