In the film, All the President’s men, many things are portrayed well and effectively. However there are several historical errors in the film especially when dealing with characters. Important people were either left out of the story or reduced to a minimal role.
Barry Sussman was the District of Colombia editor of the Washington Post in 1972. As the editor of the Post, Sussman played a major role in the events that transpired during the Watergate investigation. He was the first person at the Post to pick up the story of the Watergate break in, and continued to be an active participant in helping write stories as well as editing for Woodward and Bernstein all the way through the ordeal.
Upon first viewing the film we were left confused why such an influential character in the Watergate story was left out of the film. According to the book All the President’s Men, Sussman was the first person to take interest in Woodward’s story on the Watergate bugging attempt. On top of this, Time magazine called Sussman one of the “big three” people involved in bringing the Watergate scandal to light alongside Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Sussman started reporting on the case with Woodward and Bernstein just after the five Watergate burglars were arrested.
According to the Washington Post article “When Worlds Collide: Lights! Cameras! Egos!,” the character Barry Sussman was not in fact entirely removed from the film. The director of All The President’s Men actually combined Sussman’s character with that of Harry Rosenfeld, the metropolitan editor at the time. The filmmakers cut Sussman from the film in order to simplify the story. This hybrid character was shown as one of the major supporters of Woodward and Bernstein. None the less, Sussman wasn’t given any direct credit for his contributions to the reporting on the Watergate scandal. Having left out such an influential character results in people that rely on the film All The President’s Men to gain factual knowledge of the event having an incomplete knowledge of the people involved in the story.
One scene from the film shows how other characters in the film took on Sussman’s persona. In reality, Sussman was given the opportunity to choose whom he wanted on the story by the managing editor Howard Simons but in the film Rosenfeld was given the choice.
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Harry Rosenfeld speaks with Howard Simons to decide who will report on the Watergate break-in.
Howard Simons was the managing editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal. According to the New York Times he was an aggressive and outspoken reporter and one of the people who supported Woodward and Bernstein throughout their entire story.
In the movie, Simons is shown as almost passive when dealing with the Watergate story. And his real life personality traits appear to have been given to Rosenfelt.
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Scene in which there is a conference at the Post to decide what stories will be featured in the paper. This scene shows the personality of Simons differently than he really was.
Graham was the publisher for the Washington Post at the time of the Watergate scandal. Her biography reads that when she gained control of the Post she quickly helped the paper gain power and even helped its notoriety by publishing the controversial “Pentagon Papers.”
While Woodward and Bernstein were writing about the Watergate scandal, she had to defend the newspaper from attacks by the government. And because of her leadership the company survived and continued to flourish.
She was not portrayed in the movie at all, nor was she mentioned or referenced. Her control over the post was instead delegated to Benjamin Bradlee, executive editor, in the film. Her part was important in All the President’s Men but the director may have removed her in order to simplify the plot again. This is also one example that strengthens our claim that All The President’s Men portrays women to be inferior to men, by not including a powerful woman figure in the film.
One example of a historical inaccuracy resulting from Graham’s exclusion is near the end of the film where Woodward and Bernstein go to Bradlee to confirm their story. With a claim as large as the one they were making, Graham would have had to make the final decision on whether or not to publish the story as she did with the Pentagon Papers.
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Bernstein gets confirmation from Sloan that his story is correct and reports to Bradlee to gain his approval for printing.
Sirica was the Chief Judge of the U.S. district court for the District of Colombia and he presided over the Watergate trials from the beginning. His existence in the film is implied but he is never mentioned as a character and he doesn’t appear in the film’s credits.
Despite not existing in the film, Sirica played an important role in the scandal. According to an article published in the Washington Post he openly suspected the people involved in the Watergate trials “weren’t fully truthful.”
Sirica helped out the Washington Post more than ever as the Watergate trials went underway. According to “All the President’s men: A whodunit without an ending,” an article from the New York Times, when Sirica showed James McCord the consequences for breaking into Watergate McCord implicated Jeb Magruder. This led to a chain reaction in which many of the conspirators were named.
Another omitted fact about Sirica was how both Woodward and Bernstein were nearly arrested for, as the New York Times puts it, “unprofessional behavior.” The lack of depth or even reference to this in the movie shows that the film wasn’t even trying to focus on the “whole picture.” All the directors wanted to capture was the investigation by Woodward and Bernstein.
This leads to many unanswered questions: What was going on in the courts during all this? What was the government doing in retaliation? How many ethics regulations did Woodward or Bernstein break in their investigation (see journalistic-ethics-2).
The directors had to keep the film down to a reasonable length so it’s understandable that they would cut out a few of the more minor details. However the film didn’t even pretend to mention anything that went outside of the investigation. This could be construed as negligence on the director’s part.
Also, the film only scratched the surface of an investigation that lasted 18 months. The entire plot of the film was contained in the first seven months of the investigation.
Conversation Between Sloan and Bernstein
In the last-minute conversation between Carl Bernstein and Hugh Sloan, Bernstein wanted Sloan to verify Haldeman’s involvement in funding the Watergate burglary. Sloan was unable to directly verify the claims and a miscommunication led to the printing that Sloan implicated Haldeman to the Grand Jury. Sloan’s lawyer denied the claims, and the White House denounced the Post as “shabby journalism.” This set back the investigation for the Post greatly, as it made the public the validity of all the previous Watergate articles. After this incident, it took five weeks for Bernstein and Woodward to regain credibility and publish another front page article.
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Scene in which Carl Bernstein gets last minute verification from Sloan implicating Haldeman and the fallout that occurs as a result of printing the story.
“All the President’s Men” did a fairly good job condensing an extensive amount of information into the limited amount of time available in the film. The movie showed how angry the editors were as the article received critical reviews. In the office of the Washington Post editors, there was a television that showed a newscast of Sloan’s lawyer denying the story. One of the editors mentions the direct comment from the White House, accusing the Post of shabby journalism. Despite these major similarities, the movie does a poor job of portraying the severity of the miscommunication between Sloan and Bernstein and its repercussions. If the viewer is completely relying on the movie, they may not grasp the seriousness of the mishap in Bernstein’s so-called reliable lead. Because of the time constraints in a feature length film, they were unable to capture how seriously this impacted the progress of their real-life investigation.
The film All the President’s Men doesn’t go into great depth showing all sides of the relationship between Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Throughout most of the movie the duo is shown playing off of each others leads, working like a perfect team. According to “Woodstein Meets Deep Throat,” Woodward and Bernstein had a rocky relationship, often fighting and disagreeing on the details of their stories. This Times article points out that their “dissimilarities effectively checked and balanced each other’s performance,” resulting in pieces of writing neither of the two could accomplish on their own. The only time the pair really clashed in the movie was when Bernstein took Woodward’s initial write up on the break in at the Watergate hotel from the desk of the editor and began editing the document without permission. The movie did a great job of depicting their success as an iconic pair, but failed to show the reality of the turbulence that the dynamic team often experience.
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Scene where Bob Woodward confronts Carl Bernstein about editing his work without permission.