All the President's Men

All the President's Men, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

At first, I was not impressed by this book. It was difficult to get started. Lots of names. Lots of sequential facts. Its layout is different than any book I’ve read before. Person A did X. Person A talked to Person B. Person A did Y. Person A did Z. Fact, fact, fact. But now that I’m accustomed to the book’s structure, and I have a feel for the flow, it is really enjoyable!

Last week, Clayton Christensen died. Clayton was a popular business school professor who had some long-lasting, impactful ideas. For example, he popularized the idea of a disruptive technology. He also talked about how it is important to plan your life. To plan your life, you can do this with 3 very important questions. These questions were posed in one of his most well-known and highly regarded lectures.

  1. How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

  2. How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and family become an enduring source of happiness?

  3. How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

In particular, the third question relates well to this book. The actors in the Watergate scandal may have had rewarding careers and beautiful wives, but they failed to stay out of jail. In positions of power, it becomes easy to break the law. Christensen was a devout Christian, and he taught to always adhere to your morals 100%. Never compromise, even marginally. I have a lot of respect for him! He was an intelligent man, he was a Christian man, and he had a positive impact on the world. I would like to read more of his books. He seems like an impressive individual and somebody that I would like to emulate my life after.

Nixon’s re-election team obviously did not listen to Christensen’s advice, because they ended their careers in jail. I’m realizing that my intelligence is greater than 99% of the people that I interact with. I’m realizing that high IQ yields power and that power is easily corruptible. As I interact with others on a daily basis, this book taught me a good lesson: to remember that God gave me my gifts, and my gifts should be used to glorify God and positively impact society. I’m reminded that with intelligence and power also coms responsibility. It’s a responsibility to be honest with myself and others. But first, myself. If I cannot be honest with myself, if I lie to myself, then I’m compromising my virtues, and this will lead to nothing good. Christensen is a great example of a Godly man. “All the President’s Men” is a great example of intelligent men who never took the time to answer Christensen’s 3 questions. They compromised their morals, and as a result, the president’s men went to jail. It would have been so much more beneficial for them to take the time to honestly and fully answer the questions that Christensen posed.

How was Watergate uncovered? The people behind the scheme were very intelligent, and they thought that they had done enough to hide their trail. Obviously not. These men had egos, believed they were smarter than other people, and therefore they believed that they could deceive the populous and would never be caught. Hubris clouded their vision. Their arrogance was their downfall.

It started with 5 men who were caught breaking into the Democratic convention. They were equipped with recording and bugging equipment; it was obvious that they were spying. At the time, nobody believed that they were spying on behalf of the Republican party and President Nixon. The two reporters, who authored this novel, wanted to uncover the source of the break in. The authors eventually discovered that one of the break-in men received payment from a pool of cash. The cash pool was found to be laundered money through Mexico, which meant there was no way to trace its origin.

The cash pool was eventually traced back to the White House and Nixon’s CRP team. The men who controlled the finances for Nixon’s re-election campaign were also the people who had control over the unaccounted cash pool. I expect that as the book progresses, Bernstein and Woodward will uncover more of the names linked to the cash pool (they do), and eventually they will uncover enough evidence to link it directly to the President (they do). Right now, people only joke that Bernstein and Woodward are on the heels of the President. Nobody is willing to admit yet that Nixon is at the head of this entire “ratfucking.”

I’m about halfway through the book, and things just got really good. If I didn’t have to go to church this morning, I wouldn’t have set the book down. Bernstein and Woodward just linked the Watergate spying incident to the White House via Haldeman. But as soon as the “Post” published their story about the link between Haldeman and the espionage slush fund, the Post’s sources reneged their comments. The White House is criticizing the Post for garbage and shabby reporting. Bernstein and Woodward are afraid that they will lose their jobs and their reputations. But their boss issues a statement supporting the Haldeman story. This is a rough patch for the reporters. But we know that every path to success has tough spots, and that during those times we need to continue to push through the hard times and not quit. Bernstein and Woodward keep pushing. It’s a battle between the Post and the White House. It’s a battle between reporters and politicians.

I did not realize how much influence news media have. In “The Power Broker,” Moses used the press to build his reputation. In this book, the press is used to criticize the White House and reveal political espionage and spying. In politics, the press seems to have much influence. I did not realize this until recently. I should have, but I guess that‘s a consequence of not following the news.

Done with this book. In the end, the Watergate burglary is linked to the White House and ultimately to President Nixon. When the court finally votes to release the President’s secret tapes, Nixon is revealed as a criminal, and Nixon is forced to resign a few days afterward. The tapes revealed that Nixon knew about the spying, bugging, and espionage efforts, and even worse that he tried to cover up these actions. Nixon, as president of the United States, became power hungry, and he was willing to break the law to gain more power. This seems to be a more common theme in politics that I ever realized. Men in power become obsessed with gaining more and more power, and they are willing to break the law to get their agendas pushed. Sometimes the law is meant to be broken. I think. But when do you cross the line? That’s an impossible question to answer, so I will not attempt it.

The end of this book provides a nice concise summary about Nixon’s “5 Wars:”

  1. To combat the anti-Vietnam War movement, Nixon authorized the CIA, FBI, and military to conduct surveillance and burglary activities. This was Nixon’s beginning of illegal, morally questionable, activities.

  2. Politicians seem to be at war with the media. This was true in Nixon’s time, and this is true today. Nixon was fully aware of the media war, and he authorized “Plumbers” to cover-up questionable activities and news leaks.

  3. Nixon was Republican, and he fought against the Democrats for the political re-election. The “3rd rate” burglary and wire tapping at Watergate falls into this war. The President would stop at nothing to maintain his power. He was ruthless.

  4. To hide his spying, espionage, and sabotage activities, Nixon’s life became engulfed in lies and hush money. He tried to fight the justice system by hiding his illegal actions and avoiding the consequences.

  5. Finally, Nixon and his supporters are still fighting a war against history. They are trying to down-play the significance of the Watergate event and rebuild Nixon’s reputation. But it seems to me that Nixon will always be known as a shady, ruthless, lying president, and a person who became obsessed with power and was willing to act illegally to build and maintain that power.

My last question: Does the news media add value to our society? In many ways, it seems to me that news is a waste of time, a bunch of garbage and gossip. Often, I feel like it adds no value to society. Prominent political figures, such as the President of the U.S., are forced to spend tremendous effort and time defending themselves against the accusations of the media. This is time that could be better used for making actual impactful progress. However, I think that this book also makes it clear that we need the news media to keep prominent figures humble and honest. It is easy to abuse power, and the news media seems to be one avenue for managing the illegal activities of powerful men. Unfortunately, not all men take the time to answer Clayton Christensen’s questions, nor live according to his morals.

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