“Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire” is a study in opposing impulses. In a way it’s like the person who is all too aware that their glory days are not returning. There is the recognition that Watergate was a monumental achievement, but at the same time every one of these people know something like that is never going to happen again. As such, there is a mix of triumphalism and melancholy that becomes almost uncomfortable at times.
To diminish what Watergate actually accomplished is 100% not my point here. For two reporters to effectively destroy Richard Nixon’s administration is nothing short of astonishing. It’s no exaggeration to say that Nixon was seen as an unstoppable boogeyman. That a newspaper invested the time and effort to connect the dots from a third-rate burglary all the way to Nixon himself is also something that doesn’t seem to be possible any longer. Our news cycles have become so truncated that the story would have died long before it had a chance to get any traction. This is only part of the equation though.
The more cynical among us would point out that it’s just as likely that the powerful just redoubled their efforts at protecting themselves. The convenient explanations for media conglomeration are belied by the fact that investigations like the one into Watergate are just about impossible today. Whether this is by design or just a convenient byproduct doesn’t really seem to matter to the people being interviewed. None of them come out and say it but they all seem to tacitly admit that they know Watergate was a one-time deal. What was one of journalism’s great pinnacles ended up also being one of its last triumphs, proving power sometimes learns its lessons well.