NEIU talk features Woodward, Bernstein
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting on the Watergate scandal in the 1970s led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon, blasted President Donald Trump and discussed investigative reporting and the media during a talk at Northeastern Illinois University on Feb. 8.
The talk was part of the university’s “Daniel L. Goodwin Distinguished Lecture Series.” Woodward and Bernstein, authors of many books including “All the President’s Men,” which was turned into a movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, appeared onstage together for the first time since the November 2016 election.
Moderated by NEIU College of Arts and Sciences interim dean Katrina Bell-Jordan, the talk focused on the state of journalism, the Trump administration, the Watergate investigation and other topics.
“Few journalists in American history have had such an impact on this era,” Bell-Jordan said.
While young reporters for the Washington Post, the duo began writing stories about a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington D.C. on June 17, 1972, that subsequently uncovered attempts to cover-up involvement in the crime by the Nixon administration and ultimately led to the former president’s resignation before he could be impeached.
During the talk, the journalists compared the Watergate scandal to the investigation into Russian involvement in the election of Donald Trump.
“One of the similarities between Watergate and what we are seeing now is the cover-up. The cover-up involving the president of the United States. The huge difference is that we were able to piece-by-piece what it was that was being covered up. And it was a crime,” Bernstein said. “Why is he undermining this investigation? What is there? We don’t know. We don’t know what it is they are covering up.”
“It’s not a presumption (of a cover-up). There are examples when people have admitted to the FBI that they have worked with the Russians,” Woodward said.
Bell-Jordan also asked about the role of the media in the current political atmosphere.
“There is a huge difference in our culture today compared to the time of Watergate in that far fewer people are interested in what Bob and I called the ‘the best obtainable version of the truth and rather are looking for information to reinforce and buttress their already held political beliefs, prejudices, religious beliefs, cultural (assumptions). This goes across the ideological spectrum. It makes it difficult to have a truthful culture,” Bernstein said.
Woodward discussed modern media and its constant news cycle.
“Everything is breaking news, breaking news,” he said. “But you have to covering things like this (the Nunez memo for example) and put them into perspective but it’s almost impossible in this rush, give me the sound bite, explain something to me in six words … what we have to do is slow down and find a process to make sure that we get it right,” Woodward said. “Most people don’t trust the media and we have a big problem.”
Bernstein added, “I think that Fox News is a major significant political force in this country in the last 30 years and it has changed America and it has changed it partly by dressing something up as truth when in fact it has nothing to do with the “best attainable version of the truth.’”
“The management, the people that own the institutions that produce the news really makes a difference,” Woodward said.
Woodward said that the best reporting happens “when you don’t have an appointment.” He said that many interviews that were conducted for the stories on the Watergate scandal involved visiting people at their homes. Woodward said that many times people would slam the door in their face, but sometimes they were let in. He said that a big part of reporting is showing up.
“We (journalists) don’t show up,” he said.
“Most people want to tell you their truth and if you give them the opportunity to do that and listen to them, you will learn so much and learn the context of the story,” Bernstein said.
However, the longer the talk went on, the more the topic of discussion became about the current president.
“One of the things we need to understand about Donald Trump is that he is a created success and it’s a creation of media and his relationship to the media, particularly as he made it as a business personality in New York by his cultivation and manipulation of the two tabloids, the New York Post and the New York Daily News,” Bernstein said. “It got to the point where he would call impersonating an individual named John Barron and he would call reporters and say that he was at Studio 54 and ‘Did you see the blonde with Donald Trump?’ and this would go on and on for years. He was the master of that,” he said.
The two authors also discussed the president’s use of Twitter.
“The tweets are the real roadmap of Donald Trump’s mind,” Bernstein said. “We’re not covering what he does, we’re covering too much of what he says.”
“That would be a good name for a book. ‘All the President’s Tweets,” Woodward added.