Within minutes of their publication online, Himmelman's excerpts touched off a media furor. Twitter was afire and the online community was astonished at the audacity of the younger man's patricide. Book reviews appeared alongside straight news articles reporting on Himmelman's revelations, complete with public statements by Bradlee and Woodward -- often as not, disparaging of Himmelman, a young man who had once practically lived with these people.
Despite the furor, the paucity of living individuals still knowledgeable about Watergate and the sheer number of Himmelman's Watergate bombshells combined to prevent his findings from receiving the kind of engaged critical attention, let alone acclaim, they deserved. Indeed, the vigor with which Woodward fought to prevent these disclosures from surfacing -- a series of tense personal encounters chronicled, in aching detail, by his former protege -- confirms their importance. Thanks to Himmelman, America's most revered journalist -- and by some measures her most successful non-fiction author -- felt the earth move under his feet a bit. And that doesn't happen to Bob Woodward very often.
The stuff about Bradlee naturally generated more buzz. Memories of his portrayal by Jason Robards in the film version of All the President's Men still linger. In his public statements about the Himmelman book, Bradlee sought to tamp down the controversy by arguing, in effect, that Woodward's scorecard in Watergate, the "details" about Deep Throat notwithstanding, was mostly exemplary. The Old Guard must have been on the right side of history because, as Bradlee's wife Sally Quinn noted in her statement: "Nixon resigned."
Ultimately, however, the disclosures surrounding Bernstein's interview of the grand juror, "Informant Z," warrant more attention than the deep residual fear tormenting Ben Bradlee's soul. In theory, they are probably equally significant, because both sets of disclosures go to the heart of the question: What can you believe of what these guys wrote? Some of this has to do with freshness. Surely it is newsworthy to learn that no less a figure than Bradlee, who directed the Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of Watergate, was as troubled as the Watergate revisionists by the dubiety of Deep Throat. But Woodward's details on Deep Throat -- actually, not mere "details," but important elements of what lawyers would call foundation -- have long been under assault. Author Jim Hougan cast the first critical eye, back in 1984, in his monument of revisionist research Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat, and the CIA. The party Bradlee joined -- in an uncharacteristically late arrival for the salty dog who regularly downed scotches with Jack Kennedy in the White House -- has been underway for a quarter century.
Bernstein's Z memo, however, was wholly new. The least of its revelations is the exposure of Woodward's and Bernstein's long deception about their dealings with the Watergate grand jury; the aged reporters now maintain that was all to protect their source. The real eye-opener is that color-coded, sentence-by-sentence deconstruction of All the President's Men. Among the previously unpublished treasures in Bradlee's archives was the seven-page memorandum Bernstein typed out to record his interview of Z. That document can now be juxtaposed with the account of the event in All the President's Men, On page 212 of the book, Z was quoted as saying, "My boss calls it a whitewash." From the Bernstein memo (small wonder no copy of it is included with the rest of the Woodward and Bernstein papers at the University of Texas) we learn that Z's full quote was: "My boss called it a whitewash, and he doesn't even have the facts" (emphasis added).