Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

All the President’s Men

  • This summary of All the President’s Men includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

All the President’s Men Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

All the President’s Men is a non-fiction book by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, published in 1974. It details their investigation into the Watergate Scandal, organizing their work into a coherent narrative while expanding on many details, such as the identity of some (but not all) of the sources who worked with them. The book is unique in that it focuses on the reportage instead of simply recounting the events that occurred.

The book opens with Bob Woodward, then 29 years old and a junior reporter at the Washington Post, being asked by his editor to cover a reported burglary at the Watergate Hotel. Woodward is initially unhappy with the assignment as he does not expect much of interest to come from it. When he arrives in the newsroom he learns that the target of the burglary was actually the Democratic Party headquarters, and that he will be working with another reporter, Carl Bernstein, who was also working on the story. The two men did not like each other and had little respect for each other’s journalistic skills.

The two men begin investigating the burglary separately. Woodward attends the hearing for the five men arrested at the hotel and finds a number of surprisingly influential people in attendance, and badgers several for answers as to why they are interested and involved. Bernstein does his own research and writes a separate story delving into the possibility of a connection to the government. The two men are called back into the Washington Post newsroom, where they learn that one of the men involved was a part of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.

The two men begin working on the story together, sharing information and finding that their different skill sets and approaches complement each other. They begin to realize that the Nixon White House, which had seemed like an organized and professional administration, was actually much more chaotic, and insiders in Washington had little respect for the ‛president’s men.’

President Nixon issues a firm denial that the White House had anything to do with the break-in. A phrase that Nixon uses in the statement—‛this particular incident’—strikes both Woodward and Bernstein as significant. Several officials from the administration resign over the scandal, but Woodward and Bernstein see these resignations as sacrificial lambs in order to kill the story. They dig up evidence of a ‛dirty tricks’ team employed by Nixon to use threats and espionage techniques to hurt the Democrats in the upcoming election, but they cannot get anyone to go on record about these activities.

Woodward reveals he has a high-level source inside the administration, identified only as Deep Throat. Deep Throat will not supply any information to the journalists, but he will confirm or deny anything they bring to him in their secret meetings. He also sometimes offers clues or pieces of information concerning where they should focus their energy, but he refuses to give them names or to be quoted in any way.

Based on Deep Throat’s direction, Woodward and Bernstein begin to make real progress. They discover that the dirty tricks team was much larger than expected, including nearly 50 people who were paid to infiltrate the Democratic campaign to spy and sabotage. The payments came from a secret bank account originally opened with Republican Party funds, and several of the President’s men had control over the account.

Bernstein and Woodward publish several stories as they work, detailing their discoveries. Each time they are frustrated because the White House issues denials and accuses them of including false information, but never specifies precisely which aspects are false. Then disaster strikes: A story is published with a factual error in it, and the White House uses this as an excuse to attack the newspaper and push back forcibly on Woodward and Bernstein, arguing that this proves they are recklessly printing lies about Nixon and the Republican Party.

However, now other newspapers are also reporting on the story, and the collective weight of investigative power is beginning to show results. More resignations follow, but Woodward and Bernstein can see that many of the officials admitting guilt in the spreading scandal are admitting to crimes they didn’t commit, clearly to protect others. Woodward and Bernstein then come across the greatest bombshell of their careers: President Nixon was clearly personally part of the conspiracy. If they can prove this, it would be the biggest news story of all time.

Deep Throat confirms that Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman was personally involved with the break-in. More resignations follow but President Nixon remains defiant, and orders Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, investigating Watergate for the government. Richardson refuses, and resigns on the spot. Nixon then orders Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, and Ruckelshaus also refuses and resigns. Nixon then orders Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox and Bork, after hesitating, does so. Nixon gives his State of the Union speech and denies all criminal involvement, but his administration is irreversibly damaged.
This is the beginning of the end for Nixon, though the book is published a few weeks before Nixon resigned from office.