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A scandal that became part of pop culture

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It's a single word that describes a scandal that turned a nation's politics upside down, a story that redefined the nature of investigative reporting and inspired a generation of journalists, and a movie that defied Hollywood convention by making onscreen heroes of guys in wrinkled shirts and ties who spent their time hunkered down behind typewriters.

Forty years after the events that eventually led to the shameful resignation of U.S. president Richard Nixon, Discovery Channel takes a look back at the scandal, the men who broke the story and the men who turned their story into a feature-film thriller. The two-hour documentary All the President's Men Revisited is a brilliantly crafted retrospective that weaves the facts of the Watergate story, as recalled by former Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with reminiscences of actor/producer Robert Redford's effort to bring the story to the big screen.

Watergate began with a botched break-in at the Democratic National Committee's offices in a Washington office complex whose name became the identifier for a scandal. Dogged investigation by Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein eventually followed a dirty-tricks money trail all the way to the Oval Office.

All the President's Men Revisited begins at the end, essentially, with a news clip from August 1974, in which legendary CBS anchor Walter Cronkite reports on Nixon's planned resignation under threat of impeachment after congressional hearings revealed the extent of the White House's criminal behaviour.

"This was much worse than we thought," Bernstein recalls in an interview clip. "Nixon was worse than we thought; what he did was worse than we thought."

And from this glimpse at the inglorious end of the Nixon presidency, the film jumps back to the beginning, to the arrests of a group of would-be burglars at the Watergate complex, and the hastily assembled meeting in the Post newsroom on a Sunday afternoon to discuss how the story should be covered.

What happened next, of course, is the stuff of well-known and endlessly re-examined history, but what President's Men Revisited does unexpectedly well is blend those details with comments from Redford (who is both executive producer and narrator on this project) about how Woodward and Bernstein's book about Watergate was turned into a feature film.

Dustin Hoffman, who played Bernstein to Redford's Woodward in the 1976 movie, also figures prominently as he and his long-ago co-star reminisce about the film.

The documentary includes interviews with a wide range of subjects, from former Nixon associates who were directly involved (former general counsel John Dean, former deputy attorney general William Ruckelshaus) to political pundits (James Carville, Joe Scarborough, Rachel Maddow) to Joan Felt, the daughter of former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt, who was eventually revealed to have been Woodward's deep-background source, Deep Throat.

The Daily Show's host, Jon Stewart, also weighs in on Watergate's impact on the '60s and '70s generation of Americans.

"Every generation has to lose their virginity, and this was just the day when my generation did," he observes. "But to think that we're the only generation that had that experience is, probably, the mistake that a lot of generations make."

There's another interesting story concealed in President's Men Revisited, one with a deep-rooted local connection, and it can be found if you follow the production credits instead of the money.

One of three executive producers listed on this film is Laura Michalchyshyn, who started her TV career as a programmer at WTN, the Winnipeg-based women's network that eventually became Toronto-based W network.

After serving for seven years as head of programming for Alliance Atlantis -- which included overseeing specialty net Showcase and the introduction of Canadian TV's groundbreaking Trailer Park Boys -- she relocated to the U.S. to become vice-president of programming and marketing for U.S. cable's Sundance Channel.

She later moved to Discovery Communications to become president and GM of two cable networks, Planet Green and FitTV, and a year ago, Michalchyshyn partnered with Redford to form Sundance Productions, immediately announcing that All the President's Men Revisited would be one of the new company's first documentary projects.

For any TV-production company, this would have to be considered an excellent start. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 G5

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