East Bay Book Club Message Board › Meeting Recap: August 2012 Organizer's Pick Discussion (All the President's
Union City, CA
I picked All the President's Men for this month's Organizer's Pick because we haven't read any political books in this club so far. Given that Berkeley is a farily liberal community, I had a feeling that political books might be of interest. The question was what kind of political book would be a good pick. Most political books I've seen in the bookstore tend to be opinions on specific current events. But after some time, I discovered All the President's Men, a book that pertains to a political scandal from four decades ago, but one that could possibly be relevant today.
To my amazement, the discussion on this book was very lively with a lot of opinions and thoughts. Some initial comments on the book:
- The book clarified the misuse of funds involved in the Watergate scandal, as the news at the time focused more on the burglary at the Watergate complex.
- It was strange that the book was published two months before President Richard Nixon formally resigned.
- The actions of those involved in the scandal were very juvenile.
- The book flows like a mystery story.
- Fun fact from the DVD commentary for the 1976 movie All the President's Men: Actor Robert Redford, who played Woodward in the movie, approached the real Woodward and Bernstein about making a movie that would focus on their journalistic work. Woodward and Bernstein originally wanted to write a book about Watergate that was more of an overview. The encounter with Redford may have influenced the two authors to write the book with a focus on their step-by-step investigative actions.
Regarding Woodward and Bernstein themselves, both men held back facts from their editors until there was agreement on them. The two also had a style of knocking on doors that helped them gather much information. "Woodstein" is indeed an appropriate nickname for them, as they divided up tasks and kept digging at the facts, even as their investigation constantly found more questions than answers.
The other important character in the saga, the anonymous informant Deep Throat (revealed in 2005 to be the #2 FBI man, W. Mark Felt), felt that the government was very corrupt, so much that he had to be extremely careful with not giving away facts to Woodward that would point back to the source. Hence, Deep Throat only confirmed Woodward's findings and gave him hints for investigation. Watergate was practically too hot to handle, which may have been why Deep Throat stayed anonymous for over 30 years.
I also presented the following question: What broke the Watergate scandal wide open despite it being so secretive? Club member Christine Tinga had a simple but effective answer: "the little people," like the bookkeeper. There was also agreement that no secrets can be truly kept when more than one person is involved, especially a large network like that involved in Watergate. Someone is bound to feel guilty enough to speak up. Even Donald Segretti, a political saboteur, caved in and spoke out about it. On top of this, the Washington Post staff deserves credit for giving support to Woodward and Bernstein, especially as the investigation was a huge gamble in getting it right or losing out to the New York Times as the nationally recognized source for national news.
The last question of the discussion was about Watergate's relevance to today's politics. I jokingly asked the group, "Are there any Republicans and conservatives here?" Response: laughter. "Good!" Response: even more laughter. (Apologies to the conservatives out there, as I do know that there are still reasonable conservatives out there.) Anyway, there were plenty of contemporary political topics that were mentioned, such as:
- Super PACs and their heavily money influence in politics, following the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision to overturn campaign finance limits by corporations
- The second Iraq War can be considered a scandal like Watergate, but without the checks against the presidency by the media (which may be due to corporations buying out the media)
- The lack of compromise between Democrats and Republicans
- Political bloggers who can post their thoughts about any political topic, without any fact-checking by the blogger of what is posted and by the blog readers of the blogger
- When a lie is told repeatedly, it becomes perceived as truth
- The financial crisis caused by Wall Street, and how business news channels like CNBC didn't really do investigative reporting that could've predicted the recession
- Voter suppression laws, referring to rules and procedures for voting in some states that Republicans claim would stop voter fraud but critics say would only prevent eligible voters from voting
Therefore, it is no surprise that some people's final thoughts were that All the President's Men may seem like an old political book but it's actually quite relevant today. On top of that, it's a book that unravels a real-life mystery and provides an insight into American politics. Overall, everyone was happy with it.
Perhaps in the future, we can have another political book to read and discuss, whether it's a title I pick or someone else suggests. Given how exciting this latest book meeting was, I won't be surprised if the East Bay Book Club has another political book discussion. :-)