Max Holland: What Director Alan Pakula’s Papers Reveal About Watergate

Max Holland, a contributing editor at The Nation and the Wilson Quarterly, is the author of Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat.

The New Journalism wave was cresting when Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward published All the President’s Men in 1974. Yet the book, curiously, was not considered an outstanding exemplar. The two were hailed, rather, as New Muckrakers, befitting the emphasis on them as Washington Post reporters rather than Simon & Schuster authors.

Affixing ATPM in the New Journalism firmament however, even at this late date, explains a lot about the book and the controversy it still generates 40 years after the “third-rate burglary” that brought down a president. Just last month, the revelation (in Jeff Himmelman’s new biography) that Post executive editor Ben Bradlee harbored a “residual fear in [his] soul” about the accuracy of some Deep Throat–related details in ATPM provoked a major media flap.

The basis for evaluating ATPM against the backdrop of the New Journalism comes from an unimpeachable source: the Alan J. Pakula papers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. This is mildly surprising because no one was more responsible than Pakula, director of the eponymous 1976 movie, for turning "Woodstein" into the heroes of a mythic Hollywood Western (albeit one set in Washington).

Yet Pakula also sought to inject well-researched verisimilitude in his film. He obtained a heretofore unseen copy of Woodstein’s typewritten notes from a September 1972 interview with a key Watergate source. He interviewed Woodstein in 1975, as well as Harry Rosenfeld and Barry Sussman, the editors who directly supervised their work, and many others. All this occurred well before memories had become distant or gauzy. The Watergate duo had yet to become icons. Their recollections, and recollections about them, were not yet fully scripted....

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