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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #79
February 18, 2009

Extra, Extra, Read All About It

All The President's Men + Visiting Your Local Newspaper

American kids learn all about the legacies of Washington and Lincoln in history class. To give President's Day a whole different spin, we watched All The President's Men and learned about a darker side of the American Presidency. The film follows Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two novice Washington Post reporters (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), who were assigned to cover a burglary at the National Democratic Headquarters. Deep Throat, the reporters' anonymous source, tells them "to follow the money" and the rest is, well, history. With courage and teamwork, the reporters unwind the political scandal that eventually leads to President Nixon's resignation. Part political thriller and part documentary, this film inspired a generation of reporters by showing the power of the press. The film's thriller plot lines play easily to a new generation, and we found ourselves hitting the pause button as we explained our own point of view on Watergate and presidential politics. Newsworthy, indeed.

We wanted our kids to get the inside scoop on how our local newspaper (The Los Angeles Times) arrives on their doorstep each morning. On a free tour of the printing facility, our daughters were wowed by a room full of robots criss-crossing the floor, like a modern version of The Jetsons. Fascinated, they watched the robotic workers lift enormous reams of paper up to a printing press four stories high. When the tour guide explained that each ream rolled out to almost eight miles of paper, they asked a hard-hitting question: was The Times environmentally conscious? Our tour guide was unflappable; he assured them that over 70% of the paper contains recycled newsprint. We also toured the editorial facilities of our paper, and could see all the newsrooms for the various sections of the paper, from news to book review. The girls learned the logistics of printing a daily paper, including the order of printing: the ads, comics and calendar sections are printed first, so that late night sports scores and breaking news like Democratic National Committee Headquarter burglaries, end up on the front page hours later - just in time for our morning cereal.

 
Film Title: All The President's Men
Directed By: Alan Pakula
1976, Rated PG, 138 minutes


Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:
  • Why It's Worth It: Although the plot required a lot of explanation, this is a must-see for older kids (over ten) who easily will become caught up in the drama and political intrigue. This film makes real what is often just another chapter in kids' history texts, and our kids especially loved listening to our version of the same historical events.
  • Background: The film opens in June 1972 as President Nixon returns from his historic trip to China, just sixteen days before the Watergate break-in. In the end, the scandal was responsible for the indictment of 40 government officials and the first resignation of an American president.
  • Further Viewing: Journalists really do make great movie heroes and heroines: older kids will enjoy classics like The Front Page and His Girl Friday and even Broadcast News. And adults will love Absence of Malice, The China Syndrome and Citizen Kane, and the recent Good Night, and Good Luck.
  • Deep Throat Revealed: The anonymous source that helped out Woodward and Bernstein, made headline news on May 31, 2005. After 30 years of keeping his identity a secret, FBI Associate Director Mark Felt revealed himself.

Want to know how to talk with your kids about this film? Here are some conversation starters:
  • Setting Savvy: Can your kids spot the anachronisms between a newroom then and now?  Look for old-fashioned typewriters, telephones, hair styles and a smoke-filled work place.
  • Cinema Savvy: Notice how this film uses both historical and fictional elements: clips of television interviews and real news footage are interspersed with scenes by the actors.
  • Cast Savvy: Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were the Ben Affleck and Matt Damon of their day. Redford, who purchased the rights to Woodward and Bernstein's book All The President's Men, co-produced the film after his acting success in The Sting and The Way We Were.
  • Oscar Savvy: All the President's Men won 4 Oscars in 1976; the film lost the Best Picture Oscar to Rocky. It was primarily shot on a $450,000 set which replicated The Washington Post newsroom.


 

Visiting your Local Newspaper

Age Recommendation: over ten

Time Allotment: a morning



Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:
  • What Worked for Us:  Our local paper, The Los Angeles Times encourages school groups and families to get to know their paper. Not every newspaper offers formal tours, but it's worth calling your local paper (big city or small town) to see what they offer; chances are that if you are bringing a group of kids, they'll be accommodating. It will be worth your effort: watching the robots load paper onto the presses was pretty cool, and seeing the private test kitchen of our paper made the foodies in our group drool. In our case, it was fun for the kids to realize why there was no one at the sports desk because most sports reporters cover night time games and submit their stories straight from their laptops at the game. The only negative was that our younger boys couldn't join us; the paper restricts the tour to kids over 10.
  • Getting to Know Your Paper:  If you live in a city, visit your newspaper's website to see if there are listings for tours. These might be limited to school or scout groups, so talking with your kids' teachers might be an option. Otherwise, pick up the phone and talk with their PR departments.  If you live in a small town, a phone call is also a good idea, as is just showing up at the paper and seeing how and where reporters do their work. 
  • How To Save Your Local Newspaper: Click here to read Walter Isaacson's recent article in Time, an interesting study of the state of today's fourth estate and the business of publishing.

Want to help your children learn more about journalists? Here are some tidbits:
  • Read Woodward and Bernstein's first article in the Washington Post. 
  • More from the Washington Post regarding this infamous story; includes political cartoons from the era and a Watergate timeline.
  • The Pulitzer Prize is journalism's highest award. You can search their archives for past story winners.
  • Quiz yourself on the week's news at the New York Time's online learning center.

  • Give your kids notepads and pencils and ask them to be reporters during the tour. If they want to write up their experience for a school report, they will have plenty of details.

 
Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.



Focus on Journalists - click here to visit the Kids Off The Couch store at Amazon.com

Read about more adventurous journalists  - click here to visit the Kids Off The Couch store at Amazon.com~