LEARNING GUIDE TO:
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
ONE OF THE BEST! This movie is on TWM's short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.
SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 - 1991 & Politics (the Watergate scandal, Nixon,Age: 12+; MPAA Rating -- PG; Drama; 1976; 135 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Description: This movie describes how two young reporters from the Washington Post broke and pursued the story of the Watergate scandal (1972 - 1975). All the President's Men has become the way that many, if not most, Americans remember this important event in U.S. history.
Rationale for Using the Movie: All the President's Men describes an important episode in American history in which a President and his coconspirators attempted the wholesale subversion of the U.S. Constitution and the democratic process. It accurately describes the work of newspaper reporters working to expose criminal activities of high government officials. It displays the inner workings of a major newspaper.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will learn about the Watergate Scandal and its many implications through the Handout, the movie, the discussion questions and the assignments.
Possible Problems: MODERATE. The movie contains a substantial amount of profanity, with the "F" word used frequently.
Bernstein & Woodward -- as portrayed in the movie
Benrstein -- the Reporters
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary (because the film is like a documentary in its successful attempts to be accurate); and
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
ELA Classes: The journey of Woodward and Bernstein, as shown in the film, has many of the stages and archetypes of the Hero's Journey. It is an excellent extra credit or homework assignment to show how the Hero's Journey works in historical fiction and in real life.
USING ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN IN THE CLASSROOM
Enrichment Worksheets are a TWM innovation containing questions designed to get students thinking. Questions are focused on comprehension, application, analysis, syntheses or evaluation. Questions can be answered in class or as homework, as quickwrites, journal entries, formal essays, or research papers. For a version of the Worksheet in word processing format, click here.
PRE-VIEWING ENRICHMENT WORKSHEET FOR ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
THE WATERGATE SCANDAL AND THE DOWNFALL OF RICHARD NIXON
During the 20th century, the executive branch of the U.S. government gained power as the country faced new and complex challenges and became increasingly involved in world affairs. Historians coined the term "the Imperial Presidency" to describe this phenomenon. In the early 1970s Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, began to act is if he were above the law to ensure reelection in 1972 and thus maintain the power of the executive branch. The President and his close aides authorized a number of illegal campaign tactics. One of them was an attempt to break into and bug the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee located in the Watergate office complex. The burglars were caught in the act on June 17, 1972. Nixon and his aides tried to cover up their own involvement through perjury, payoffs and the destruction of evidence. This obstruction of justice, a felony, was planned and executed from the White House and the office of the Attorney General of the United States.
Question 1: What advantages could be gained in a presidential campaign by spying on the opposition?Another example of the anti-democratic efforts of the Nixon White House was the successful effort to destroy the fledgling presidential campaign of Maine Senator Edmund Muskie. Nixon and his political operatives feared Muskie as a potential opponent. Therefore, they sought to remove him from the Democratic primaries for president through a series of "dirty tricks," such as forged letters on Citizens for Muskie letterhead making false charges of sexual misconduct against other candidates, disrupting a fund raising dinner, placing advertisements harmful to Muskie in newspapers and on radio stations, disrupting rallies by assigning agents to appear with posters and ask embarrassing questions, etc. With Muskie out of the way, the Democrats nominated South Dakota Senator George McGovern, a much easier candidate for Nixon to beat. Donald Segretti, the political operative in charge of the dirty tricks campaign, had 28 paid agents working for him in 12 states. Segretti was later sentenced to six months in federal prison on three misdemeanor counts of distributing illegal campaign literature.
Question 2: In what ways do "dirty tricks" played upon an opponent in an election actually undermine the democratic process?Much of the cover-up, including distribution of money from a slush fund, was directed by the Attorney General of the United States, the man charged with seeing that the laws are enforced and obeyed. The two top aides to the President were active in the cover-up. Nixon and his aides spread the corruption to several other law enforcement agencies. The CIA was enlisted to falsely tell the FBI that the Watergate Investigation was harming national security and that the FBI should back off. The FBI was recruited for "black bag jobs" in which agents secretly searched homes and offices without warrants. The acting head of the FBI resigned in disgrace after admitting that he had burned evidence to keep it from coming to light.
Question 3: How might ethical CIA and FBI agents have dealt with the illegal acts assigned to them in Nixon's efforts to assure reelection?Crucial pieces of what came to be called the "Watergate scandal" were first uncovered by two junior reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. This movie is a dramatization of their experiences. Bob Woodward developed a source, a person highly placed in the Administration, who did not want to be identified. Woodward and Bernstein kept the identity of "Deep Throat" secret for more than 30 years. After Bernstein and Woodward broke the story, other newspapers became involved. In 2005, Deep Throat's family revealed his identity. His name was Mark Felt who had been second in command of the FBI at that time.
Question 4: Deep Throat served in the capacity we now call a whistle blower, one who provides information about illegal or suspect activities. There are laws now in place to protect such people from retaliation but there are also laws punishing people who leak government secrets. Under what circumstances are people who disclose to the press information about government actions justified?After the press uncovered evidence of wrongdoing by President Nixon's aides, the Congress and the courts began to investigate the White House. The Senate formed a Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices. The question that dominated the hearings was: "what did the President know and when did he know it?" The Committee's chairman was North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin, who projected the image of a "country lawyer" who used common sense to cut through complex issues and who knew right from wrong. At the beginning of the hearings, Senator Ervin said, "If the many allegations made to this date are true, then the burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate were in effect breaking into the home of every citizen of the United States. ... And if these allegations prove to be true, what they were seeking to steal was not the jewels, money or other precious property of American citizens, but something much more valuable - their most precious heritage: the right to vote in a free election."
The hearings were televised live. They riveted the nation. The misconduct exposed by the "Watergate Committee" appalled the public and eroded support for the President. The Senate hearings led to the disclosure that President Nixon secretly taped most of his meetings in the White House. The tapes were promptly subpoenaed by the Committee but Nixon refused to provide them. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Nixon to produce the tapes. The tapes were very damaging to the President, and there was one 18 and a half minute erasure of a crucial meeting. One of the tapes that President Nixon didn't want disclosed showed him conspiring with his top aide, John Haldeman, to get the CIA to falsely tell the FBI that national security required the FBI to stop investigating the Watergate break-in.
Question 5: When should government officials refuse to obey a lawful order of the President of the United States?Public pressure had forced Nixon to agree to the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate Watergate related crimes. The prosecutor was selected by Nixon's new attorney general, Elliott Richardson. The Special Prosecutor was Archibald Cox, a Harvard Law School professor. Cox subpoenaed the White House tapes. When Cox would not drop the subpoena (and as it became apparent that he would vigorously prosecute White House aides), Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. During his confirmation hearings, Richardson had promised the Senate that he would give Cox complete freedom in the investigation. Richardson refused the President's order and resigned in protest. Nixon then demanded that the second in command at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, fire Cox. Ruckelshaus had also promised the Senate that the Special Prosecutor would have complete freedom. Ruckelshaus, too, resigned rather than fire Mr. Cox. Finally, Nixon found someone who would do his bidding. The third in line at the Justice Department, Solicitor General Robert Bork (who had made no promises about the Special Prosecutor to the Senate) followed the President's order and fired Cox. This chain of events occurred on a Saturday evening and came to be called the "Saturday Night Massacre". It dealt a devastating blow to Nixon's credibility. The next week articles of impeachment of the President were introduced in the Congress. The firing of Cox didn't do Mr. Nixon much good. The new Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, vigorously pursued the investigation and continued to seek the tapes.
The Special Prosecutor's investigation was aided by U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica, who was assigned the case of the original Watergate burglars. Called "Maximum John" because of the long sentences that he customarily handed out to convicted defendants in criminal cases. Judge Sirica threatened the Watergate burglars with long prison terms if they didn't cooperate with the government. One of them, James McCord, a former FBI and CIA agent who worked as security director for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) at the time of the burglary, was the first to crack. (McCord was responsible for the care of a mentally handicapped child and didn't know what would happen to the child if McCord went to jail.) He wrote a letter to Judge Sirica stating that the Watergate burglars had been pressured to enter guilty pleas to avoid the publicity of a trial and that perjury had been committed. He was spared jail in return for cooperating with the prosecutors and the Senate Watergate Committee.
Question 6: James McCord as a first time offender could normally count on a short prison sentence or even a suspended sentence and probation if he was convicted. What do you think about Judge Sirica's actions in threatening to sentence McCord and the other defendants to extraordinarily long prison sentences if they did not provide information on those who had hired them to break into the Democratic Party's national headquarters?The process for removing a president from office begins with impeachment by the House of Representatives. (1) The appropriate committee will hold hearings and draw up articles of impeachment. (2) If the House votes to impeach the President, it will (3) appoint a committee to prosecute the President in a (4) trial the Senate. The Chief Justice of the United States presides over the trial in the Senate. A vote of two-thirds of the Senate is required to convict the President and remove him from office. U.S. Constitution, Article I, sections 2 and 3.
In 1973, when the House of Representatives began to consider articles of impeachment against President Nixon, the chairman of the committee in charge was Peter Rodino, a Democrat. Congressman Rodino went to great lengths to make the proceedings of the committee non-partisan. He took the unusual step of sharing with the ranking Republican member of the committee the power to subpoena witnesses. (This was usually reserved for committee chairmen.) He agreed to call as witnesses anyone suggested by the President's attorneys. As the revelations continued to come out, Republican members of the Committee who had initially voted against impeachment changed their minds. Eventually, the Committee, with substantial Republican support, reported three Articles of Impeachment to the full House of Representatives: (1) obstruction of justice in the Watergate case, (2) violating the constitutional rights of citizens, and (3) refusing to comply with the committee's subpoenas. The matter never reached a vote by the entire House of Representatives. When President Nixon's allies told him that impeachment by the House was sure to occur and that the votes did not exist in the Senate to prevent his conviction and removal from office, President Nixon resigned. The date was August 9, 1974.
Question 7: In your own words, what are the four steps that result in a president's impeachment?After Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford became President and, within a month, pardoned Nixon for all of his Watergate related crimes. Ford to this day denies that he made a deal to pardon Nixon. The Nixon pardon is considered the primary reason why Ford lost his effort to be elected President in his own right in the 1976 elections. Mr. Ford is the only President to serve who was not elected by the people. President Ford had been a Republican leader in the Congress. He was appointed Vice President by Nixon when Nixon's first Vice President, Spiro Agnew, resigned in a plea bargain with prosecutors. Apparently Agnew had been taking payoffs from people interested in government business while he was Vice President.
Two Attorney Generals of the U.S. appointed by Nixon, plus thirty of Nixon's closest aides, were convicted of crimes stemming from the burglary, the cover-up and the Nixon administration's illegal efforts to eliminate the most viable candidates in the 1972 Democratic Presidential primaries. About half served time in federal prison. Nixon was spared trial and possible imprisonment when President Ford granted him a pardon from all crimes that he may have committed while President. Richard Nixon is the only U.S. President to resign from office.
The Watergate scandal established what most Americans had known all along, that the President was not above the law.
Question 8: Do you think it was right that Nixon was pardoned for any crimes he may have committed while in office? Be sure to give support for your opinion.Not available to the public at the time of the Watergate hearings and kept secret when Bernstein and Woodward were busy with their investigation, is the biographical details in the character of the informant called "Deep Throat. In June of 2005 when he was 91 years old and suffered from dementia, his family disclosed his identity. He was W. Mark Felt, who had been second in command of the FBI during much of the Watergate period.
Over a 31 year career, from 1942 to 1973, Mr. Felt worked his way up the FBI career ladder. By 1972 Mr. Felt was third in command of the Bureau. J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the FBI and built the organization. Hoover kept secret files on many political leaders, including presidents, and used those files to keep his post at the FBI. Few dared speak against him when he was alive, but after he died many of his abuses of power became known and his reputation was badly tarnished. However, Mr. Felt has always remained loyal to Hoover and to Hoover's legacy at the FBI.
J. Edgar Hoover died in office on May 2, 1972. His Associate Director, Clyde A. Tolson, had been in failing health and he resigned a week later. Mr. Felt was the logical choice to move up to the post of director and he lobbied for the job. However, Nixon wanted to control the FBI as he controlled the CIA, the Justice Department and other parts of the government. He appointed a political loyalist, L. Patrick Gray, III, as acting FBI director. Mr. Felt, now second in command at the FBI, was disappointed and angry. He was also concerned about Nixon's attempt to interfere with the independence of the FBI. During his tenure as acting director, Mr. Gray was absent from Washington much of the time, either because of illness or traveling to FBI field offices. In Mr. Gray's absence, the administration of the FBI was left to Mr. Felt. Mr. Gray later resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that on instructions of the White House he had burned files that incriminated a White House aide.
Mr. Felt served as Woodward's background source on Watergate beginning in June of 1972. During that time he was suspected by the Nixon White House of being Deep Throat but he was defended by Mr. Gray. During 1972 and 1973 Mr. Felt was placed in charge of several attempts to find leaks from the FBI. In this capacity he was able to deflect attention away from himself. From the beginning Mr. Felt established strict ground rules with Bob Woodward: he would not provide information and he could never be quoted; he would confirm facts that they had obtained elsewhere and occasionally add some perspective.
Question 9: What irony lies in Felt's having been assigned to find leaks in the FBI?In 1976, many FBI agents were under investigation for their roles in the "black bag jobs". Mr. Felt publicly announced that he had ordered the break-ins. He contended that individual agents had merely been following orders and should not be prosecuted. He claimed that the black bag jobs were justified and stated that he would do it again if faced with the same circumstance. Admitting that the break-ins were "extralegal" he asserted that they protected the "greater good". In the early 1970's, Mr. Felt and other FBI administrators authorized FBI agents to break into homes of persons linked to those involved in the Weather Underground, a small domestic terrorist organization. No search warrants were issued. Later, Mr. Felt and another FBI official, Edward S. Miller, were indicted, tried and convicted for the conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by searching their homes without warrants. Seven hundred current and former FBI agents demonstrated on Mr. Felt's behalf outside the courthouse. Ironically, Richard Nixon and several of his assistants testified for the defense at the trial. Their claim was that black bag jobs had been authorized by presidents in foreign intelligence and counterespionage investigations beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nonetheless, the jury convicted Felt and Miller who were both pardoned by President Reagan. The proclamation of the pardon stated the following:
"Their convictions in the U.S. District Court, on appeal at the time I signed the pardons, grew out of their good-faith belief that their actions were necessary to preserve the security interests of our country. The record demonstrates that they acted not with criminal intent, but in the belief that they had grants of authority reaching to the highest levels of government.The pardon was criticized as a political gesture because President Reagan had not consulted the prosecutors before issuing the pardon. The Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Mr. Felt said, "I would warrant that whoever is responsible for the pardons did not read the record of the trial and did not know the facts of the case." After the pardon, former President Nixon, still not aware that Mr. Felt was Deep Throat, sent him a bottle of champagne with the message, "Justice always prevails".
Question 10: Do you believe that there should be such a thing as a presidential pardon? Be sure to back up your opinion.There has been much speculation about why Mr. Felt agreed to serve as a source for the Washington Post. He may have had a patriot's justifiable concern about the criminal conspiracy emanating from the Nixon White House. He may have been concerned about Nixon's attempts to dominate and subvert the FBI, an organization to which Felt had devoted his life. Finally, he may have also been angry over the fact that after the death of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime head of the FBI, Nixon passed over Mr. Felt and appointed a politically pliable Nixon loyalist to the post of FBI director. Further difficulties during the Watergate scandal surfaced when it came out that FBI agents, on orders from the White House, had conducted burglaries of files from the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who gave the press copies of the Pentagon Papers, a confidential government history and analysis of the Vietnam War that revealed a considerable amount of governmental dissembling in perpetrating the war.
Question 11: Do you see Mr. Felt as a hero or as a villain? Be sure to back up your opinion.[End of Worksheet]
Most questions asked on the background information worksheet are appropriate for discussion. The following questions are not addressed in the worksheet.
1. What might have happened had Nixon and his aides succeeded in their illegal efforts to undermine the election? Suggested Response: This question calls for speculation and all answers that can be supported are acceptable. Here are some valid points: Look at the 1972 Presidential election. Nixon had been able to disable the candidates (like Senator Ed Muskie of Maine) who he feared could beat him and ensure that the Democrats nominated George McGovern, who Nixon believed he could easily beat. Nixon had an "enemies list" and was using agencies of the federal government such as the IRS to go after them. The democratic process was, and would have continued to be, seriously impaired.
2. The government has taken the position that reporters must disclose their confidential sources when called to testify in a grand jury or criminal proceeding. Had Woodward and Bernstein been forced to identify their source in the Watergate hearings, what would have happened to the story? Suggested Response: All answers that are logical and can be supported are acceptable. Here is a likely scenario. Bernstein & Woodward would have refused to testify and eventually they would have been sent to jail for criminal contempt of court. They would have been kept in jail until either he decided to testify or the grand jury was dismissed or the trial was over. This could have stopped the story and intimidated other reporters from working on the story. In the long run, if sources know that disclosure of their identity can be compelled by the courts, they will be reluctant to come forward. It's not every reporter who will go to jail to protect a source.
3. One of the reporters involved in the breaking of the story of the Watergate scandal said that the important thing wasn't that they brought down the president of the United States. The important thing was that they made the system work. Do you agree or disagree? Support your position. Suggested Response: All opinions that are logical and can be supported are acceptable. Here are some thoughts on the question. Richard Nixon was just one president in one period of time. However, the idea that the President is not above the law is an enduring principle which was served by the reporters' actions.
For 20 more Discussion Questions, see the Supplemental Materials for this Guide.
Assignments and Assessments:
1. Research and write an expository essay on one of the following topics:
• The Daniel Ellsberg case;
• The episode involving Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson;
• The use of presidential pardons;
• The leadership of J. Edgar Hoover;
• Whistle-blower protection; or
• Recent episodes of Presidential misconduct.
2. Compose rules that should be applied to cases of leaked security information that serve the interests of national security while protecting the public's First Amendment Freedoms.
3. Write an opinion piece that might be published in a major newspaper that calls for the elimination of presidential pardons. Be sure to research background information in order to justify your position.
For more Assignments, see the Supplemental Materials for this Guide.
Review the worksheet for suitability for your classes. Modify as appropriate.
"All the President's Men" describes itself as the tale of the downfall of Richard Nixon, but the true focus of the film is the work by the press, early in the scandal that started the process that led to Nixon's resignation. The film ignores the important and necessary contributions of other persons and institutions. The Student Handout describes some of the contributions made by the various branches of the federal government in bringing out the facts, putting many of the conspirators in jail, and forcing Nixon from office. (See the Student Handout.)
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Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
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This is a great film to show children who are learning about 20th century U.S. history. Before watching the movie, tell your kids that it shows how two young reporters in their late 20s started the process that forced the most powerful man in the world to leave his office in disgrace. After watching the movie be sure to tell your children that the reporters were not alone in trying to stop corruption in the government. Describe the important roles played by many other people and government agencies in calling Nixon and his aides to account for their crimes. Also, go over the Quick Discussion Question. Kids might also be interested in the identity of Deep Throat.
BUILDING VOCABULARY: "Library of Congress," CIA, FBI, "counsel to the President," impeach, innuendo, hearsay, source, "unsubstantiated charges," hypocrisy, "U.S. Intelligence Community", "slush fund", "high crimes and misdemeanors".
The efforts to make the movie accurate were truly extraordinary. The actors, Redford and Hoffman, would consult with Woodward and Bernstein on many of the scenes to ensure accuracy. In many interviews the principals have complimented the movie on its accuracy. For example, Ben Bradlee (editor of the Post) and Carl Bernstein, when interviewed on the History Channel, stated that while the screenplay did not repeat their exact words, the film accurately portrayed the events that occurred. Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post, stated that the film was like a documentary in its adherence to the truth.
Carl Bernstein reports that when this film was made, Dustin Hoffman, the actor who portrayed him, and Robert Redford, the actor who portrayed Woodward, spent months with them, watching them work, observing their mannerisms and evaluating their character traits. Bradlee stated that the actors seemed to know more about the characters than their psychiatrists. Bernstein said that he learned things about himself that he had not known before when he watched Hoffman's portrayal of him in the film.
After watching the movie students will be primed for two discussions. First, teachers and parents can discuss the important role that other institutions played in uncovering the scandal and punishing the guilty. Second, the history and motivation of W. Mark Felt (Deep Throat) might provide a lively discussion.
Richard Nixon is the only U.S. President to resign from office.
For a description of the relationship between Mr. Felt and Mr. Woodward, see FBI's No. 2 Man was "Deep Throat" Washington Post, June 1, 2005. For a biographical sketch of Mr. Felt, see Wikipedia Article on Mark Felt.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice that Mr. Felt gave to Bob Woodward was that he would get to the truth if he "followed the money".
The National Archives has developed a lesson plan entitled Constitutional Issues: Watergate and the Constitution
"Felt was a first-rate contact, but Woodward and Bernstein had many excellent sources. Their stories were as accurate as any group of newspaper articles could be. I also suspected that they were talking to many of the same people I was. On one occasion, I visited someone I assumed was a secret source of my own and found a handwritten note saying 'Kilroy Was Here' affixed to the outside office door -- a token from Woodward." Seymour M. Hersh, in The Watergate Days, New Yorker Magazine, 6/13/2005. Good reporters can often get people to tell them what they don't want the reporter or other people to know.
Some of the risks of using anonymous sources are: People have agendas which lead them to dissemble. Anonymous sources often deceive, spin and exaggerate. Dependence on anonymous sources makes reporters lazy because they don't have to do the hard work to prove the facts themselves.
Investigative reporting is very expensive. A news organization must have the money to allow reporters to work on stories for a long time, to travel and to copy documents. They should have lawyers available to review what is written for potential libel and slander.
Note that Bernstein did not go to college but had worked for newspapers since he was 16. He had learned to write in the news room. He was a better writer than Woodward, who had been educated at Yale, an Ivy League college.
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