E25 -

Gene Healy, Patrick Eddington, and Paul Matzko join the show today to talk about the classic investigative journalism movie, All the President’s Men.

Summary:

The 1976 film, All the President’s Men, follows The Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as they uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Transcript

[music]

0:00:03 Landry Ayres: Welcome to Pop and Locke. I’m Landry Ayres.

0:00:05 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

0:00:07 Landry Ayres: With the presidential election now firmly behind us, we thought we would get away from the political scandal and heavy‐​hearted stories of conspiratorial government overreach and enjoy a nice lighthearted fantasy movie written by William Goldman, The Princess Bride… Hold on, I’m being handed something. I’m now being told that we are in fact covering Goldman’s critically acclaimed 1972 political thriller, All the President’s Men starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, so a different tale of adventure and derring‐​do, I guess. Joining us today to break this scandal wide open are Cato research fellow in homeland security and civil liberties, Patrick Eddington.

0:00:56 Patrick Eddington: Hello.

0:00:57 Landry Ayres: Cato Institute vice president, Gene Healy…

0:01:00 Gene Healy: Hi.

0:01:00 Landry Ayres: And tech and innovation editor for Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org, our very own Paul Matzko.

0:01:06 Paul Matzko: As you wish.

[chuckle]

0:01:10 Natalie Dowzicky: All right, so we’re gonna go with the baseline assumption that all of our listeners know what Watergate is, even if they haven’t seen this movie, though it’s a classic, so if you’re listening, you haven’t seen this movie, maybe you should probably stop listening and go watch it and then come back and listen, but I’m more interested in what this movie got wrong. Would you say the movie was accurate?

0:01:31 Paul Matzko: Well, I guess I can pop in here. I’m historian to the ‘60s, so it is something… And I’ve taught about Watergate in a bunch of classes, and I would say it’s not that the details are all quite right, like the actual process of how they ran down one lead to the next is very much in keeping with the book that was written by the two journalists, so the nitty‐​gritty is actually quite on point. There are a few bits that are inventive, like at the end, it is implied that they’re being followed and that their lives may be a danger, that’s enhanced for the film. There is no evidence that the Post reporters were themselves wire‐​tapped or that they were followed or that their lives were actually in danger. Now, they thought they were for a time, they’ve talked about that and it’s believable in the context of the time that they might be, because that’s the kind of thing that the CREEP, Committee to Re‐​elect the President and that the FBI was doing all the time. So it’s a bit paranoid, but again, understandable paranoia, but they don’t… They never say in the movie that like, “Oh, we were just being paranoid,” they imply that this is real, that someone’s about to get them.

0:02:50 Gene Healy: I would say that, although I liked the movie, but it’d be a terrible way to learn about Watergate. Even in 1976 when the details were probably much more present in the public mind, I still feel like people would be… Wait, who’s Segretti again? What’s the Canuck story? There is very little explication of this little slice of Watergate.

0:03:21 Patrick Eddington: There is no Star Wars style crawl at the beginning of the movie to tell you what the background is, so for a certain generation, they’re gonna be lost.

0:03:32 Gene Healy: And that’s why I think it’s essentially a film noir that’s about history. It’s a detective story where there’s sinister shadowing forces, Warner Brothers actually build it and sold its advertising as a detective story, and like a lot of film noir the mood is a lot more important than the plot because unpacking the plot, I probably know more about Watergate than the average 21st century American. But following the money from one person to the next and trying to figure out what they’re doing, it is very difficult, so if this is shown to a high school class, mostly what they’re gonna get out of it is Nixon was up to some bad stuff, and they’re gonna get an enjoyable political thriller, but as a piece of history, although it’s mostly accurate in the particulars… You really don’t get the full picture.

0:04:41 Landry Ayres: Well, did this movie have an impact greater than the Watergate scandal itself and the investigations? Did this movie bring any sort of… Did it shine even more of a spotlight on this or did it skew the history that had been happening? For instance, the cultural reaction and the use of “Follow the money” as a phrase is not in the book, in that phrase and is from what I understand, not exactly ever said to Woodward and Bernstein, so what does the movie do to the cultural history of the Watergate scandal compared to what actually happened?

0:05:23 Patrick Eddington: As I think about it, and I think it’s genius, kinda point it out, it gave rise to essentially a whole genre of conspiracy‐​related films. And by the way, this was all wonderful for Hal Holbrook’s career. The guy who actually plays “Deep Throat” in this, or Mark Felt, ’cause he goes on to be in a number of other films in the 1970s where you’ve got this going on, so Magnum Force with Clint Eastwood, where Holbrook is in fact the guy running the death squad, the police death squad…

0:06:02 Paul Matzko: I forgot that. Yeah.

0:06:02 Patrick Eddington: In the San Francisco Police Department. And then in one of my personal favorites, this is a movie that maybe not a lot of people remember or have seen in a long time, the Capricorn One which starred Hal Holbrook, James Brolin, OJ Simpson. Which is kind of interesting in and of itself, and the great Sam Waterston. And that in that movie, Holbrook plays this essentially compromised corrupt Director of NASA who winds up sending these guys getting ready to send them to Mars, and then they get pulled out of the capsule to last minute, I know I’m going completely off of what we’re supposed to be talking about here. But anyway, it was a big conspiracy to cover up the fact that they couldn’t…

0:06:51 Gene Healy: They faked the Mars landing.

0:06:53 Patrick Eddington: They faked the Mars landing, right, and of course, it’s in this period that people begin to say, “Well, we never really went to the moon.” And so on and so forth. So I think in a lot of respects, the movie really did help channel and help fuel this whole idea that you can’t trust the government, and this goes obviously in our current environment, but it also, for me, it touches on my favorite television show of the 1990s, The X‐​Files, which is just replete with all of this, so anyway.

0:07:28 Gene Healy: I do think it is on topic though, because All the President’s Men is of a piece with all these paranoid political films that are coming out in the mid‐​70s. Redford is the star and producer of All the President’s Men in Three Days of the Condor, he’s a CIA analyst who’s being…

0:07:52 Patrick Eddington: Great movie. Great movie.

0:07:52 Gene Healy: Trapped for assassination by his government, the director, Alan Pakula, this is supposedly part of a trilogy of power political thrillers, he made one of the others with Warren Beatty, The Parallax View about this is sort of a proto Bourne Identity, where there’s a team of political assassins and it’s very different than most of the movies you’d seen in the decades before, because it becomes this thing, a standard element of political threat thrillers in the ‘70s that the US government is out to get the hero. May even want to kill the hero. And I think that had a lot to do with what Watergate helped shake out, which is, there are a number of congressional investigations Pan knows this better than I do during the period where you were finding out about FBI programs like COINTELPRO, Operation CHAOS by the CIA assassination plots by the CIA. Which were almost without fail, much more inept than they were in the movies. There was this real cultural moment where the American government is no longer the good guy, as it was much more frequently in movies of the ‘50s or early ‘60s, and All the President’s Men fits right into that whole trend.

0:09:45 Paul Matzko: I’ll note one quick thing, which is that while the names and the details are gonna feel very alien to contemporary audiences, and it always is for my students, they all know who these people are. Who’s Colson, who’s Haldeman, who’s long the more minor characters.

0:10:04 Landry Ayres: As someone who was in high school within the past… Gosh, I don’t wanna say now now it’s too long…

0:10:10 Natalie Dowzicky: Don’t date yourself.

0:10:12 Landry Ayres: We did not learn enough about Watergate, and so I knew very little going into this movie.

0:10:20 Paul Matzko: But these would have been household names in 1976, they have just come off of four years now of Watergate investigations and obviously, that’s ramping up over those four years. It’s 1976, 1972 is when our movie starts, so the first articles, the burglary is… It happens, the first articles start to come out, there’s a congressional investigation. So you had four years. Imagine the context would be right now, are there relatively minor players in the Trump administration’s various scandals that would be household names, but will be completely forgotten 40 years.

0:10:58 Paul Matzko: Well, sure, I mean, household name Anthony Scaramucci. He is going to be completely forgotten in 40 years. He was in this position for what? A week. Right, but he’s a household name, so the same thing is true. We have to remember that in 1976, this would’ve… They didn’t have to explain all this via Star Wars screen crawl, people have been talking about this for four years, and also it was being covered by network news by that point, and back then, the amount of media, we were a lot more homogenous in the kind of media we consumed. So people are hearing this on the nightly news that people actually… People under the age of 70 used to watch back then, everyone’s watching Walter Cronkite talk about Watergate and so on. So again, we have to think about the time.

0:11:42 Gene Healy: That’s right, people were more… My parents, that I was too young to remember when my parents would watch this thing obsessively, so names like McCord and Segretti are probably known to them, maybe the Canuck story. I actually had to look up, I knew there was something with the senator Edmund Muskie, who was viewed as Nixon’s maybe most formidable potential opponent, and they forged a letter to the editor saying that Muskie had made disparaging remarks about French Canadians. And he gets angry and denies it and supposedly cries several times while he’s denying the charge, and that tanks his campaign… To somebody who didn’t grow up and didn’t watch it with Walter Cronkite every night, it does seem like it’s very hard to get the context without Wikipedia.

0:12:50 Patrick Eddington: And I think one of the things that I loved about the movie is how it conveys the real conflict essentially in the newsroom and with the publisher, and the concern about getting it right and all the rest of that. And I recently re‐​watched Good Night, and Good Luck with George Clooney and…

0:13:10 Natalie Dowzicky: Great movie.

0:13:11 Patrick Eddington: The magnificent David Strathairn one of my favorite actors of all time as Morrow, and that was in the McCarthy era. And so there was enough paranoia then, but you can still see a concern essentially about potentially being targeted, but you can still see that ultimately, here were they’re being held to an extremely high standard by Bradlee justifiably so because if you’re gonna take a journalistic shot at the President of the United States, you better not miss. But I think what this episode… What the whole movie also kind of conveys is this is the beginning of the shift in American journalism, I think, away from essentially being a patsy, or lack of a better phrase, a stenographer for government officials and actually getting back into the mode of an eye of stone or whatever, in order to actually to kind of peel things back and to not take what they’re told at face value. And if Donald Trump has done anything, I think it’s probably helped to reinvigorate that instinct among an awful lot of newsrooms and journalists in this country.

0:14:26 Gene Healy: Yeah, it seems like everybody, whenever we make a movie, about real historical events everybody gets an upgrade, so in terms of the actors that played them. Nothing against Bob Woodward but Robert Redford is the hunkiest actor of the early ‘70s. My wife thinks Robert Redford is dreamy. And Bernstein gets an upgrade to Dustin Hoffman. I actually, I don’t know if any of you read this, thinking about this movie over the last week, but apparently Redford wanted to cast Al Pacino as Bernstein. It was between Pacino and Woodward… And sorry and Hoffman. But yeah, so…

0:15:21 Patrick Eddington: That would have changed the dynamic.

0:15:25 Gene Healy: It definitely had to… I’m sure anyone who was inclined to go into journalism, just the story of Woodward and Bernstein was pretty inspiring, but then when it becomes a hit movie where you could aspire to be Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman going to battle with sinister shadowy forces in the government, it definitely did give a shot in the arm to adversarial journalism.

0:16:02 Paul Matzko: There’s that funny bit that I think for contemporary viewers, they’ll find it odd, the whole emphasis on notes, how it’s always like during a conversation, did you get that down? Did you write it on a piece of paper? Because once you do, it’s evidence now. And that’s gonna feel very odd to us ’cause you’re naturally gonna say, “Well, couldn’t they have just made something up? They just wrote it on a napkin, what does that mean?” And it’s a very different… Now we have an echo of that today, where James Comey after his meeting with Donald Trump, went right back to the office and wrote down on a piece of paper what Trump told him, ’cause he was disturbed by it, he wanted some sort of near contemporaneous record. And that’s an echo of that moment, but it’s a pale echo, but back then, and it’s because all these folks knew each other and people trusted the institutions. And by institutions, I don’t just mean like the literal, the paper or the press, I mean the institutions that governed norms in DC journalism and politics.

0:17:03 Paul Matzko: And so people had the sense of, your word is your bond, and if you violate that as a journalist, sources won’t come to you in the future, there’d be consequences for making stuff up, and if you trust people to tell the truth, and it’s an exception to the rule when they don’t tell the truth, well, then you can have lesser evidenciary standards and get away with it. So just writing something down, if you think someone generally tells the truth, well, you wrote it down and I tend, I’m inclined to trust you. That’s enough, but today, where we have much lower levels of societal trust in general, that’s not gonna cut it unless it’s on tape, it didn’t happen. Unless Donald Trump comes out of the van literally saying, “I like sexually harassing women.” It doesn’t happen.

0:17:48 Gene Healy: The parts where they’re, “We need to confirm this. We’re gonna be on the phone for 10 seconds, and if you don’t hang up, that means it’s confirmed.” And today we tend not to trust and I think for good reasons, in some cases, stories where it’s anonymous sources, highly placed White House official, some of the stuff they’re doing in this movie, the way they try to get different claims confirmed seemed a step beyond that even.

0:18:29 Patrick Eddington: Then the interesting thing too was they go to Sloan and they go to him a couple of times, right. And then in their second interview with him at the end, they say, Would we be wrong essentially to say that Haldeman was involved, etcetera, etcetera, and he says I would have no problem with you saying that, but he does not reveal, he does not reveal to them, of course, because to do so would have been illegal at that point, that he did not… He was not asked about Haldeman in the grand jury. So there they are kind of metaphorically with their asses hanging out in the wind there on that particular point, but then it turns out that the grand jury investigation was not what it should have been necessarily.

0:19:17 Paul Matzko: And this gets to your point, Patrick, which like the… We live in just a very different conceptual universe, and we actually share the ‘70s conceptual universe more than they did say the 1950s conceptual universe. And again, that level of institutional trust went from very high to very low, very, very quickly, and we’re all cynical and jaded, and it fits well with the libertarian world view, so we’re all very comfortable with that. And most Americans are like us, but that was learned behavior in the 1950s, people… Once it used to be harder to become an FBI G‐​man, that was to get into an Ivy League school because people trusted government institutions. They shouldn’t have, and we know all the terrible stuff the FBI was up to in terms of civil liberties now, but people trusted the Office of the President, people trusted Congress, people used to… A majority of people used to say, “I trust Congress to do the right thing.” Can you imagine… And this is the moment where all that is falling apart in a matter of a decade, basically, the stuff going on with the Pentagon Papers, with Watergate, with the uncovering of all of this skulduggery. And we really do…

0:20:30 Paul Matzko: The conceptual universe just changes in the matter of years, and it leaves people discombobulated and alienated, it also leads to I think as you pointed out Patrick, the rise of conspiracism. We’ve always had conspiracy theories in American politics, it’s a constant, but they really peak when institutional trust declines, and one of the examples I give when I talked about Watergate is that the biggest bump in belief in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, JFK has his head blown off in Dealey Plaza, the biggest bump doesn’t come within a decade after Kennedy actually being assassinated, it comes after Watergate, and suddenly, if you poll people, “Do you believe in the official narrative about Kennedy being assassinated?” It goes from an overwhelming… An overwhelming majority saying, “Yes.”, for the first decade afterwards, to a majority of people saying, “No.” After Watergate.

0:21:23 Paul Matzko: So we all view the past through our particular… Through the lens of the present. But all that means is that trust in government institutions in this case, plummeted because of Watergate and the mess of the early 1970s, so again… And that’s a universe we move in now, conspiracy theories are just part of the warp and woof of politics, from birtherism to 9/11 trutherism to Hunter Biden’s laptop, which is our version of commit letter that’s possibly, it might… The commit letter was totally fabricated, we still don’t know what Hunter Biden… But that is functionally how those two pieces… That’s our corollary today.

0:22:06 Patrick Eddington: One of the great missed opportunities in the movie, and there was really nothing that I think they could necessarily do about it, but what was it at the end of the day that motivated Felt, to do what he did in going to… Going to Bob Woodward, and I think, obviously, Woodward and Bernstein kept that secret right up until virtually the day that Felt died, until Felt himself finally outed himself. Decades after the fact.

0:22:38 Natalie Dowzicky: Wasn’t it like 2005, or 2000 and…

0:22:44 Patrick Eddington: Yes, it was in that decade. It was in, I think it was basically during the first Bush 43 term, and I think that… And that’s one of the reasons why… And some of the notes I put together for this to share with you all, I actually did take the time, I haven’t gone through every single one of the FBI files released on, Mark Felt, but when you actually look at his career, this guy was very much the company man. And he wound up, he had his share of screw‐​ups along the way, that’s for sure. But Hoover came to rely on him and a certain other group of folks, Clyde Tolson, and some of the others at the very senior levels, because they were A, totally loyal to him, but B, because some of them, like Felt were really skilled at working the press in this pre‐​scandal era.

0:23:41 Patrick Eddington: And getting incredibly favorable coverage for the Bureau, so he was an asset, but at the same time, because he did all this espionage work during World War II, and so he developed counter intelligence techniques and procedures and all the rest of that, and at the same time, developed these skills working for the press, in a lot of respects, he was like the ideal guy to go and do this. What’s lacking unfortunately in the movie is the motivation, and for me, that’s kind of the missing piece.

0:24:07 Paul Matzko: And it’s worth nothing that Felt himself had been involved in doing illegal wire tapping and surveillance of the Weather Underground with a left wing, domestic terrorist group…

0:24:18 Gene Healy: Sure, he was prosecuted for it. And pardoned by… Pardoned by Ronald Reagan.

0:24:25 Paul Matzko: So, he could have been in Watergate, that could have been Felt. But he just happened to end up on the other side if you will.

0:24:31 Gene Healy: The… My recollection of Felt, which I’m sure it’s not as fresh as Pat’s but it was a case of… He was passed over and he was a big fan of Hoover’s and he didn’t like what was happening at the FBI, so it was… They used the term ratfucking in the… And if I can say that, it’s in the movie.

0:24:56 Natalie Dowzicky: Yup, you got it.

[laughter]

0:24:57 Gene Healy: In a way, what he was doing was his own version of that, because he’d been passed over, and it’s sort of one of these things in the… Whenever there’s a whistle blower, there’s a discussion about their motivations was Snowden a Russian spy, was Daniel Ellsberg, this or that. Watergate is one of those cases where here you have… Well, not a whistle‐​blower in the sense that he comes public at the time, but you have somebody that’s leaking, and his motivations are not really public‐​spirited as much as careerist or petty, but what really matters is what happened, not the motivations for leaking it.

0:25:47 Landry Ayres: Well what’s interesting to me is when the movie ends, when it does chronologically, so we break so much news and then what Paul was talking about, the long history of Watergate and the years that it takes for hearings to be undergone and charges to be pressed and then for Nixon to resign and everything, why do you think the movie ends when it does… Is there an importance to that… Was that an important choice, how would it have been a different film from the film noir, detective on the case, if it was much more of a we’re going to have dramatic Congressional hearing re‐​enactments where they really heighten everything when it was in reality, probably a much more boring thing to watch if you weren’t there or knew what was going on.

0:26:42 Patrick Eddington: Well, I was actually… When I first saw the film, I was actually kind of surprised that they didn’t take the opportunity to work in John Dean’s cancer on the presidency testimony or Howard Baker asking that, “What did the President know? And when did the President know it?” I think that that would have added some real dramatic effect, I think it would helped to reinforce the magnitude of it, the gravity of the whole thing. So I was a little bit surprised by that, but I think if the purpose was to just kind of… We’ve already given you two hours of this, we think you kinda know the rest of the story here, but in case you’ve forgotten and then the tele‐​type goes right, I mean… Yeah, I don’t know.

0:27:30 Gene Healy: I think it was a terrific choice because I think if you do… You hit all the high points of the whole saga, you end up… It’s like a docudrama. And as Paul pointed out, people have been watching these hearings… If they’re familiar with some of these big players. They’re certainly familiar… They’ve heard, what did the President know and when did he know it? Butterfield revealing the tapes, and they’ve heard all of this and it would just be like watching what you just watched but with actors and you’re always thinking Historical drama is like, “Does that guy really looked like Richard Nixon?” Anthony Hopkins…

[laughter]

0:28:16 Landry Ayres: Only Frank Langella is allowed to play Nixon.

[laughter]

0:28:21 Gene Healy: But people know how the story comes out, I think it’s kind of neat the way almost all the major players are kept off stage, you see, you hear Nixon, you see the inaugural footage, you hear his voice, you see some testimony, but they’re all on TV and basically off‐​stage, and I think ending it when they did, there’s still a little bit of mystery to this thing that we already know how it comes out.

0:28:58 Paul Matzko: You know what I think I would like to see as a follow‐​up… This movie, I like it as it is, but a follow‐​up movie, the first time history plays it’s tragedy the second time is farce, is that you… I’m reminded this is like the House of Cards portrayal of government skulduggery, in which it’s… If you’ve seen House of Cards, it’s all these hyper‐​competent, ambitious scheming politicians doing very clever stuff. But and the reality is, a little bit closer… Is not that… It’s also not West Wing, it’s something closer to Veep…

0:29:32 Landry Ayres: It’s Veep, yes.

0:29:34 Paul Matzko: But the reality is actually, it’s not even Veep, it’s somewhere in the middle, we need Veep and House of Cards and West Wing somewhere triangulated in the middle. Now, the great line from this, my favorite quote is, “The truth is these are not very bright guys and things got out of hand.” So off of that quote…

0:29:52 Natalie Dowzicky: Truth.

0:29:52 Paul Matzko: Let’s see a sequel to us, which is played from the perspective of the bunglers, of the bunglers and the creep of the bunglers in the Watergate burglary of they’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off. In response to this investigation. Remember it’s… Nixon doesn’t resign because of Watergate, he resigns because of his role in the cover‐​up, and it was an incredible incompetently managed cover‐​up. So I would love to see the flip of this of it played as parody as these political incompetents running around, desperately trying to stem the bleeding from Watergate and end up screwing themselves as a result.

0:30:31 Paul Matzko: I’m also reminded though, these are the not very bright guys, our corollary today is really quite striking, because if they were the dumb version what does that say about the incredible incompetence of the current scandals afflicting the executive branch?

0:30:49 Gene Healy: That quote got a lot of play over the last couple of years, Ken White in Popehat has used that quote, “Not very bright guys.”, repeatedly, because if it applied to the Nixon gang, it certainly applies in spades to this gang.

0:31:09 Paul Matzko: Which raises the question, why did they not get away with it back then? Why has the imperial executive gotten away with it today? That’s, I think one of the questions I try to get my students to think about. And part of it is that the… Back then, we weren’t afflicted by the same kind of political rot that we see now and back then… So the book, I would recommend is Michael Koncewicz’s, They Said No to Nixon: Republicans Who Stood Up to the President’s Abuses of Power, great little history about people like Senator Barry Goldwater, who went to Nixon and said, “Hey look, we’re not gonna defend you if you’re impeached, you’re going to be convicted. We’re going to vote for impeachment or the House will vote for impeachment, then we’ll vote to convict you once it comes to the Senate. So you should resign or else you’re gonna go down, you’re gonna be successfully removed from office.” That doesn’t happen today. We know that doesn’t happen today because we had an impeachment trial earlier this year, and there was no movement from even those who… The only movement we got was Mitt Romney, but Mitt Romney’s no Barry Goldwater. There’s not enough though. Yeah, so…

0:32:17 Patrick Eddington: Well, in the house Justin Amash, of course. But that really kinda goes to your point, and I think… Having worked up there myself for over 10 years and in lobbyist for a decade before that, I’ve been shocked at the level of degradation just in the last decade, it’s been really, really bad, but on that committee, House Judiciary Committee, you had 17 Republicans, and even then only a third of them, seven of them were willing to vote for, but right now that looks like All Star. Right, I mean, compared to where we are now, and I think it just gets down to… And if folks have not listened to the podcast on Free Thoughts that Aaron Powell and Trevor Burroughs did with Justin Amash earlier this year, I cannot emphasize enough what an absolutely wonderful hour… It’s a depressing hour. But it’s a wonderful hour of listening to an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and deeply frustrated legislator talk about in essence why we are where we are, and I think one of the critical realities… And I agree with Justin on this completely, and I think this goes back to the Watergate era, what was different about it then, is that you had powerful committee chairmen like Sam Irvin, and you had guys like Frank Church and yes, John Tower, who was the Vice Chair of the Church Committee.

0:33:52 Patrick Eddington: These guys had the power because that’s how things were structured back then, but you’ve had this radical centralization of power in Congress at the very top, where this is where the money is doled out, and this is where you make the deal essentially with leadership that you’ll go along, you’ll basically turn your voting card over to them, I’m virtually channelling Amash right now when I’m using these phrases. And in return, we will defeat any primary challenger who comes after you, we will turn on the spigot of money, you’ll get whatever committee assignment you want. You just have to do what we tell you to do when we tell you to do it, that is not a functioning legislature, it’s just that simple, it’s not. And I think that’s a key difference between then and the Watergate era and what we’re dealing with now. So that’s what frightens me, I think, maybe more than anything else, is the essentially the article one of our Constitution right now, just not functioning, it’s just not.

0:34:53 Paul Matzko: If parties control their congressional delegations to an extent that they just did not half a century ago, there’s a lot more individual independence and individual power where they could tell the party leadership, “No, I’m gonna be reelected in Arizona, I’m Barry Goldwater, I can do whatever I want. My career is not at jeopardy.” But today, you get a MAGA primary challenger, if you vote for impeachment, there’s consequences, Justin Amash being the perfect example of that. And it’s also paired with general political polarization in the electorate.

0:35:25 Paul Matzko: Today, unlike back then when people used to split ticket, people used to vote for different parties for different positions at a significantly higher rate than they do now, but now, even though we hate the parties, we feel like we have to vote for them, and if we don’t vote for our party, it’s an existential threat to America. Every election is the last potentially, the last election, and that kind of thinking, rots away any willingness to think about country over party. We’re at the point where if you pull people, they are more likely to say… I’m trying remember where… I don’t know if this is a Gallup poll people are more likely to say, “If my child comes to me and wants my approval for a marriage with another person, I am less comfortable with them marrying someone from another political affiliation than I am if they are a different race or a different religion.” In other words, tribal politics are more powerful than racism or religious difference in America today. That’s pretty striking. So we’re in a mess, and this is a downstream consequence of that is the difference between Nixon’s impeachment versus Trump’s impeachment.

0:36:38 Natalie Dowzicky: Throughout this conversation, we have been talking a lot about paranoia and how the movie plays into the paranoia of the era and how that’s still very much felt today, and I was wondering, if we rewind a little bit, why was the White House so paranoid that they wanted to have… Not that they wanted to have this Watergate scandal, but that they wanted to break into the DNC. I wanna know why that paranoia started originally.

0:37:13 Paul Matzko: Well, there is… So Nixon in 1960, he loses very narrowly, it’s the closest election of the 20th century other than Bush v Gore in 2000. Whether 2000 part of the 20th century, it’s very narrow. It’s just a few thousand votes in the popular vote, two states would have made a difference. In fact, it was a stolen election, so we know historians of the ’60 election will note that Louisiana and Illinois probably… They should have gone to Nixon, but the state Democratic party political machines packed the ballot boxes through the election and basically rigged it for Kennedy, so and Nixon knew that. So Nixon knew he had lost very narrowly in 1960, it almost ended his political career, no one in 1961 would have thought, Nixon would some day be president, he had his shot. He missed it.

0:38:05 Paul Matzko: And Nixon is by nature, kind of a paranoid guy, but he had that impulse, he lost one real narrowly, so any time he… And back then, polling wasn’t as good as it is today, so he never trusted the polls, so even though it looked like he was sailing towards re‐​election in 1972, he just never believed it in his bones, he was always worried that each election would be like 1960 again. So there’s that moment in the movie where one of the Washington Post editors said, “I don’t buy your story, because why would the Republicans do it?”

0:38:38 Paul Matzko: And a lot of that has to be rooted in the individual paranoia of Richard Nixon, he was the kind of guy who… He would sit in the Oval Office late at night, at 2:00 AM and read critical coverage of himself, take little notes and send them to his creep operatives to people like Haldeman and Colson tell them to take them down a notch. Plant a rumor about them being unfaithful to their wife with a sympathetic media outlet, he would be up at 3:00 AM in the morning and his little… He actually had a secret office, he wouldn’t do this in the Oval Office, he would do it in his little secret office, obsessing over coverage of himself. Does that remind you of someone, just minus 140 characters?

[laughter]

0:39:19 Gene Healy: I would say that Nixon was especially paranoid, but what’s striking is what he went down for so much of it, he wasn’t an innovator in the presidential skulduggery, lot of what came out of Watergate was them trying to do on an ad hoc basis, what LBJ and JFK. And others had used actual intelligence agencies for Hoover at this point in his life was getting cold feet about things like COINTELPRO and about political spying, and that’s part of the reason for the birth of the plumbers, and… But if you look at… LBJ had… I believe it was the CIA bug, Barry Goldwater campaign plane. JFK used the IRS to harass his political opponents, and anyone who got in his way. A lot of what comes out in Watergate is Nixon doing that or trying that sort of thing, much less effectively.

0:40:39 Gene Healy: So there was nothing particularly, this isn’t whataboutism Nixon clearly deserved to be impeached, but maybe we missed a couple of his predecessors too. There was nothing that he had done, and that’s one of the reasons that he thought he could get away with it, and there was a little bit of a backlash on the right is somebody made, a journalist and Victor Lasky, who wrote a best selling book called It Didn’t Start With Watergate, that goes into… That went into some of this history of the Nixon’s predecessors of using intelligence agencies.

0:41:22 Gene Healy: He was trying to make the point that that means it was okay, and Nixon shouldn’t have been impeached ’cause he only did what… He got caught for what these other guys got away with. I don’t think that’s the conclusion you wanna draw, but… So some of this is Nixon’s particular paranoia, but spying on political enemies was not something he innovated.

0:41:49 Paul Matzko: Yeah, well, as I’ve put… I’ve said this before… In, I think I said it in my book, but the difference between Nixon and Kennedy when it comes to the abuse of executive power, is that Nixon got caught. That’s it. Like…

0:42:02 Gene Healy: There’s a little line in that movie that I found interesting when, it’s early on when Bradley spikes the story and Bernstein/​Hoffman says, “He’s just carrying water for the Kennedys or something like that.” There’s a back story there where Ben Bradlee was a real chum of Bobby and Jack, and he had actually been… It’s in one of his memoir… He has a book Bradley did called Conversations With Kennedy, and he recounts this story of around the time of the Steel Strike about Bobby and JFK laughing about how they sicced the FBI and the IRS on steel executives because they raised prices and they knew that Ben Bradlee wasn’t gonna report that at the time, ’cause they were pals, he knew all about JFK’s supercharged libido and extracurricular activities.

0:43:19 Gene Healy: Part of it was, that wasn’t done really at the time, but part of it was he was very cozy with the Kennedys. And I think after Watergate you have liberal journalists who are willing to call out and expose bad behavior by democratic presidents. And maybe in part because of the mythos that grows up around Woodward and Bernstein.

[music]

0:43:55 Gene Healy: You had a question in an email that I thought I was right on for how I experienced the movie, which was… I had re‐​watched this maybe within the last two or three years when impeachment was gearing up, and I have to say like, your question was about journalism in this time without cell phones or Google. When I re‐​watched it the first time, it was like, literally all I could focus on was the technology. And, so I’m old enough to remember regular typewriters and stuff. I can only imagine if younger millennials or zoomers watching this thing and it’s like they’re making phone calls, they wanna find something, they wanna find out who Howard Hunt is, they call down to this little library in the basement of the Washington Post. They’re writing on little bits of paper, everybody’s smoking in elevators. And really, I don’t know, just kind of a side point, I guess, but it was almost like an inadvertent homage to old tech, it made you realize how much the world had changed and some of it must just look absolutely bizarre if you have no living memory of some of these things.

0:45:29 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s funny that you bring that up, Gene, because I was thinking while I was watching it like how much current are… How current journalists should really admire this movie, because when you think of investigative journalism like that… This movie is kind of what you think of, you’re on the ground, you’re looking for… You’re looking for the facts that no one can find, you’re going through a hard hard copies of library records and stuff like that, whereas, I feel like that obviously doesn’t happen as much today with cell phones and with Google and being able to reach each other much more readily. Especially investigative journalism. And I think journalists today should really admire and also consider themselves rather lucky that their profession has changed and changed with technology, but I also think… It’s also kinda sad in a way that journalism doesn’t happen that way anymore, and that it’s… A lot of the connections are a lot of what took a significant amount of time in the past hunting these people down in person or trying to find paper records of things doesn’t happen as often today, and that was just kind of something I noticed throughout the movie.

0:46:47 Gene Healy: Yeah, it’s much more cinematic, like the shoe‐​leather journalism, going to people’s houses, putting out this red flag and going to a parking garage in Rosslyn, whereas now if you… I didn’t see the Snowden movie, that had some dramatic… The story had some dramatic features, but a lot of journalism would be, in cinema now, would be guys sitting at a desk.

0:47:14 Landry Ayres: Yeah, it’d be a lot of, getting on Twitter, checking your DMs… What’s so… You can tell that this movie was made when it was, because when the phone rings, the journalist doesn’t go into a panic and screen the call and then just… And then just texted the number back saying, “Who is this?” They actually pick up and just say, “hello?” which a millennial or Zoomer would never do.

0:47:37 Paul Matzko: It would be less compelling if 90% of the phone calls ended with, “Your vehicle warranty is… ” Those robo calls…

[laughter]

0:47:46 Paul Matzko: I’ll add one thing here, I don’t know if it’s in or not. I thought the role of gender in the movie was really interesting, and we’re… Four out of five of us here are guys, but what was interesting about it is that it’s a movie that ostensibly is about men. The journalists are men, the people, the creep people are men. It is a real men, men, men, men, men kind of party. But the reality is, and you can see this in the movie. I’m not sure this was an intentional subtext. I don’t think it occurred to the authors of the film, I can be open to being wrong, is that it’s the importance of women at every point in the story. Most of the leads are generated by women. What’s interesting is that they are generated by those women precisely because of the misogyny of time…

0:48:36 Natalie Dowzicky: Because of men…

0:48:38 Paul Matzko: Well, because they’re overlooked. They would have… These people would do things, they would shred documents, they would have conversations, and because they took the women for granted, it was as if they were invisible in the office, but they weren’t. They were watching, they were listening, and so they’re able to be key conduits of information to these journalists. It’s actually kind of fascinating that the patriarchal misogyny of Washington in 1970s helped bring down the system. And you can see that, it’s a sub‐​text you have to read against the grain in the movie, but it’s there if you look for it. But all that stuff where it’s like, “Hey, wasn’t your… That, that girl you used to try to go with?” It’s very like… 1950s.

0:49:22 Landry Ayres: Or them pressuring the woman being like, it being like, “Oh, he was there in your apartment? To sleep with you?”

0:49:29 Paul Matzko: So some of those were so awkward.

0:49:32 Gene Healy: Bernstein practically dragging the one woman by the arm through the office like, “What are you doing?”

0:49:39 Landry Ayres: Or him shoving his way into the house, and her being like, “Please leave,” and him being like, “I’m just gonna have a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette, just ask you bunch of questions.” Now it would be like, “Get out of her house you creep!”

[laughter]

0:49:53 Paul Matzko: Exactly. Exactly. So that hasn’t aged well, but it is actually really interesting to think about, and it’s a time you have that juxtaposition. It’s 1970s, so women are still… They’re still a strong glass ceiling, but their numbers in the workforce have been rising since the ‘50s, and so it’s that juxtaposition of women being more present but still overlooked and repressed and taken for granted, and so that, you can see that in the background of this movie.

0:50:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, Paul, it’s also cool that you bring that up because, as you said, it hasn’t aged well, mind you, this movie is very old. But I was just thinking about the movie that came out recently with The Post that stars Meryl Streep, and how she’s like the key focus of that movie. And if you just kind of juxtapose the two movies, All the President’s Men and The Post, I think women got more of their time to shine in The Post, and it also just shows you how far not only we’ve come in movie production and the casting of roles, but also how far we’ve come in the portrayal of history. And I wouldn’t say the portrayal is inaccurate though, from All the President’s Men in terms of women’s role in the workplace… Yeah, it hasn’t aged well, a lot of things that happened in American history haven’t aged well at all, but I think The Post kind of gave… The movie, I think that was like, I think it was 2017 or 2016 that it came out, but definitely gave women a little bit more of the limelight, whether or not The Post was accurate, I don’t… I’m not sure, but I think it’s interesting to juxtapose those two.

0:51:31 Paul Matzko: For sure, yeah. And there’s… Stories we talked about, it’s not so much accuracy or not accuracy, it’s what you choose to leave silent or make salient. And All the President’s Men makes a particular story salient, and it’s a very male story. And it’s not inaccurate, it’s just what they made silent and salient. But yeah, The Post is outrageous that the only way in which Katharine Graham, who is the owner of The Washington Post, shows up in All The President’s Men, is it a throw away line from a former attorney general who says, “Tell Katie Graham, she’s gonna get her tit caught in a wringer, if you run this story.”

0:52:09 Gene Healy: Which is historically accurate, right?

0:52:11 Paul Matzko: It is.

0:52:11 Gene Healy: You can say that. Yeah.

0:52:15 Paul Matzko: It is accurate, but she was actually far more than Woodward or Bernstein who were young reporters. Yes, there was some heroism involved that could hurt their careers if they had gotten the story wrong. She was the real brave one, so Katharine Graham, owns not just the Washington Post, she owns several television station licenses, and the Nixon administration leans on her, don’t let your journalists, don’t let your editors… They’re under her, don’t let them run this story, and they tell that story in The Post in the movie pretty well, to the point where Nixon actually has the FCC change it’s cross‐​media ownership rules, to punish her and force her to divest herself of her much more profitable television stations. She’s actually a bigger hero than… She’s the real heroine in all of this. Without her holding the line, none of this journalism stuff would have happened, and so it is… You can again, what you make salient and what you make silent in here, she’s all but silent except for a sexist remark.

[music]

0:53:20 Landry Ayres: And now for the time in the show where we get to share all of the other pieces of media that we’ve been enjoying during our lockdown. This is Locked In. So Pat, Gene, Paul, what else have you been enjoying with your time at home?

[chuckle]

0:53:36 Patrick Eddington: I think I found that a lot of podcasts essentially have begun to really grow on me in a lot of ways, and in addition to Pop & Locke of course, and Free Thoughts, I’ve become fairly addicted to anything that the Lincoln Project puts out. It’s really become a staple for me just in terms of following what’s happening in the battleground races and all the rest of that, and then in a lighter vein, I am waiting with baited breath for season two of The Mandalorian. It would be fair to say that I’m pretty fanatical about the show, I’m pretty fanatical about Star Wars in any event. And I think that Star Trek’s Discovery season three, the initial episode was pretty interesting, I’m not gonna give it away for folks who have not been following it, but yeah, that’s kind of what I’m living for now. And I am concerned, as I think many people are that the longer this goes on, the less original content that we’re gonna have from our friends in Hollywood and elsewhere, it’s gonna have us all really climbing the walls, but… Yeah, and then finally, I just have a boatload of books that I’ve picked up as part of my book project research and all the rest of that that I’m trying to get through, but yeah, those are the big things for me right now.

0:55:02 Gene Healy: Well, I have an almost one‐​year‐​old and an almost four‐​year‐​old. So my lockdown has not been an opportunity to catch up on all the TV and books that I would have liked to have. Watching a little more Disney+ that I might have liked, although I was surprised and ashamed that I ended up liking Hamilton more than I intended to. Recently, I read the new Tana French novel, The Searcher, which is pretty good, but not as good as her Dublin Murder squad series. On TV I caught Dublin Murders, which is a… I think it’s a BBC mini‐​series production two of her earlier books, which is flawed, but also has its moments. What else? On this general subject. It’s something I read a few years ago, but there’s a book by Thomas Mallon called Watergate, A Novel where it’s not exactly true to history, he explained some things we don’t know the answer to with a lot of literary license, but as Washington novels go, it’s pretty interesting, and if you are… If you like to read historical novels and, it’s a sort of a low‐​impact way to learn a little history, if you’re interested in Watergate, with the caveat that some of it is literary license, and I believe he explains the parts that he made up in one part of the book. Thomas Mallon, Watergate: A Novel, is a lot of fun.

0:57:10 Paul Matzko: I’ll add for myself suggesting reading material, so I had an op‐​ed in the New York Times last week talking about the importance of talk radio that touched briefly on radio in the 1960s and Kennedy’s censorship campaign against conservative broadcasters. We mentioned here today briefly, Nixon did a lot of the same stuff that Kennedy did, and that includes with targeting critical broadcaster, those who criticized his administration on the radio. So if you’re interested in a really another sordid tale of actual government conspiracies, the silenced political dissent got me… Look up my book, the The Radio Right: How a Band of Broadcasters Took on the Federal Government and Built the Modern Conservative Movement.

0:58:00 Paul Matzko: The more fun thing that I’ve been doing, like you Gene, more Disney+ in my diet than I would normally prefer since I have a six‐​year‐​old, but I did introduce them to the best non‐​Pixar Disney movie, in my opinion, Big Hero 6, which unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, didn’t get a sequel maybe because Disney has a habit of flogging its IP into the ground, but Big Hero Six, I realized while I was watching, I was like, “You know what’s really anachronistic about this? Or fantastical about this, it’s not actually the tech.” The tech is fantastical and most of doesn’t exist, but a healthcare companion is imaginable, but I was reminded while watching it that the most fantastical element is actually the fact that a key plot point involves Baymax, the robot and spoilers here, but it involved Baymax the robot, scanning the health of everyone in San Fran Tokio without their consent, and then sharing that information with third parties. This is gross violation of HIPAA, medical privacy regulations, and so that’s… It ruined the movie for me once I realized that that was treating it’s… It’s actually a really great film, I am gonna have to have a conversation with my son about HIPAA now, so you know, as a six‐​year‐​old I’m not sure how much will filter through, but I’m gonna try.

0:59:20 Gene Healy: One more on Disney+ the recent live action version of the Jungle Book. Yeah, you have to… Little kids wanna watch movies like 70 times. So this is one that I’ve watched like 70 times, and I still enjoy. Idris Elba is Shere Khan the tiger is fantastic. Everybody’s great, Bill Murray is Baloo the bear. There’s probably more of the original Kipling stories in it than there was in the original cartoon version of the Jungle Book. So, pleasantly surprised by that one.

1:00:12 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, on the TV and movie front, for me, I just finished the last season of The 100, which I’m sad about because I’ve been dedicated to the show for seven seasons now, and it had a satisfying ending, though not great and rather predictable, but I’ll be okay. And then I am very close to finishing the most recent Hunger Games book, which is actually the prequel, and it’s like a story about President Snow when he was a child. I liked the book, but I also am under the impression that I’m… The only reason I’m reading it is because I liked the original Hunger Games books when I was younger, and I don’t think I would have necessarily picked up the book had I not had all of the three previous books. And then I’m also starting to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is another… It’s another novel that’s kind of in the mystery crime genre, I’ll say. I just started it, so I don’t have a whole lot of information on that. And then the last thing is, I am rather quickly going through Schitt’s Creek, it’s the first time I’ve watched it, but I think, well, it’s all the buzz going on lately, I should probably join the bandwagon, so I’m already in the season three, which is embarrassing because I think the last recording I said I had just finished season one, and that was a week ago. So that’s kind of what I’ve been up to.

1:01:44 Paul Matzko: Have you been tempted to do a… Drop a David or do it to Aaron. Aaron, sometimes…

1:01:51 Natalie Dowzicky: Not yet.

1:01:51 Paul Matzko: To amuse.

1:01:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Not yet, but this show is really good, and it’s one of those that’s super easy to watch, and if you… Like for me, if I fall asleep or if I miss part of an episode it’s not like a huge deal, you can just go on to the next one. And I like having those shows, especially if I’m working from home sometimes for noise in the background.

1:02:10 Landry Ayres: Yeah, that’s what we call, or what my wife likes to call her panic show during the pandemic is just the one that you could put on in the background ’cause you know what’s gonna happen and it’s comforting. Hers has been the Office up until now. We have watched and re‐​watched and re‐​watched and re‐​watched the Office for months now, but just this past week or so, we have pivoted to the Great British Bake Off on Netflix. And we’ve burned through about three seasons of that in a week. Just learning all about how to make a wonderful crumb and not to get to get a soggy bottom on our pies. Shout out to Mary Berry, my girl. So we’ve been watching a lot of GBBO as I call it, Great British Bake Off.

1:02:57 Landry Ayres: Another podcast that I am excited is coming back is Heavyweight, which is produced by Gimlet Media, and it’s hosted by Jonathan Goldstein, who if you listened to this American life, he is a very big contributor to that for several years, and he had a show on the CBC called Wiretap, and he basically helps people that have basically had a relationship in their past go awry or there’s some unresolved conflict that they have in their past, and he helps them meet that person and sort of resolve that conflict, and there are some that are really silly and it’s like, “I was a guy that gave Moby, the DJ musician a bunch of CDs that he then used for famous samples in a song.” And he tracks down Moby and they go and meet with Moby and they have to rectify the situation and get them to apologize. But there’s also really, really touching ones about families getting back together, and his sort of voice as a writer is pretty much unlike anyone else, right now, I think he’s a very distinct. So if you want to plan very different with a very distinct voice and you like podcasts, check out Heavyweight.

1:04:14 Landry Ayres: I’ve also been obsessed with watching a lot of YouTube videos from this channel called Game Maker’s Toolkit with Mark Brown, it’s all about video game design, but it’s very, very intelligently done, he talks about the use of audio and level design and how side scrolling games… How they came to be and how that sort of mapped the way video game players view what video games should be and how stories evolve, and it’s just really interesting from a design perspective of video games work. And I recently saw a video from the channel People Make Games about the game of blaseball, that’s baseball with an L after the B.

1:05:04 Landry Ayres: And it is an online game that you can go on, and it is basically a simulated baseball league, where all of the variables that determine how successful certain players or teams are are just wacky and weird, and they’re always introducing new ones like weather, but the weather won’t be like rain or shine, it’ll be like dust or nuclear cloud or blood rains from the sky, players can die in the middle of a season and then be resurrected they’re inhuman. It’s a strange thing that this huge cult following has sort of risen up around, and now there’s fan art and stories and fiction about all of these fake characters from fake baseball teams that they’ve invented.

1:05:55 Landry Ayres: And the developers are of listening to the fans and responding to that and building mechanics in that the players are interested in, so it’s an interesting sort of cultural fandom, but also an interesting way of looking at simulations and sports and all kinds of that. So you get the nerdy fan fiction side of the internet with the rabid sports following side and they marry with each other shockingly well. So then that’s blaseball.

1:06:23 Natalie Dowzicky: Guess I know how I’ll be spending my afternoon today.

[music]

1:06:31 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. If you’d like to complain that we talked about this movie instead of The Princess Bride as I teased, you can feel free to send us your complaints on Twitter, you can find us at the handle @popnlockepod that’s pop the letter N Locke with an E, like the philosopher pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. We look forward to unravelling your favorite show or movie next time.

[music]

1:07:00 Landry Ayres: Pop & Locke is produced by me, Landry Ayres. As a project of lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org, to learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.