In comm. 3404, our goal is to learn about media law and ethics through various films. The first film we watched is the 1976 film All the President’s Men. This film focuses on journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigated the Watergate scandal, and stretched some ethical boundaries along the way.
We learned in class that the Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics stating that journalists must “Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable”. After watching this movie I noticed how Woodward and Bernstein did their best to stick to this code, with a few possible violations.
The two did seek truth, but given the serious nature of the story they were dealing with a lot of anonymous sources like “Deep Throat” which made it difficult for them to identify many sources.
As much as the journalists may have tried to minimize harm, their breaking of the story did result in the punishment of many government employees, but rightfully so in my opinion.
Woodward and Bernstein stayed independent, unbiased and unattached. As far as I saw in the film, they used no sources they had personal relationships with, but did ask co-workers to contact such sources.
Lastly, the two were accountable. As journalists often do when working together, they checked each others work constantly and held each other completely accountable. That is why to this day their names are attached to the breaking of the watergate scandal.
While this story would still be a huge story if something similar to it broke today, it might have broken sooner due to the technology advancements of our time. Social media has been known to break stories first lately, not to mention heightened security technology might have caught the Watergate burglars before anyone else.
Regardless, I think Woodard and Bernstein handled the overall situation well and got it out as soon as possible. They were both undoubtedly professional and dedicated. Given the vast and serious nature of the story they were working on, the anonymous sources and harming of the reputations of government employees was absolutely necessary. Because everything they printed was true, it was not libel so the journalists had every right to publish the story.
The persistence of Woodward and Bernstein shaped the way Americans saw journalists and government officials for many years. The printing of such a big story that so few people knew about at the time made people aware that journalism could influence opinions and change the world. This also sparked an era of distrust of the government, especially among young people. Once all of this controversy and scandal was printed for the public to see, the government received no shortage of criticism and distrust for several years.