By KAITLIN LEMBO
ALBANY — Former Washington Post metropolitan editor Harry Rosenfeld visited Page Hall on Friday, Oct. 6 to talk about Watergate coverage, Woodward and Bernstein, and “All the President’s Men.”
“The film definitely caught the high points of that time period,” he said. Rosenfeld was in charge of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s daily coverage of the Watergate break-in and the events that led up to the only presidential resignation in American history.
“What the film showed you accurately was the hard work that took place,” Rosenfeld said. “Woodward and Bernstein were working days, nights, weekends, holidays, etc. on this story. There were insane hours. Of course, they were both divorced at the time so they could dedicate the amount of time that they did to the story.”
At the event, which was part of the New York State Writers Institute’s “Telling the Truth in a Post Truth World” series, Rosenfeld expanded on Woodward and Bernstein’s work ethic, often calling them “Woodstein,” their team name. Calling their work “smart and ferocious,” he said that the duo were often chasing sources around and verifying information as vigorously as they were in the film.
Rosenfeld also mentioned how much of the important parts of the movie — obtaining the Committee to Re-elect the President member list from a fellow reporter, the resistance from the committee, the talks with the book-keeper and Bernstein’s ability to sit with a source for hours before getting information he needed — were true to the story.
“[Carl] Bernstein has a gift for not letting a conversation end until he gets what he wants,” Rosenfeld said.
While the high points of the film are accurate, Rosenfeld stressed that much of it was dramatized for Hollywood. For example, the famous First Amendment speech that Ben Bradlee gives to Woodward and Bernstein toward the end of the movie never actually happened. Also, much of the conversations between the editors were not as simple as the movie showed.
“There were heartfelt discussions, particularly when ‘Woodstein” put out the story that Hugh Sloan had implicated [H. R.] Haldeman to the Grand Jury,” Rosenfeld said. “These were not just simple conversations. We had debates, disagreements. There were plenty of reasons to go both ways. It wasn’t just Ben [Bradlee] passing a note over saying we stood by the story. Some of these decisions took a while to figure out.”
Rosenfeld said that in the thick of the coverage, Woodward, Bernstein, himself, Bradlee, Barry Sussman, Howard Simons and a few others would go to an unfinished Washington Post building to discuss business after Deep Throat had indicated the Post headquarters might be bugged. While the film touches on the characters’ paranoia over potentially being watched, this shuffle is not shown in the film.
Despite these inaccuracies, Rosenfeld said this is a very powerful film and it just might be one of the most convincing political journalism films ever made.
“No film made about a time period in our country has the respect and admiration that [All the President’s Men] does,” he said. “There’s good reason for that.”