October 27, 2011


Watergate reporters discuss lifting the veil of the power elite

Like Lewis & Clark, Procter & Gamble and Smith & Wesson, "the names Woodward & Bernstein are inextricably linked," noted Gary Hauk, vice president and deputy to the president.

On Oct. 26, Hauk introduced two of the most famous journalists in America, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, at the annual Goodrich C. White Lecture held before a packed Glenn Memorial Auditorium.

Endowed by the DVS Senior Society and cosponsored by the President's Office, the talk explored "Watergate's Impact on Current Day Politics."

The Watergate break-in, which was initially dismissed by President Richard Nixon's administration as a "third-rate burglary" of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, marks its 40th anniversary next year. Woodward and Bernstein, who were Washington Post reporters at the time, uncovered by following the money a wide-ranging political scandal that led to the indictments of 40 White House and administration officials, and, ultimately, to Nixon's resignation.

"Perhaps Watergate is the last time that all the elements of the American system really worked," said Bernstein, now a political analyst for CNN and a contributing editor for Vanity Fair.

Graying but exuberant, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists finished each other's sentences as they detailed a grueling investigation — much of it conducted after hours, and before the arrival of point-and-click reporting.

From confidential documents obtained by an ex-girlfriend to threats from former Attorney General John Mitchell, the duo chronicled an administration intent on reigning supreme and exacting personal revenge. Snubbed by the Washington press corps, the young reporters drew courageous support from then-Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and then-publisher Katherine Graham.        

Their secret source, "Deep Throat" (revealed in 2005 as former FBI deputy director W. Marc Felt), primarily served to confirm existing leads, they said.  

Woodward, now the Post's associate editor, has authored or co-authored 15 books due in part to his enviable access to the power elite. He peppered the Oct. 26 discussion with insights from conversations with President Barack Obama, former Vice President Al Gore and former President George W. Bush. Among them was a lively exchange with Hillary Clinton over Bush's questionable presidentiality when he remarked to Woodward that history would not judge him because "we'll all be dead."        

The pair also delivered a scathing critique of what Bernstein called "lowest common denominator journalism," citing the media's reliance on sensational, round-the-clock news cycles. Readers look to the Internet to confirm their deeply-held beliefs rather than to become informed, he said.

During the question-and-answer session, Woodward expressed regret for not fully investigating tips pointing to skimpy evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the Iraq War. "I should've been much more aggressive in pursuing that story," he said.

Asked about their reaction to the release of Nixon tapes by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Bernstein replied: "Every year a new batch of Nixon tapes is released, and we call it the gift that keeps on giving."  

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