Watergate may be the most famous story in American investigative journalism history. It led to impeachment hearings, President Nixons resignation from office, and a spate of new political ethics laws. It also had an enormous impact on the practice of investigative journalism. Woodward and Bernstein wrote two best-selling books (one of which is quoted at length in this case) on the case and a popular movie, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, was made of it. Enrollments in journalism schools skyrocketed.
For journalists, a key question is this: why did one newspaper, The Washington Post, succeed in keeping the story alive while just about everyone else gave up? The answer to that question reveals a great deal about why some newspapers succeed and why others fail, why some reporters bring to a story the skills and perseverance that others seem to lack. The lessons of Watergate remain just as instructive today as they did 25 years ago.
Readers of The Washington Post awoke on Sunday morning, June 18, 1972, to discover this story by veteran police reporter Alfred E. Lewis on the front page.
The five men, said the story, "were surprised at gunpoint by three plain-clothes officers of the metropolitan police department in a sixth floor office at the plush Watergate, 2600 Virginia Ave., NW, where the Democratic National Committee occupies the entire floor."
The name still reverberates as one of the greatest domestic scandals in American political history, leading to the resignation of the President, Richard Nixon, and the trial and conviction of many of the men closest to him. It echoes, too, as the most daring and exciting story in the history of American journalism.
Barry Sussman, the Post's city editor in 1972, says in an interview that he never thought of the story in cosmic terms; he just thought it was a good yarn that needed good reporting. He remembers that about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 17, he received a phone call from his boss, Harry M. Rosenfeld, the metropolitan editor. Rosenfeld said five men had been arrested for a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters and asked him to get into the office on what was normally his day off to supervise the coverage. Before doing anything elsebefore even getting out of bedSussman called two reporters to get on the story. One was predictableAl Lewis, the Post's legendary police reporter, a man who had been on the beat so long (36 years) he thought like a cop. Lewis arrived at the Watergate complex with the city's acting police chief. They walked through the police lines and into the building, passing dozens of frustrated and curious reporters, and went straight up the elevator to the party headquarters. The other reporter summoned by Sussman wasn't so predictable. His name was Bob Woodward. He had worked for the Post on the metropolitan (local) staff for eight months.
With more than 80 metropolitan reporters at his beck and call, why did Sussman pick Woodward?
"You could see he was good," Sussman recalls. "Though hed only been at the Post a short time, hed been on Page One as much as anyone else." That was partly because he never seemed to leave the building. "I worked the police beat all night," Woodward says, "and then Id go home I had an apartment fiver blocks from the Post and sleep for a while. Id show up in the newsroom around 10 or 11 [in the morning] and work all day too. People complained I was working too hard."
He says he just couldnt help himself. "I loved the place. I loved the feel of the news room the intensity, the mystery, the unexpected things that happened."
"He really had his shit together," recalls Ben Bradlee, the Posts executive editor at the time of the break-in, in an interview. "He was tenacious and worked hard," says metro editor Rosenfeld. "He had already impressed me by the work he did on the George Wallace shooting." Wallace, a presidential candidate, was shot an seriously wounded May 15 at a suburban shopping mall in Laurel, Md. At the time, according to Sussman and Rosenfeld, Woodward said he had "a friend" who might be able to help. Woodward, interviewed in his beautiful home in Georgetown, the capitals poshest neighborhood, says that even after all these years he wont say anything more. The "friend," of course, was the most mysterious of all Watergate figures, Woodwards oracle, the man we all know as "Deep Throat."
Woodward was dispatched that first day to cover the court arraignment of the five burglars. He squeezed into a front-row seat and heard James W. McCord, one of the defendants, describe himself as a retired government worker. What agency? he was asked. "The CIA," McCord replied in what was almost a whisper. "Holy shit," Woodward remembers saying to himself, half-aloud.
Wandering around the newsroom that Saturday was the Post's Peck's Bad Boy, the official office hippie, a long-haired reporter who played the guitar and never turned his expense accounts in on time: Carl Bernstein, another young Metro reporter.
Bernstein had been at the Post since the fall of 1966. In 1972, Katharine Graham, publisher of the Post, wrote in her splendid autobiography, Personal History, that Bernstein "had not distinguished himself. He was a good writer, but his poor work habits were well known throughout the city room even then, as was his famous roving eye. In fact, one thing that stood in the way of Carls being put on the story was that Ben Bradlee was about to fire him. Carl was notorious for an irresponsible expense account and numerous other delinquencies including having rented a car and abandoned it in a parking lot, presenting the company with an enormous bill."
But Sussman liked Bernstein. He got the job.
Woodward was a wealthy young man from the Midwest who went to private schools and Yale University. He had served five years as an officer and a gentleman in the U.S. Navy. Bernstein was a rare species in the Post newsroom a native of Washington. He had grown up in metropolitan Washington and spent some time at the University of Maryland before dropping out. Both reporters had been married, but Woodward was divorced and Bernstein was separated from his wife. Without family obligations, they were able to devote almost all of their waking hours to the story.
So, by late afternoon that first day, the Posts Watergate team was already shaping up. First of all, Woodward, 30 at the time of the burglary, and Bernstein, 29, the reporters. Next up the ladder, Sussman, 38, the city editor (responsible for District of Columbia news), an introspective fellow who grew up in Brooklyn and had been something of a vagabond before settling in at the Post. Sussmans boss was Rosenfeld, 43, who had been foreign editor at the New York Herald Tribune when it folded. He was the Posts metropolitan editor (in charge of the news from the city and its suburbs). Day by day, these were the people who worked on the Watergate story, all the time.
They all reported to Howard Simons, 43, a one-time science editor chosen by Bradlee to run the paper day to day. He was the Posts highly competent managing editor. Simons, in turn, reported to Bradlee, 51 years old in June of 1972. That Saturday, when the story broke, he was at his cabin in West Virginia, where the phone, as usual, wasnt working. And at the very top was Katharine Graham, the papers gutsy publisher.
Sunday's story in the Post described the break-in and said one of the defendants was James McCord, a retired CIA agent. Monday's storyit was bylined Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, their first of many byline pairingssaid McCord was not only a retired CIA agent, he was also "the salaried security coordinator for President Nixon's re-election committee." And that wasn't all, the two reporters saidhe also was under contract to provide security services to the Republican National Committee.
The reporters were able to pin down McCord's campaign connections because the paper's regular White House reporter, Carroll Kilpatrick, had spotted McCord's name in Sunday's story. "I know that man," he said, and he called the news desk to say McCord was on the re-election committee's payroll.
In the first of the many lies that were to follow, former Attorney General John Mitchell, head of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, which came to be known as "CREEP" by reporters, said that McCord's only role with the campaign was to install a security system at campaign headquarters. As for the other four defendants (all of them residents of Miami with anti-Fidel Castro backgrounds), Mitchell said they "were not operating either in our behalf or with our consent."
Rosenfeld recalled that by late Sunday afternoon Bernstein had concluded that Nixon and his long-time hatchet-man, Murray Chotiner, were behind Watergate. (This time, though, Chotiner, who had performed any number of questionable chores for Nixon over the years, was purely innocent.) Bernstein wrote a five-page memo expounding his "Chotiner Theory," and sent it to Woodward, Sussman, and Rosenfeld. "It scared the marrow out of my bones," Rosenfeld remembers. For many reporters and editors at the Post, and for almost everyone else at other media outlets, the idea that the President could be involved in these insane activities was simply ludicrous.
Sussman says he didn't want to think about any of those things. He simply wanted to keep the story going day by day, and see where it finally ended. Tuesday's story, though, kept the ball rolling nicely, and in the direction of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The break came from the Post's night police reporter, Eugene Bachinski. On Monday, a friendly police officer allowed him to browse through the notebooks and papers confiscated from the five suspects. In one address book, he found the notation, "W.H." In another, he found the listing, "W. House." The name connected to both of them was that of Howard Hunt. Bachinski arrived at the newsroom shortly before noon on Monday, and told Sussman what he had discovered.
Sussman gave Hunt's name to Woodward (in the book he wrote with Bernstein, All the President's Men, Woodward says he already knew about Hunt because Bachinski had called him at home late Sunday night). Woodward called the White House switchboard and the telephone operator put him through to an extension, but there was no answer. J ust as Woodward was about to hang up, the operator came back on the line and told him, "There is one other place he might be. In Mr. Colson's office." Hunt wasn't there either, but the secretary answering the phone suggested he might be reached at Robert R. Mullen and Company, a public-relations firm. She said he worked there as a writer.
Everybody on the Post's national staff knew who Colson was. He was Charles W. Colson, special counsel to the President of the United States, and he was a major figure in the White House. But Woodward had no idea. He asked an editor on the news desk if he had heard of someone named Colson. Sure, the editor said, Chuck Colson, like Murray Chotiner, was one of Nixons "hatchet" men. Woodward called the White House back and confirmed that Hunt was on the payroll as a consultant working for Colson.
Armed with all this information, he called Hunt at his P.R. firm. "Howard Hunt here," the man answering the phone said. Woodward identified himself and then asked why Hunt's name and phone number were in the address books of two of the burglars arrested at the Watergate.
"Good God," Hunt said, Woodward and Bernstein recalled in their book, All the President's Men. Hunt paused for a moment before going on. "In view that the matter is under adjudication, I have no comment." Woodward said Hunt then slammed the phone down.
In the book, Woodward said he telephoned his special "friend" who worked for the governmentthe legendary anonymous source dubbed "Deep Throat"and was reassured that the FBI considered Hunt a prime suspect in its Watergate investigation. Woodward and Bernstein also said in their book that Sussman, invariably referred to as a master of detail, remembered Colson, and pulled out clips about him in the Post library. Sussman still sizzles at the idea that he was not much more than a master of detail. He argues that he was the editor with the broadest overview of the whole story and that, time and time again, he was the editor who whipped these stories into shape, often rewriting the leads. Sussman says in an interview he has no recollection of pulling those clips from the library.
In any event, someone pulled the Colson clips because the information in them became part of the story. One of the stories in the clips was written by a Post reporter, Kenneth W. Clawson. Clawson had left the paper earlier in 1972 to become the White House deputy director of communications. He had quoted an anonymous source describing Colson as "one of the original back room boys. The guys who fix things when they broke down and do the dirty work when it's necessary." Somebody slipped that lovely quote into the story, taking careful note to mention that Clawson was now working at the White House. Tuesday's story was headlined, "White House Consultant Linked to Bugging Suspects."
"Three days into the story," said Ben Bradlee, "and we're already into the White House. Not bad for those two kids."
The fact that four of the Watergate burglars were anti-Castro partisans from Miami led some reporters and investigators to the conclusion that Cuba had something to do with the break-in. At the New York Times, reporter Walter Rugaber had been sent to Miami and was writing some interesting stories about how the Watergate burglars had been financed. Rugaber's contact seemed to be Dade County state's attorney, or prosecutor, Richard Gerstein, who was running for re-election and had opened his own Watergate investigation.
At this point, the Post, in fact, went into something of a funk. The problem was the paper's massive commitment to the coverage of the Presidential election. More than 40 reporters were preparing to cover the summer's political conventions and there wasn't a whole lot of time for very much else. In his book, The Great Cover-Up; Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate, Sussman said that, to the paper's political writers, the Watergate story was "like a leaky faucetsomething to think about when you stood near the sink, easy to forget when you were out covering the election campaign."
Things were so slow that Sussman took his wife and two daughters to the beach for a holiday starting the last day in June. He was there on Saturday, July 1, when Mitchell announced he was stepping down as the President's campaign manager to be with his family. He was succeeded by former Minnesota Congressman Clark MacGregor. When he returned from vacation, Sussman was called into managing editor Simons office and told the paper had to do more with the Watergate story. Simons pointed to the New York Times on his desk, carrying one of Rugaber's reports. Other papers were getting into the act too. On July 22, the Long Island daily Newsday reported that a former White House aide named G. Gordon Liddy had been fired in June for refusing to cooperate with the FBI. Simons told Sussman to work full time on the story, along with Woodward and Bernstein.
The Dahlberg Link
Bernstein tried to play catchup with the Times' reporting, a job loathed by every good reporter. He learned from reading the Times and by making his own phone calls that the Miami investigators had subpoenaed bank records of one of the burglars, Bernard L. Barker, and had begun turning up provocative information. From reading the Times, Bernstein learned that $89,000 had been deposited in Barker's account and then withdrawn from it in April. He reached the Dade County prosecutor's chief investigator, Martin Dardis, and asked him about the $89,000. "It's a little more than $89,000," Dardis said. It was, in fact, a little more than $100,000 and most of the money had been "laundered" in Mexico, so no one could trace its origins.
Bernstein was given permission to fly to Miami to learn more about the cash. As he boarded the plane on Monday, July 31, he glanced for the first time at the front page of the New York Times. "Cash in Capital Raid Traced to Mexico," the headline said. "Bernstein directed his ugliest thoughts to Gerstein and Dardis," he and Woodward wrote in their book. Upon arriving in Miami, Bernstein checked in at the Sheraton Four Ambassadors, the city's poshest hotel. He asked about Rugaber's whereabouts. "He checked out over the weekend," the desk clerk told him.
About 8 p.m. Monday, Bernstein called from Miami to say that after a long game of cat and mouse, Dardis unable to shake the persistent reporter -- had finally let him see the actual checks. "There's a check for $25,000 signed by someone named Kenneth Dahlberg," Bernstein said. He had no idea who Dahlberg was, and neither did Woodward or Sussman.
In their book, the two reporters recount that Bernstein started working the phones furiously, calling police investigators and bank officials in Florida. One of the bankers, James Collins, said yes, he knew Dahlberg he was one of the banks directors and added, ever so gratuitously, that Dahlberg had been head of Nixons Midwest campaign in 1968. The two reporters wrote in their book that Bernstein called Sussman with his scoop and that Sussman told him that Woodward was at that moment on the phone with Dahlberg. "For Christ's sake!" Bernstein screamed, "tell him Dahlberg was head of Nixon's Midwest campaign in 1968." "I think he knows something about it," Sussman is reported to have replied, according to the Woodward-Bernstein book.
Woodward, working on the story in the Post newsroom in Washington, had traced a Kenneth H. Dahlberg to two addresses, one in Boca Raton, in Florida, the other in Minneapolis. Woodward tracked his man down to the home in Minneapolis. They chatted for a few minutes. Yes, said Dahlberg, he also had a home in Boca Raton. And what did he do? Well, among other things, he said, he was a fund-raiser for Richard Nixon.
Dahlberg called back later to confirm that Woodward really was a Post reporter. And he spilled more of the beans. He had raised so much money in cash, he said, that he had become worried about carrying it around. So he deposited the money in the First Bank and Trust, in Boca Raton, in exchange for a cashier's check. When he got to Washington, he gave the cashier's check either to Hugh Sloan, treasurer of the campaign finance committee, or to the top man himself, Maurice Stans, the former Secretary of Commerce and head of the finance committee. He told Woodward he had already talked to the FBI three times and had no idea how the money ended up in Barker's bank account. Or, he might have added, how fifty-three $100 bills drawn from Barker's account had ended up in the pockets of the Watergate burglars.
The story ran in the Post on Tuesday, August 1, on the lower half of the front page. It would have received more prominence that day if it weren't for the fact that another story led the page with an eight-column banner: "Eagleton Bows Out of '72 Race; McGovern Weighs Replacement." Thomas Eagleton, a well-respected U.S. Senator from Missouri, had withdrawn as McGovern's vice presidential running mate when it became public knowledge that he had been hospitalized three times with mental problems and had undergone shock therapy on two of those occasions.
The Post's August 1 Watergate story began with these words:
A $25,000 cashier's check, apparently earmarked for President Nixon's re-election campaign, was deposited in April in a bank account of one of the five men arrested in the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters here June 17.
The check was made out by a Florida bank to Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the Presidents campaign finance chairman for the Midwest. Dahlberg said last night that in early April he turned the check over to "the treasurer of the Committee (for the Re-election of the President) or to Maurice Stans himself."
Woodward remembers that when Sussman finished editing the storyright on deadline, as usualhe put his pencil and his pipe down on his desk and told his ace reporter, "We've never had a story like this. Just never."
That night, Woodward says, he had dinner with the man he considers a mentor, the late Jerry Landauer, the Wall Street Journal's legendary investigative reporter (who broke the story that led to the resignation of Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew). "Bob," Landauer said, "I would have given my left arm for that Dahlberg story today."
Looking back at all the Post's Watergate stories, Sussman says this one, the August 1 story, was the most significant because it showed more clearly than anything else that the Watergate burglars were a part of Nixon's re-election campaign. It gave the lie to the campaign's contention that the Watergate break-in was carried out by zealots operating independentlyGordon Liddy, chief among themwho were simply out of control. It set in motion the official inquiries that led to Nixon's resignation.
All these years later, Ben Bradlee still revels in the Post's Watergate coverage, and especially that August 1 story. "We had street reporters," he says. "Over at the New York Times, they had Max Frankel [the Washington bureau chief] and he spent most of the day talking on the phone with Henry Kissinger."
Luck had been a part of nailing down the Dahlberg story. Rugaber missed the check; Bernstein found it. But that wonderful Post passionthe sheer doggedness of the coverageplayed a part too. Bernstein had been pushed around in Miami. He met delay after delay. Maybe he could see the checks, maybe not. But he persisted. He didn't give up, he didn't call the office back in Washington and say he was coming home because the authorities weren't cooperating. In the end, he got the single biggest, most important of all the Watergate stories. It was at this point that the Times and the rest of the Post's opposition began to fade away. It was the beginning of the Post's ascension.
It is difficult to exaggerate just how hard Bernstein and Woodward worked on the Watergate story. They made phone calls; they knocked on doors. They each developed a thick list of sources, and there wasnt much overlap between one list and the other. They worked all the time -- and they believed in what they were doing.
* * *
Suspicions were now growing that prosecutor Earl Silbert and the Justice Department, heavily influenced by the Nixon White House, hoped to restrict the investigation solely to the burglars.. The August 1 story about the $25,000 Dahlberg check demonstrated that it was a much bigger story than that. The wheels began to turn.
The most important wheel was a little-known agency in the General Accounting Office called the Federal Elections Division, headed by Philip S. "Sam" Hughes, a veteran bureaucrat who had helped write the GI Bill of Rights following World War II. The agency had set up shop on April 7, charged by a recently enacted campaign-reform act to tighten up the reporting of campaign contributions. Best of all, it was a part of the legislativenot the executivebranch. Hughes told Woodward there was no mention of the Dahlberg check in any of the finance filings by the Nixon committee. He pledged he would take a serious looka full auditto see what was going on.
At the same time, Congressman Wright Patman, the 79-year-old chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee, directed his staff to see if there had been any violations of banking law in the way the Dahlberg check and the laundered Mexican cash had been handled. That investigation never really got off the ground, partly because Patman some days couldn't assemble a quorum of committee members, but it was a start. On the Senate side, Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Administrative Practices and Procedure, began another investigation.
But it was Sam Hughes and his little agency that caused the most trouble for the White House. Woodward's editors told him to make absolutely certain that no other paper beat the Post on the agency's findings. Woodward called someone at Sam Hughes' office every day.
On August 22, the second day of the GOP national convention in Miami, Woodward and Bernstein reported that Hughes' election office was preparing to release its report documenting illegal activities by Nixon's re-election committee. Hours before the final report was to be released, however, Hughes was summoned to Miami by Maurice Stans, for whom he had once worked, to talk things over. He made the flight, even though he knew it might look improper if the press got hold of it. Word did leak outit almost always does in situations like thisand Democratic National Chairman Lawrence O'Brien charged that it was "the most outrageous conspiracy of suppression that I have witnessed in a generation of political activity."
The Nixon campaign knew it couldn't suppress Hughes' report, which was published August 26, after the convention adjourned, but it had managed to keep it from coming out while Nixon was celebrating his triumphal renomination.
In the short time he was in Miami, Hughes managed to track down Hugh Sloan, the one-time Nixon finance committee treasurer. It was at that time, Woodward and Bernstein say, that Sloan revealed to Hughes that the Dahlberg check and the Mexican money were a part of a larger cash fund kept in two safes at CREEP headquartersone in Sloan's old office and one in Stans's office. This was the secret campaign fundthe slush fundthat the P.R. officials at the White House and at campaign headquarters had insisted didn't exist.
Senator Bob Dole, the Republican national chairman and a major White House mouthpiece, said George McGovern's Democratic finance committee had committed a lot more serious violations of campaign-finance lawshe cited 14 of themand demanded that Hughes investigate the Democrats too. The Post published this story on September 13, reporting that the "General Accounting Office investigators have found only technical violations of the new campaign finance law ... [by] George McGoverns election committee, according to reliable sources."
The findings contrast sharply with those from Hughes inquiry into the Nixon re-election committee, after which the GAO referred its audit to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. But, of course, the Justice Department was moving at a glacial pace in its Watergate investigation, saying frequently that it would be a disservice to the system and to the defendants to comment on the various allegations.
Sussman says he often wondered why the Post had so little media competition in the Watergate story. No other paper, he says, took the time to investigate Dole's allegations of impropriety in the financial affairs of the McGovern campaign. There was even a little skepticism at the Post, especially among members of the national staff, he says. "Be careful, they kept telling us, don't go overboard. These things happen in all campaigns."
Metropolitan Editor Rosenfeld says it didn't bother him a bit. "I was happy to be alone on the story," he recalled in a long telephone interview for this case study. "We all know what happens when one paper gets ahead of everybody else. The other guys gang up and piss on your story. Journalists are always denigrating one another."
By mid-August, Woodward, Bernstein, Simons, Sussman and others directly connected to the Watergate story were convinced that senior officials at the White Houseperhaps even the Presidenthad to be involved,. Checks for $25,000 didn't move around by themselves; somebody with influence had to authorize them. One of the obstacles in pinning the story down was the campaign headquarters itself. It was like a bunker, with uniformed guards at the door. Interviews with the people inside were hard to set up and when a reporter was allowed past the gates he was accompanied by someone to the office of the person he or she had arranged to interview, and then taken in hand and led back to the gate and out the front door when he or she was finished.
Who were all those people working at CREEP headquarters? What were their telephone numbers and where did they live? Woodward and Bernstein wrote that a Washington Post researcher obtained a list of 100 CREEP employees from a friend. Another list, containing even more names, was published by Sam Hughes's agency at the GAO.
"Studying the roster became a devotional exercise not unlike reading tea leaves," Bernstein and Woodward wrote in their book. "Divining names from the list, Bernstein and Woodward, in mid-August, began visiting CRP people at their homes in the evenings," they wrote, using the third person. "The first-edition deadline was 7:45 p.m., and each night they would set out soon afterward, sometimes separately, sometimes together in Woodward's 1970 Karmann Ghia. When traveling alone, Bernstein used a company car or rode his bicycle."
They hadnt known each other very well when they began working on the story. And, in the early days, they viewed each other with a little bit of suspicion. By now, though, they were a team. This is how they described their working relationship in their book:
They realized the advantages of working together, particularly because their temperaments were so dissimilar.... Each kept a master list of telephone numbers. The numbers were called at least twice a week. Eventually, the combined total of names on their lists swelled to several hundred, yet fewer than 50 were duplicated....
By this time, Bernstein and Woodward had developed their own style of working together. To those who sat nearby in the newsroom, it was obvious that Woodward-Bernstein was not always a smoothly operating piece of journalistic machinery. The two fought, often openly. Sometimes they battled for fifteen minutes over a single word or sentence. Nuances were critically important; the emphasis had to be just right. The search for the journalistic mean was frequently conducted at full volume, and it was not uncommon to see one stalk away from the other's desk. Sooner or later, however (usually later), the story was hammered out.
Each developed his own filing system; oddly, it was Bernstein, far the least organized of the two, who kept records neatly arranged in manila folders labeled with the names of virtually everyone they encountered. Subject files were kept as well. Woodward's record-keeping was more informal, but they both adhered to one inviolate rule: they threw nothing out and kept all their notes, and the early drafts of stories. Soon they had filled four filing cabinets.
Usually, Woodward, the faster writer, would do a first draft, then Bernstein would rewrite. Often, Bernstein would have time to rewrite only the first half of the story, leaving Woodward's second half hanging like a shirttail. The process often consumed most of the night.
Sussman says the prodecure did not always work exactly as the two reporters describe it. Often, he recalls, there was heavy editing and rewriting. "These two guys were good leg men," he says, "but they werent much better than okay in putting their thoughts together."
The door-to-door canvassing began paying off, in bits and pieces. "It was all part of a mosaic," Woodward explains. One CREEP employee told the reporters, in tears, that she was scared of what was happening, and that all kinds of documents were being shredded. Another said that Frederic LaRue, Herbert L. Porter, and Jeb Stuart Magruder, all former White House employees working at campaign headquarters, knew about the bugging of the Democratic headquarters. What amazed them both was the fact that many of these people hadn't been interviewed by Federal investigators. Woodward remembers Earl Silbert, the chief prosecutor, asking him, "Why are you believing all these women?" which even at the time he remembers as being a sexist remark.
Lurking in the background was Woodward's special friend, the man whom managing editor Simons had christened "Deep Throat " (the title of a pornographic movie popular at the time). In their book, Woodward and Bernstein described Deep Throat as a member of the Executive Branch who had access to information at both CREEP and the White House. Woodward reported later that "Deep Throat" had agreed to talk to Woodward on "deep background" with a guarantee that neither his name nor his title would ever be revealed without his permission.
At first, "Deep Throat" and Woodward talked on the telephone. But, as the story became hotter, "Deep Throat" insisted on other arrangements. He suggested that Woodward open the drapes in his apartment at 17th and P streets as a signal. "Deep Throat" would check the drapes every day. If they were open, they would meet that night. There was one problem with the arrangementWoodward liked to open the drapes to let the sun in. So they refined the procedure. Woodward had an old flowerpot with a red flag on a stick and he placed it at the front of his balcony. If he wanted to see "Deep Throat," he would move the flowerpot and the stick with the red flag to the rear of the balcony. If the pot had been moved, Woodward and "Deep Throat" would meet at 2 a.m., when downtown Washington was quiet and a little eerie, in an underground garage.
In those rare instances when "Deep Throat" wanted to initiate a meeting with Woodward, he would somehow circle page 20 in the copy of the New York Times that was delivered to Woodward's door before 7 a.m. In the lower corner of the page there would be a hand-drawn clock, the hands pointing to the hour when "Deep Throat" wanted to meet Woodward in the garage. Woodward says he still has no idea how "Deep Throat" got hold of the newspaper to make those markings.
Sussman suggests that "Deep Throat" made for good drama but not really that important as a source. The problem was, he often spoke in riddles, like the oracles at Delphi. No, he would say, you can go higher to incriminate people at a still more important level of responsibility in the campaign. Yes, you should look harder at who had access to the money.
On September 15, the five Watergate burglars, plus Hunt and Liddy, were indicted by a federal grand jury. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst said the indictments represented the culmination of "one of the most intensive, objective, and thorough investigations in many years, reaching out to cities all across the United States as well as into foreign countries."
At the Post, Woodward and Bernstein wrote in their book, there was the gnawing suspicion that this was as far as the Federal prosecutors intended to take the case. After all, they noted, the Mexican checks, the $25,000 Dahlberg check, and the slush fund stashed away in Stans's safe weren't even mentioned in the indictments.
So, mostly out on a limb all alone by now, they pushed on.
The very next day, September 16, they reported that funds used in the Watergate bugging and break-in had been "controlled by several assistants of John N. Mitchell" when he was the campaign boss. Then, on September 29, they delivered a stunner:
John N. Mitchell, while serving as U.S. Attorney General, personally controlled a secret Republican fund that was used to gather information about the Democrats, according to sources involved in the Watergate investigation.
Four other persons, they reported, eventually were given authorization to approve payments from the secret fund. They identified two of them as former Secretary of Commerce Stans, the campaign's finance chairman, and Jeb Magruder, the deputy director of the campaign. The other two were unnamed.
In putting the story together, Bernstein called Mitchell at his apartment in New York City at about 11 p.m. and read him the lead. "Jesus," Mitchell told Bernstein. "All that crap, you're putting it in the paper? It's been denied. Jesus. Katie Graham [the Post's publisher] is gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published. Good Christ. That's the most sickening thing I've ever heard." In the story, the quote was cleaned up to eliminate any mention of the publisher's anatomy. (It didn't bother Mrs. Graham a whole lot. A dentist in California made a little wringer with a working crank out of gold he normally used for fillings and sent it to Mrs. Graham. Later, her friend, the humor columnist Art Buchwald, gave her a tiny gold breast to go with it. "I occasionally wore them on a chain around my neck," Mrs. Graham later wrote in her autobiography.)
One result of what Woodward calls "incremental reportingtaking one step at a time, day after day, big stories and small onesis that potential sources become acquainted with your work and know who to call when they think they have something worthwhile to offer. Other papers did good work on Watergatethe Los Angeles Times, the Washington Star-News, the New York Timesbut only the Post did the kind of incremental reporting that made people aware that it was the paper with the biggest stake in the story.
Thus, the night of September 28, Bernstein received a phone call from a government lawyer with an interesting story. The caller said he had a friend named Alex Shipley who had been approached "to go to work for the Nixon campaign in a very unusual way." How unusual? Bernstein asked. Well, the caller said, his friend had been asked to join the Nixon team in the summer of 1971 to work with "a crew of people whose job it would be to disrupt the Democratic campaign during the primaries. This guy told Shipley there would be virtually unlimited money available."
Woodward and Bernstein had believed all along that the bugging and break-in at the Watergate hadn't been an isolated event; it must have been, they thought, a part of a larger campaign of sabotage and obstruction. Bernstein ran down Shipley, a Democrat and an assistant attorney general in Tennessee, who said the man who tried to hire him to do dirty tricks was Donald H. Segretti, a 31-year-old lawyer in Marina del Ray, California.
Bernstein and Woodward broke this blockbuster on the front page on October 10.
FBI agents have established that the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon's re-election and directed by officials of the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President.
The activities, according to information in FBI and Department of Justice files, were aimed at all the major Democratic presidential contenders andsince 1971represented a basic strategy of the Nixon re-election effort.
Woodward and Bernstein hadn't actually got anything from Segretti, who refused to talk to them, but from three different people he tried to recruit for his little dirty-tricks operation, they had learned the broad outlines of what he was trying to accomplish.
They also had stumbled on to what the two reporters said was the best example they had seen so far of this kind of sabotage carried out by the Nixon re-election committee. It involved a letter to the editor published in the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader on February 24 alleging that Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, at that time the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, had condoned the use of the derogatory word, "Canucks," to describe Americans with French-Canadian roots, who vote in large numbers in New Hampshire elections. The letter, signed by a fictional Paul Morrison of Deerfield Beach, Fla., deeply disturbed the thin-skinned Muskie and he was said to have ended up in tears talking about his troubles in a campaign speech in Manchester. It marked the beginning of the end for his campaign. Muskie's withdrawal was a coup for the Nixon strategists; they had believed from the start he would be their most challenging opponent.
In their October 10 story, Bernstein and Woodward said that Ken Clawson, the White House press officer who had once been a reporter at the Post, had told Post reporter Marilyn Berger that he was the author of the Canuck letter. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn'tWoodward says he still isn't surebut the damage was done.
Two days later, Bernstein wrote a story detailing more dirty tricks played on Muskie and his campaign. They included stolen documents, faked literature, canceled rallies and mysterious telephone calls. The whole business seemed bizarre, but Deep Throat put it all in perspective. "These are not very bright guys," he told Woodward.
Both the Post and Time magazine, whose Washington bureau had good sources at the Justice Department, reported on Sunday and Monday, October 15 and 16, that Segretti had been hired for the dirty-tricks job by Dwight Chapin, Nixon's appointments secretary. At Sussman's request, Bernstein and Woodward noted that Chapin met the President on a daily basis and "is one of a handful of White House staff members with easy access to the President." In their story on the 16th, Bernstein and Woodward reported that Segretti had been paid to do his dirty tricks by Herbert Kalmbach, Nixon's lawyer.
Incrementally, one step at a time, the reporting was taking the Post closer and closer to the Oval Office itself.
This was getting serious, and at this point Sussman began to think he was being pushed aside by Rosenfeld and other top editors at the Post. "I began to feel somewhat sorry for myself" on October 16," Sussman wrote in his book, "and for the first time in a long while, I left the office in the midst of a Watergate story."
The next morning, Rosenfeld complained that Woodward and Bernstein had been difficult to work with the night before. Woodward and Bernstein complained that Rosenfeld had been a problem. That afternoon, they all met in managing editor Simons' office. Simons told them the Post was putting together a Watergate task force, with Sussman still in charge. But Sussman realized things would never be quite the same. The bureaucracy was moving in on the story.
The Hugh Sloan Story
Sussman arrived for work in the newsroom about 9:30 a.m. on October 24, and found Woodward already talking to a source on his telephone. He gave Sussman the thumbs up signal, covered the phone, and said, "We've got Haldeman." H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and his sidekick, John Ehrlichman, were Nixon's two top aides and advisors. They were a team that ran the White House. Haldeman, Nixons chief of staff, would be the biggest catch of all.
Sources were telling the two reporters that Chapin would never have hired or paid Segretti without the approval of his boss, Haldeman. Their most important source was Hugh Sloan, the former CREEP treasurer who had resigned weeks earlier, apparently because he hadn't approved of what was going on at the re-election committee. They talked to him time and time again, and they became convinced that he had hinted to them that Haldeman was one of the handful of Nixon operatives with access to the famous slush fund in Stans's safe. They also understood that Sloan had told them he had testified to that effect before the grand jury. Other sources seemed to confirm the story.
At about 6 p.m., the two reporters, along with Sussman, Rosenfeld, and Simons, met in Bradlee's office. "Bradlee began asking questions the way a prosecutor would," Sussman remembered. This was a new departure; story sessions on Watergate had never been like this before. For the first time, too, lawyers were called in to read the copy.
In the end, Bradlee said, "OK, go." The story appeared on the Post's front page the morning of October 25 saying that Sloan had testified before the grand jury that Bob Haldeman was one of the men who had access to the secret campaign fund.
The story was wrong.
Throughout Watergate, Nixon Administration officials had become notorious for criticizing stories by attacking them without actually denying them. These official statements sounded like denials, but when they were carefully parsed, they did not actually contradict the allegations in the stories. Reporters even coined a term for these statements. They called them "non-denial denials." At times, when the Administration was shown to have done what it had seemingly denied doing, officials would quietly back away from those earlier statements. At one point, White House press secretary Ron Ziegler even said that one former non-denial denial was "no longer operative."
When the Hugh Sloan story hit, Woodward, Bernstein and others at the Post knew there were problems because the Administrations denials were the real thing.
"I watched the shit hit the fan on the CBS Morning News," Bradlee recalled in his book. "To my eternal horror, there was correspondent Dan Schorr with a microphone jammed in the face of Hugh Sloan and his lawyer. And the lawyer was categorical in his denial: Sloan had not testified to the grand jury that Haldeman controlled the secret fund."
Even now, Bradlee shudders at the thought. "It was terrible," he recalls. "So many people had been waiting for us to get it wrong, and here we did it. When you pick yourself off first base, and that's what we did, you can't pretend it didn't happen."
Sussman says the story was wrong on three points"Sloan hadn't told the grand jury about Haldeman, Haldeman hadn't been interviewed by the FBI as we said he had, and we had his age wrong. He was 46, not 47."
In the past, the White House had been forced to waffle on most of its explanations about the Post's stories. This time, Nixon's spokesmen jumped all over the Post with both feet. No, said Ron Ziegler at his regular morning press conference, the story wasnt true. "I personally feel," he said, "that this is shabby journalism by The Washington Post . It is a blatant effort at character assassination that I do not think has been witnessed in the political process in come time."
As it turned out, Bernstein and Woodward had the main point rightHaldeman was deeply involved with the slush fund. But they had the details wrong. For this, they paid a heavy price.
How did these two young reporters, so far ahead of everyone else on this story no one could see their dust, get the October 25 story so wrong?
There were cautionary yellow lights all along the way. One of the sources, for example, an unidentified FBI agent, was asked by Bernstein, "Are you sure it's Haldeman?" in a phone call with Woodward listening in on another line, according to Sussman's book. "Yeah," he replied, "John Haldeman." After they hung up, the two reporters looked at each other. "John Haldeman?" Haldeman's first name, of course, was Bob. So Bernstein called the source back. "You said John Haldeman, but his name is Bob." Not to worry, the agent said, it's Haldeman. "I can never remember first names."
There were more problems. Woodward and Bernstein had spent hours with Sloan, who was still reluctant to tattle on his old colleagues. He was "elliptical" in what he told the two reporters, Sussman said in his book. It was hardly a surprise, then, that the two reporters had problems writing the story. That in itself is a cautionary light. Good, clean stories tend to write themselves. Stories with problems don't flow easily.
The two reporters knew who their sources wereeven though what they had said came up shortand they had more problems in figuring out how to handle the story's attribution. They were faced with finding a way to make the story sound authoritative without exposing their reluctant or maybe confused sources.
Howard Simons, the managing editor, was uneasy, and suggested, according to Sussman, that Woodward and Bernstein try to come up with another source. According to Sussman, Bernstein piped up that he knew a source in the Justice Department who might be willing to confirm such an important story. But the source was skittish, and in the end Bernstein suggested a novel arrangement in which the source would say nothing if the story was right and hang up if it was wrong. The source agreed and used the signal that Bernstein understood meant that the story about Haldeman's involvement was correct.
In his book, Sussman told what happened next:
"That's madness, Carl," I said. "Don't ever do anything like that. Bernstein and Woodward knew a lot more about the details of what they were reporting than I did. But here was Bernstein saying that he was able to confirm a story damaging to the President of the United States and his chief of staff through the silence of a balky source. Maybe that could work in the movies, but not in The Washington Post."
The story ran on schedule in the Post. A year later, Sussman bumped into the balky Justice Department source. He told Sussman that "Carl got his own signals mixed up. I didn't give him the 'confirm' signal, I gave him the 'deny.'"
Bernstein's arrangement with his source was too clever by half. Sussman was right to be outraged. Yet, no one blew the whistle on the story. Everyone wanted the story to be right. Everyone wanted to nail Nixon's chief of staff.
Publicly, the Post's initial reaction was a statement from Bradlee that the Post stood behind its story. Internally, however, the editors and reporters knew better. They did argue that the story was "basically true" because Haldeman was really involved, even though Sloan hadn't explicitly said so in his appearance before the grand jury. Yet, they admitted to themselves, and later publicly, and even to this day, that they blew the story. They knew that if the details were wrong, the story was inaccurate. And they vowed to examine where they had gone wrong and do better in the future. None of the principals involved in the story defends those mistakes as mere details.
Two weeks later, on November 7, Nixon was re-elected president, defeating George McGovern by 18 million votes (60.7% to 37.5%).
For the White House, it was retribution time. No more news for the Post; the White House dumped it all in the laps of the Star-News. Even Dorothy McCardle, the nice 68-year-old lady who covered social events at the White House for the Post, was cut off. The Post thought it was curious, too, that two of its TV stations in Florida suddenly had their licenses challenged.
Worst of all, though, the Post fell into what Bradlee called a "black hole." "We couldn't get a smell of a story," he wrote.
Desperate to make some news, Bernstein and Woodward tried to get in touch with the grand jurors handling the Watergate investigation in late November. They came very close to being thrown in jail for their efforts. "I am sure we were all influenced by Nixon's overwhelming re-election win, on top of our own inability to break new ground in the Watergate story," Bradlee wrote. He went on to defend the exercise, but without very much enthusiasm. Bernstein and Woodward, in their book, conceded it was "a seedy venture" and said they wished they had never thought of it.
Early in December, Post reporter Lawrence Meyer discovered that a White House phone used by Howard Hunt had been installed in a woman's home in Alexandria. The telephone company said it had never seen anything quite like it. It wasn't much of a story but it put the Post back in the game. "We won a $2 bet," Woodward says.
But, for all the Post's gloom, the cavalry was on the way.
"What you have to remember," says Woodward, "is that while maybe everyone wasn't reading about Watergate, we had two subscribers who were reading every word." One of them was John Sirica, the chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, a very tough judge known, not always affectionately, as "Maximum John." The other was Democratic Senator Sam Ervin from North Carolina, a very smart country lawyer.
The trial of the five Watergate burglars and Liddy and McCord began in Judge Sirica's courtroom on Monday, January 8, 1973. This marks the end of the Post's lone-ranger coverage of the Watergate story. Now, with an actual trial under way, with real people doing real things, reporters from other newspapers and magazines and from radio and TV could finally get their teeth into the story.
Bradlee wrote he was actually pleased to be beaten on an important story by his old friend, Seymour M. "Sy" Hersh and the New York Times, "because it meant the Post was no longer alone in alleging obstruction of justice by the administration." Hersh had reported that the Watergate defendants were being paid hush money with funds that appeared to have been raised for the Nixon re-election campaign. Bradlee said one story like that was fine, "as long as we didn't get beaten again."
Sirica wasn't pleased with the way the trial was progressing. He had read all those Post stories, and he was convinced there was a lot more at stake than a bugging and burglary at Democratic Party headquarters. He got the break he needed when McCord wrote him a letter saying pressure had been applied to keep the defendants quiet and that perjury had been committed.
More damaging information came from the hearings to confirm L. Patrick Gray's appointment as FBI director. On February 5, Senator Ervin introduced a resolution calling for an allocation of $500,000 to fund the operation of a Special Senate Committee to investigate Watergate. The resolution passed 77 to 0. Woodward interpreted that to mean that possibly Nixon's support on Capitol Hill was beginning to erode.
On April 30, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Attorney General Kleindienst resigned, and John Dean was fired. James McCartney, the respected national correspondent for Knight Newspapers, was in Bradlee's office when the news came in, interviewing the editor for a long freelance piece in the Columbia Journalism Review. McCartney wrote:
Howard Simons, the Post's managing editor, slipped into the room. "Nixon has accepted the resignations of Ehrlichman and Haldeman and Dean," he said. "Kleindienst is out and [Elliot] Richardson is the new attorney general."
For a split second, Ben Bradlee's mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight. Then he put one cheek on the desk, eyes closed, and banged the desk repeatedly with his right fist. "How do you like them apples?" he said to the grinning Simons. "Not a bad start." Then, addressing the visitor: "The White Hats Win."
...Bradlee couldn't restrain himself. He strode into the Post's vast fifth-floor newsroom, and shouted across rows of desks to reporter Bob Woodward. "Not bad, Bob! Not half bad."
Still, it wasn't over. Everything around him was collapsing, but Nixon was still standing. It needed something more. By May 17, when the Watergate committee began its televised hearings, there was only one name left in their files that Bernstein and Woodward had never thoroughly checked outpresidential aide Alexander P. Butterfield. Sloan had once told them that Butterfield was involved in "internal security." "Deep Throat" had said he might be interesting. Woodward passed the word to investigators for Ervin's Watergate committee. Maybe, he said, it would be a good idea to interview Butterfield. Sam Dash, the committee counsel, set up the interview for Friday, July 13, 1973, surely the unluckiest day of all for Richard Nixon.
The next morning, Woodward received a phone call from a senior investigator. "We interviewed Butterfield," he said. "He told the whole story."
What whole story? Woodward asked.
"Nixon bugged himself," the investigator replied.
Woodward called Bradlee at home Saturday night and told him what he had learned. Bradlee, half-asleep, didn't seem very interested.
"How would you rate the story?" Woodward asked.
"B-plus," Bradlee replied.
On Monday, before a national television audience, Butterfield laid out the whole story about how the President of the United States had recorded all those terribly incriminating conversations in his own office.
"OK," Bradlee said the next day, "it's more than a B-plus."
Woodward says it was the only time during the whole pursuit of the story that Bradlee was wrong.
Events now moved slowly but inexorably.
On July 23, Nixon refused to turn over the tape recordings to the Senate committee. On October 20, in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre", he fired Archibald Cox as the Watergate special prosecutor and abolished his office. Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resigned in protest.
It wasn't until July 24, 1974, that the Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that Nixon had to turn over the tapes, in which investigators finally found the "smoking gun." Three days later, the House Judiciary Committee passed the first of three impeachment articles, obstruction of justice.
On August 8, 1974, Nixon resigned as President. His vice president, Gerald R. Ford, succeeded him.