​"All the President's Men" at 40

Four decades after President Richard Nixon's resignation, David Martin sits down for an exclusive interview with Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Four decades after President Richard Nixon's ... 09:48
But this is not a who-done-it (because we know who done it); this is a how-done-it. It's a reporter's procedural.

"That's right -- it is about reporting," said Bernstein. "It's all about the unglamorous 'How do you go about reporting a story.' We went out at night and knocked on doors."

One door they knocked was that of Hugh Sloan, the former treasurer of the Nixon re-election campaign.

"You say in the book that every time you visited Sloan you felt like vultures -- why?" asked Martin.

"One, his wife was pregnant and about to deliver a child, and we were hanging outside," said Bernstein. "We were like buzzards."

Simon & Schuster

"You could tell his conscience was troubled," said Woodward, "and so he would answer questions and never throw us out. And his wife, Debbie said something that we'll never forget. She said, 'This is an honest house.' And that's, as a reporter, that's what you're looking for."

Students come to the University of Texas looking for the chance to lay hands on Woodward and Bernstein's first rough notes of history.

Curator Steve Mielke said, "Their eyes will light up and they think they've had some kind of moving experience just being able to touch the same papers that Woodward and Bernstein touched" -- the Holy Grail of Journalism.

Like Woodward's notes from his clandestine meetings with the most famous source in the history of journalism. He is simply "X" or "my friend." In the book he became forever known as "Deep Throat."

"They would talk, then he would go home, type up the notes so he'd have them to share the next day at the Post," said Mielke.

X's first comment in the notes: "There is a way to untie the Watergate knot."

"That's when he really said, 'Look, you're missing the point . . . There are 50 people doing this,'" said Woodward. "It was massive."

With Deep Throat's guidance, they reported that the Watergate burglary was part of a much larger campaign of political espionage and sabotage against Nixon's political opponents.

Bernstein said, "That story finally got the attention of the rest of the press, particularly CBS News and Walter Cronkite.

"The effect of Walter Cronkite and CBS running those stories said to the country, said to those in the journalism profession, 'This story is huge and we give credence to what the Washington Post is doing.'"

They weren't out there on their lonesome anymore? "That's right."

But two weeks after their biggest story came their biggest mistake: They incorrectly reported that Hugh Sloan had told a grand jury White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman controlled the fund which paid for all that espionage and sabotage. Sloan's attorney went on television and categorically denied that his client had implicated Haldeman at all.

"That must be the moment when you throw up," said Martin.

"Worse," Bernstein laughed. "No, we thought we might have to quit."

How many sources did they have for that story? "We had two or three and we had some logic," said Woodward, "and, of course, logic isn't a source. And that's one of the lessons that we learned. It was, it was painful."

So painful that they ratted out an FBI agent they thought had lied to them about Haldeman. They went to his boss.

"It was the worst of journalism," said Woodward. "Look, we'd accused the number one aide to the President of the United States and the attribution was wrong. We were desperate young men."

"So you deliberately blew a source," said Martin. "What's the ethics of that?"