Jun 4, 2005

watergate

After the identity of Deep Throat was revealed last week I went back and read my favorite book on the subject - All The President's Men. It's the best because it's really Woodward and Bernstein's first hand account of the events leading up to Nixon's resignation. It's well written and it does have an air of modesty and truthfulness. That is a bit of a concern in a publication like this. It was clearly an emotional time loaded with unclear motives. The authors seem to admit their failings and shortcomings throughout the book which adds to the believability of the book. It's an interesting read for a number of reasons.
  1. It really gives you an idea of how a reporter works or at least how they should work. The amount of effort Woodward, Bernstein and others puts into identifying the facts is inspirational. They seem to call anyone and everyone. And they do this constantly through the book. They get multiple confirmations of information and seem to work tirelessly tracking down every single small lead. It's quite feat.
  2. The characters are extremely enjoyable. Woodward comes off as an Ivy League, by-the-book type. Bernstein is a more radical, counter-culture personality. Bradlee (their boss) is a gruff, but refined hard-charger. And the conspirators all come off as individuals and amazingly interesting.
  3. The event itself is incredibly interesting. It seems so unlikely to have happened in the first place. And the book will give you multiple instances where you feel confident the whole thing will dead end and be covered up. It's amazing this ever came to light.
  4. A large number of the characters will be well known to the average reader - Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan, Bob Dole, Daniel Schorr, etc.
One of the strange aspect of the story is how badly Nixon and his men handled it - the obstruction, the bad lies, the complete amateur nature of the administration's reaction. For someone as highly regarded as Nixon when it came to brains, he sure comes off as a complete amateur during this period. I chalk it up to his insecurities which I think overwhelmed him. He just couldn't function properly under these circumstances. But it's clear that this event serves as a blueprint on how not to conduct business during a crisis like this.

The other strange thing about Watergate is one that most people forget. Much of the Watergate story was out and reported in the Washington Post before Nixon won his bid for re-election. And he didn't win by a small margin. I'm struggling with whether this would have been different today or not. I think people are more cynical about corruption now and would have readily come to the realization that something 'tricky' was going on here. Then again it seems we live in a time when the populace seems so polarized along party lines that maybe they wouldn't care what Nixon did.

And finally it is strange because Nixon had the re-election in hand. He didn't need to do this. He was ahead by a huge margin and the Democratic opposition was falling apart. Then again that's a bit of speculation because Nixon had done this type of stuff all along. "Tricky Dick" is a reference to all the slime he dished out. And it's unclear if he had not done this in the first place whether or not he would have been in the dominant political position he was in. On a personal level I'm not clear what the appeal of Nixon is. He's not charismatic at all. He always comes off as a nervous and sweaty man. A completely unappealing character.

I'll finally mention the movie with Redford and Hoffman as a great flick. It doesn't of course capture all the information in book but it does a decent job of keeping to the storyline and creating some of the tension that the book describes.

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