Revisiting Watergate

Revisiting Watergate

Forty years after the Watergate break-in, a new documentary examines the story behind one of the most infamous scandals in American political history.

Most people are familiar with the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters that led to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974 — probably through the reporting of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and the 1976 film that resulted: “All the President’s Men.”

But “All the President’s Men Revisited” goes deeper into the scandal and how it came to light, giving an overview of the break-in and discussing Nixon’s decision to record his Oval Office conversations, which led to his downfall. It also goes into details about the “Saturday night massacre” in which several officials at the Department of Justice resigned rather than fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate.

“This is not a traditional news documentary. This is a documentary for people who love the news, care about the news, consume news,” Andy Lack, executive producer of the film, told The Hill. “It’s meant to tell you a story.”

Robert Redford, who played Woodward in “All the President’s Men,” was the force behind the documentary, which airs at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on the Discovery Channel.

Redford “wanted to look back at probably one of the greatest events in politics and journalism,” director Peter Schnall said.

There are several famous and familiar faces offering commentary: Redford (who also narrates the documentary), MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Tom Brokaw, Jon Stewart, former Sen. Fred Thomson (R-Tenn.), Democratic strategist James Carville, Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein and many others.

But for all the film offers, Schnall said there was plenty that got left out.

“We had to leave out hours and hours worth of fascinating historical footage,” he said, noting “We just ran out of time.”

Filmmakers hope the documentary reaches audiences too young to know details of the Watergate scandal.

“The wonderful thing about the Discovery Channel is, is that this film will reach young people, I hope: generations who didn’t live through Watergate but know the word,” Lack said.

The documentary goes behind tracing the actual events, examining Watergate’s impact on the media, including how the scandal changed the relationship between the presidency and the press. 

Carville, in the documentary, argues Watergate didn’t change the culture of Washington.

“You know this sort of thing is going to happen again,” he said.

The film also speculates on how Watergate would have unfolded in today’s media world.

“It would catch fire much faster,” former Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli said, pointing out it would be tweeted and blogged over and over again.

The New York Times’s David Carr notes a story like Watergate today would have several reporters chasing it through email, social media and the Internet.

The focus of the documentary is on Woodward and Bernstein.

Redford recalled how he was fascinated by the unfolding scandal during the ’70s and why he wanted to make a movie about it. He sold it to the studio as a “detective story,” about two guys investigating the break-in.

“I got really intrigued about making a movie about Woodward and Bernstein because one was a Jew and one was a WASP and one was a liberal and one was a conservative,” he said.

He reached out to Woodward, who was reporting the story about the anniversary with Bernstein.

Bernstein recalled they were too busy to deal with the movie star. “We gotta do this story,” he said of his thoughts at the time.

The men also discuss Deep Throat, one of the most famous sources in journalism history, later revealed to be FBI agent Mark Felt.

“I just felt it was a wonderful piece of drama,” Redford said of the source. “I didn’t know if it was a man or a woman or a dog.”

Woodward recalled he didn’t think his meetings with Felt were odd, adding he was just getting started as a Washington reporter, so he thought it was how it worked.

“It sounded reasonable to me, meeting at 2 a.m. in this underground garage,” he said.

But the film also presents Nixon’s side of the story, with former aides defending the president.

Stein, who served as a White House speech writer, said he bought a bottle of Scotch the morning after Nixon’s resignation. He choked up during the documentary when talking about his former boss.

“I don’t think any president has been more wrongly persecuted than Nixon,” he said.

Schnall said the film doesn’t take sides.

“It’s interesting the idea — is the film pro-Nixon, is the film anti-Nixon? The film really just says: ladies and gentlemen, take a look at what went down under the Nixon administration during a really tumultuous time in our history,” he said.