Eckburg: Why we could use Bob Woodward right about now — All the President’s Men in 2020
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2020 has been an extremely divisive year. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the election, American disillusionment with the government has begun to parallel the disillusionment of the post-Watergate scandal in 1972.
“The Watergate scandal rocked the nation’s trust in the federal government and, specifically, roused disillusionment about Richard Nixon.”
“All the President’s Men” is a movie depicting the experiences of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as they uncover President Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal (1972) and test ethical boundaries in their search for the truth. They are pulled between their duty to report information to the public and their duty to respect sources in their wishes to remain anonymous and/or in their reluctance to give information.
The movie stars Robert Redford, as Bob Woodward, and Dustin Hoffman, as Carl Bernstein and allotted multiple awards and nominations, including an assortment of Oscar wins.
The Watergate scandal rocked the nation’s trust in the federal government and, specifically, roused disillusionment about Richard Nixon. The attempted bugging of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters was suspicious immediately after the arrests of the perpetrators, and Bob Woodward had a nose for the story. After teaming up with fellow reporter Carl Bernstein, their investigation began to unravel hundreds of clues adding up to the conclusion that President Richard Nixon had, in fact, been involved in the Watergate scandal.
If you are interested in a full historical timeline of Nixon’s presidency as well as his involvement in Watergate, History.com provides a detailed account of his time in office.
As Woodward and Bernstein uncovered more information, they became increasingly aware of the gravity of the story they were going to publish. This story would change the nation’s political sphere in an instant and would affect the jobs of many Americans working in that sphere. They also acknowledged the amount of distrust in the federal government would increase post-publication.
This recognition of the importance of their job to report information to the public was underlined by a whirlwind of ethical dilemmas in regards to how they obtain that information. When examining the situation from a purely ethical situation, Woodward and Bernstein made multiple mistakes, but, when looking at the situation as a whole, their duty to serve the public outweighed the concerns of certain individuals working as sources from the Nixon Administration.
“2020 could definitely use a Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein right about now to look into the scandals surrounding the Trump Administration, and, luckily, Bob Woodward is already on it.”
The first ethical dilemma that can be found in Woodward and Bernstein’s journalistic work comes as an issue of credibility. They were planning on breaking the story with the promise of anonymity to their sources, which made their Editor have to consider whether it would be more or less beneficial to the public to hear the news, despite the lack of named sources.
In the end, the Editor agreed that the gravity of the situation being covered in their report outweighed the need for named sources amongst all of the other evidence that had been collected.
During this time, many jobs were on the line within the government, which led to a cover-up operation in order to prevent information from leaking about Nixon’s involvement in the scandal. Woodward and Bernstein also considered this factor and had to weigh their options — release the story and wait for the downfall, or keep the story hidden to protect jobs and American trust in the federal government. Ultimately, they ruled that the public had a right to know, despite the potential shockwaves that would come after the article’s publication.
Finally, they agreed that they needed to obtain all relevant information, and they needed to do that at any cost. Woodward and Bernstein crossed an ethics line in their interviews when they tricked sources into confirming information and theories they were unsure about through pretending it was information they already had.
2020 could definitely use a Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein right about now to look into the scandals surrounding the Trump Administration, and, luckily, Bob Woodward is already on it.
Woodward published his book “Fear: Trump in the White House” on September 11, 2018, discussing the presidency of Donald Trump based on hundreds of hours of interviews conducted within and around the Trump Administration.
The Trump Administration has proven to be controversial over the last four years, and, following the results of the recent election, nominating Dem. Joe Biden as the 2021 President-elect, President Trump has continued to spread conspiracy theories and has attempted to create outrage within his supporter base.
In a deflection of blame resembling only to that of Nixon and his administration, President Trump has ignored the influx of comments on his abhorrent behavior and, instead, made wild accusations that place ballot counters, public officials, etc… in the middle of a political vortex. Trump also attempts to use his power as President to pass legislation that allows him to deny accountability.
This is paralleled to Nixon’s refusal to produce subpoenaed tapes for the investigation into the scandal; attempting to change the narrative into a discussion about the constitutionality of one branch of the government presiding over another, which he claimed went against the rights of the Executive branch.
Trump has reacted similarly to the investigations into his conduct during his time as sitting President of the United States; demanding recounts and taking multiple states to court for participation in voter fraud.
Overall, “All the President’s Men” presents the extraordinary journey that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein embarked on in their search for the truth about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal, and presents it in a way that is riveting for the viewers of the film.
Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting skills allowed them to make hard decisions about ethics and telling the public the truth, despite the consequences. The American public now sits and waits for the truth about the scandals that have enveloped the Trump Administration for the past four years, glad to have Woodward, once again, taking the journey with us.