In June 1972, a series of reports in The Washington Post sparked a political crisis never seen before in the United States, directly involving the White House and ending with the resignation of President-elect Richard Nixon.
For every student of journalism, the series of reports by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward became a reference and goal, an inspiration of objectivity, insistence, and a good hunch. Since then, any investigative journalism or major scandal has had a “gate” associated with it, all because of the Washington D.C. address. Watergate is an apartment and office complex in the American capital, where the base of the Democratic and whose base was invaded by republicans.
Hollywood obviously wouldn’t pass up a fascinating story like this and between comedies and dramas, it has recounted what brought down and tarnished Nixon’s legacy time and time again. We will mention here only the “serious” contents, which deserve to be reviewed to contextualize what happened. Let’s take a look, on this 50th anniversary, at some of the best content about the story.
All the President’s Men (1976)
Released just four years after the scandal, still at the height of resignation and political pressure, the film showcases the work of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). Told in suspense, the film is still a reference and considered one of the best of the 1970s. Jason Robards won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ben Bradlee (later played by Tom Hanks in The Post). At the time, Woodward’s main source was still anonymous and became known as “Deep Throat”. His line in the film, “follow the money”, led reporters to get to the real perpetrators of the crime (which was originally considered “invasion and robbery”) and even “take down” Richard Nixon. “Following the money” became an expression used and adopted to discover the truths in crimes.
The series that focuses on Martha Mitchell (Julia Roberts), wife of Attorney General John N. Mitchell (Sean Penn), one of the masters and convicts in the Watergate scandal, has an excellent period reenactment and more than just being on Martha, one of the first to openly report it (but without being taken seriously), it shows in detail how the entire republican process of the messed up and frustrated espionage action was. It quotes from All the President’s Men and if you’re a fan of the 1976 movie, you’ll be able to identify the scenes where Bob Woodward crosses paths with the characters.
The Post (2017)
Steven Spielberg‘s film is more about profiling Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the owner of The Washington Post, and how she turned a minor newspaper into one of the biggest references in world journalism. Prior to Watergate, the journalism team, led by Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), dealt with political pressure from Washington and the White House that the press did not publish sensitive information that would change the course of the US government. It is therefore what led – in some way – the republican government to act and try to suppress its maneuvers, culminating in the Watergate error, mentioned only at the end of the film. It helps a lot to contextualize the time.
The biopic signed by Oliver Stone, starring naturally a brilliant Anthony Hopkins is over 3 hours long and covers 60 years of Richard Nixon‘s life, but not in a linear fashion. Joan Allen plays Pat Nixon and Madeleine Khan has a cameo as Martha Mitchell. It’s dense, detailed, and gives Nixon’s perspective on the case.
Based on the interview that British journalist David Frost (Michael Sheen) got with the reclusive ex-president in 1977, the film is an adaptation of the award-winning play of the same name and has the precise direction of Ron Howard. Like all films on the topic, it was nominated for an Oscar and so were the actors. Nixon here is played by an inspired Frank Langella and the clash between the politician and the journalist, a mere 5 years after Watergate, is breathtaking. It was in this interview that Nixon claimed that “if it weren’t for Martha Mitchell there would be no Watergate” and also admits his paradoxical moral, in which he says that “when the president does this [political crimes], it means it’s not illegal”.
Mark Felt (2017)
For decades after Watergate, The Washington Post journalists’ main source kept who he was a secret. Although it was considered before, it wasn’t until 2005 that FBI agent Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) admitted that he was “Deep Throat” and wrote a book explaining what motivated him to collaborate with the press. Also appears in Gaslit and it is ironic when we see him participating in the “investigations” when we know what he did, but it is here in this film that we understand the agent’s revolt and frustration. If it weren’t for him, even more than Martha Mitchell, journalists wouldn’t even come close to discovering the truth.
The order to watch the movies may vary, but it could be The Post (Amazon Prime Video), Nixon (Amazon Prime Video), Gaslit (Starz), All the President’s Men (on HBO Max), Mark Felt (Apple TV Plus) and Frost/Nixon (Amazon Prime Video).