A generation knows them only through Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, the actors who played them in the movie "All the President's Men." But Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who exposed the shenanigans of a president following a burglary in the Watergate office complex in Washington, live full and, at least for one of them, journalistically fruitful lives outside of celluloid.
Alicia Shepard does an admirable job of detailing the work they did in their Watergate sleuthing, but she does an even more admirable job of digging into their personalities, exposing their foibles and tracing the paths their lives have taken in the more than 30 years since Watergate entered the nation's vocabulary.
Woodward, we learn, was the methodical, orderly one, systematically poring through the documents that eventually helped lead to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Bernstein was the rumpled, spur-of-the-moment, full-speed-ahead one, sometimes ready to jump into the pool without seeing if it was filled with water. What makes Woodward and Bernstein different from other books about Watergate was Shepard's journey through their Watergate papers, which the pair sold to the University of Texas for $5 million, reportedly because Bernstein needed the money.
They tell a fascinating tale of stubbornness, frustration and elation as the two then young and green reporters followed a trail of leads and wrote stories that were all but ignored by other media. Their efforts spawned a spurt in applications to journalism schools and carved out new meaning to the term "investigative reporter."
But what of them after the plaudits and attention of Watergate waned? Deep Throat, the dark and mysterious source Bernstein never met, kept the focus on them through the years as a part of a kind of national guessing-game about his identity. That ended a few years ago when W. Mark Felt emerged as Deep Throat and Woodward then chronicled his dealings with him in "The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat."
Woodward, in fact, has written several best-selling books since Watergate, mostly about the inner workings of government entities. He remains a managing editor at the Washington Post, for the most part well regarded in journalistic circles, and comfortably well-off financially. Bernstein has also written a couple of books, neither of which brought him much acclaim or monetary success. He left the Post shortly after Watergate and, as Shepard details, moved to New York, joined the celebrity party circle and lived lavishly. He married noted author Nora Ephron, but their marriage disintegrated and so, apparently, did the bulk of the money he had made from his Watergate fame.
Although they've followed the beats of a different drummers since their Watergate notoriety gave them the sobriquet "Woodstein," they have remained friends through the years, Woodward coming to Bernstein's defense when his work has been assailed and Bernstein doing the same when Woodward has been criticized. Woodward also has been a financial help to his Watergate partner, including reluctantly agreeing to sell their Watergate files.
In the final analysis, Woodward and Bernstein is really two stories emanating from one. Shepard's smooth-flowing writing tells all three of them with literary expertise.
Lee Coppola is the dean of Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University.
Woodward and BernsteinLife in the Shadow of Watergate
By Alicia Shepard
Wiley, 288 pages, $24.95