Robert Redford says Donald Trump has taken the Nixon Administration’s “false accusations of ‘shoddy’ and ‘shabby’ journalism to new and dangerous heights.” Forty-five years after Watergate, the All the President’s Men actor writes in a Washington Post column that our nation’s “tenuous grasp on truth” leaves us unprepared to “navigate” a similar scandal.
“Sound and accurate journalism defends our democracy,” writes Redford, who played the Post‘s Bob Woodward in Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film of the ’74 book by Woodward and Carl Bernstein. “It’s one of the most effective weapons we have to restrain the power-hungry. I always said that All the President’s Men was a violent movie. No shots were fired, but words were used as weapons.”
In his opinion piece for the Post, Redford recounts first hearing about what would become known as the Watergate scandal while promoting a film.
“In July 1972, I was on a train tour through Florida promoting the film The Candidate,” he writes. “Entertainment and political press were on board, and I heard them gossiping about a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. The story was being covered by two young reporters from The Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.”
Redford writes that he became intrigued by the story, so much so that it “occurred to me it might make a good film — two hard-working journalists struggling to get to the truth. My first idea was simply to make a movie about two reporters, the importance of journalism and freedom of the press. It was only later that the depth of the Watergate scandal was discovered.”
After some early bumps – Woodward and Bernstein initially refused his calls, Redford writes, “fearing they were being duped by the Nixon administration in some type of setup,” while producers couldn’t see the “drama” – the film was made, becoming what’s generally regarded as one of the all-time great newspaper movies.
Reflecting on two scandal-plagued eras, Redford writes about the similarities between ’72 and ’17.
“There are many,” he writes. “The biggest one is the importance of a free and independent media in defending our democracy.
“When President Trump speaks of being in a ‘running war’ with the media, calls them ‘among the most dishonest human beings on Earth’ and tweets that they’re the ‘enemy of the American people,’ his language takes the Nixon administration’s false accusations of ‘shoddy’ and ‘shabby’ journalism to new and dangerous heights.”
And the differences? “Much. Our country is divided, and we have a tenuous grasp on truth.” Praising the politicians of ’72 who “put partisan politics aside to uncover the truth” and united “to navigate a peaceful ending to a corrupt and criminal presidency,” Redford clearly has his doubts about the current crop.
“In a statement in May 1973,” he writes, “John Dean addressed what he described as efforts to discredit his testimony by discrediting him personally. He famously said: ‘The truth always emerges.’
“I’m concerned about its chances these days.”