TV & FILM
04/23/2013 09:54 am ET

Robert Redford On Watergate Silver Lining: 'You Saw Both Parties Working Together'

AP

In his new comedy special, "Oh My God," the comedian Louis CK ridicules young viewers who think they've experienced political drama in their lifetimes. His generation, CK brags, watched the president resign on live TV -- and had no idea what was going to happen next!

That piece of surrealist political theater was the climax of a sequence of extraordinary events put in motion by two young Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their investigation of two burglaries inside the Watergate Hotel and Office Building in 1972 forever changed the relationship between the press and the presidency. It also spawned one hit movie, "All the President's Men" (1976), starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein.

On Sunday, April 21, Discovery aired "All the President's Men Revisited," a new documentary that looks back on the whole crazy mess. (If you missed it, set your DVR for 10 am ET on Saturday, May 4.) Redford, an executive producer on the new special, spoke to The Huffington Post about what has changed -- and what has gotten even worse -- in the four decades since President Richard Nixon made his teary farewell.

HuffPost TV: What was the impetus for the documentary "All The President's Men"?

Well the impetus was, I was asked by Discovery. They came to me and said, "we'd like to look at this." And my first thought was "No, it's been done. Leave it." Then I thought, Wait a minute. So much time has passed. Maybe there's a difference between the way things were then and the way things are now.

["All the President's Men"] was a film about the hard work of journalists doing something that very few -- if anyone -- was doing at that time, and all the obstacles they had to wade through to get to the truth. To me that was a story worth telling.

Unlike the original film, the documentary really explores the Congressional hearings that were broadcast live on television.

There's a subtle point there that you would hope would have been and taken in by an audience. You saw both sides of the aisle, both parties working together. When you compare that with today and see how the atmosphere around Congress is more of a war zone, you hope that that makes a point by itself without us having to say anything.

One of the things I thought was excellent about the documentary was the diversity of voices. How did you get people like John Dean, who testified against Nixon but went to jail anyway, to cooperate?

I think because of conscience. I like Dean a lot is this film. He's extremely smart and articulate, but he also has a conscience. And that's what you get from the guy. He says "Look, I made a mistake." And when he says in the documentary -- and I think this is one of the most powerful moments -- when [he remembers being asked], "Well how do you expect us to take your word against the president's?" And he said, "I just believe one day the truth will come out." I find that heroic, and I think his ability to have a conscience and look back and say, "I did some things wrong, and I'm acknowledging it and I paid for it and I see it now in a perspective" -- I just feel that's really powerful.

Watergate was a defining event for modern journalism, and "All the President's Men" is said to have launched a million journalism careers. What are your thoughts on the changes that have happened to the profession?

Well first of all, Marcus Brauchli, the man who was for a short time the new editor of The Washington Post, says it very clearly [in the documentary]. He says, "If you compare things today with the way that situation was then, you couldn't have the same thing. You can't have two journalists breaking the story because you've got Twitter." When I was at The Washington Post, it was noisy as hell! People were talking to each other and yelling and smoking. Now you go in there and it's like a morgue in terms of noise. With all the positive effects of the democratization, it's also got some negative sides. Where do you find the truth with so many voices out there telling you what the truth is?

You recently directed a film called "The Company You Keep," in which Shia LaBeouf plays a journalist who is not altogether admirable. You're such an icon for journalists because of "All The President's Men." I can't help but wonder: have you changed your mind about us?

In terms of the personality of journalists, there's a lot of similarities between Shia's character at the beginning and Carl [Bernstein] and Bob [Woodward] in the beginning. They were dogged. They were just going after that story in a very fierce way. They would play off of each other. Bob would be the good guy, Carl would be the guy who would go a little too hard. They had kind of a teamwork thing. Shia is a lone journalist who is out to get the story in a very powerful and talented way, but then you wonder, what is this doing to him? What does he think about what he's doing? He's so driven to get the story. Is it for his own benefit? His own glory? The glory of journalism? In the end you hope that he's evolved to at least think about what he's doing. That's probably going to get a lot of criticism from journalists, because I've found over the years that sometimes journalism has a thin skin. If you're doing "All The President's Men" you're glorifying something, so you're in pretty good shape there. When you start to look hard and say "Well has anything changed? What about today?," you at least raise the question. You leave it to the audience to think about it. And then you get hammered pretty good, because people think, Oh, you're showing journalism in a bad way. Who are you to be talking about us?

We are a loud minority.

Well, I'm glad you're there. Let me just say something. Whatever this is about, my focus on journalism has had an underpinning of its value. I feel that journalism is so important. I think as a citizen I don't take it personally if it seems to go off the mark a little bit here and there, but it's all about respecting the profession.

Speaking of the profession, Roger Ebert's death has prompted a lot of soul-searching about the state of film criticism today. What is your view of his legacy?

I consider him not only an important character, but a friend. I think Roger's big skill was that he was a very good writer, but he wrote in a language that wasn't above anybody's head. It wasn't precious, it wasn't trying to be intellectually impressive. He wrote so that people could hear it. I just found that of tremendous value.

HuffPost

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