Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein talk Watergate, Nixon, Trump, media, and more
- June 17 marks the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in
- Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein compare Trump era to the Nixon one
- Here is what they said
Debra McClutchy and Anne Alvergue premiered their new Netflix documentary The Martha Mitchell Effect at the DC/DOX Festival, focusing on the story of the legendary Nixon-era figure whose influence in blowing the whistle on the controversy has only lately been recognised. An exposition of major portraits and illustrations from the controversy is on display at the National Portrait Gallery.
Also read: Who was Deep Throat in Watergate?
But it's practically difficult to look back without connecting the scandal to what's happening now, thanks to the January 6th Committee hearings, and what might come next, as a conservative judge cautioned on Thursday of a "clear and present danger" to democracy.
The Washington Post collected Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were immortalised in the film All the President's Men, which was built on their book, for a Post Live set with chief correspondent Dan Balz on Friday.
Unsurprisingly, the focus shifted to the January 6th Committee hearings and whether or not they revealed proof of a crime.
The committee's material, according to Woodward, has been "amazing."
“It is a crime to subvert a legitimate function of government,” he stated. “According to 18 USC 371, Supreme Court decisions going back 100 years, this is a clear lay down case of obstructing an essential and necessary function of government. And what’s more necessary than certifying who is the next president? The diabolical genius of Trump and his associates in this, they found the weak point in the system. January 6th, the votes are presented and counted and then a thousand people violently descended on the Capitol.”
Bernstein remarked, “Trump clearly, as Bob has said, committed a crime. But the next level up is sedition. What is sedition? It is to encourage, and foment an insurrection against the government of the United States. We have the first president in history who has attempted to engage and produce an insurrection. And so what do you do with that? We failed at impeachment before….Merrick Garland, the attorney general of the United States, now has a huge decision to make. Is Donald Trump going to be prosecuted as the leader of this conspiracy?”
The distinction now, he says, is in how Americans are informed, as opposed to the three broadcast network age of 50 years ago.
“I think we need to look at what has happened in the Trump presidency, just as we looked in the Nixon presidency: This isn’t just about the press, not just about the president. It’s not just about the Senate and the House. It’s about the people in the country,” Bernstein stated. “And one of the things that happened in Watergate was by the time of Nixon’s impeachment … the number of people who wanted to see Nixon either convicted in the Senate or resigned from office had gone from 19% a few months earlier to 57%. .. We don’t have that situation today. It’s about not just the politicians, not just the media, it is about the people of the country.”
He mentioned the trend of news consumers seeking material to corroborate "what they already believe" rather than impartial reporting - what he and Woodward refer to as the "best obtainable version of the truth." He added, “The question on my mind is, the people in this country, are they willing, in sufficient numbers, to say, ‘Look, we do not want an authoritarian presidency, etcetera, etcetera. We do not want to see this past president given kid gloves.'”
Woodward and Bernstein penned an article for the Washington Post earlier this month comparing the Nixon era to the Trump age. They claimed in their piece that Trump “not only sought to destroy the electoral system through false claims of voter fraud and unprecedented public intimidation of state election officials, but he also then attempted to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to his duly elected successor, for the first time in American history.” In contrast to Nixon, much of Trump's sabotage was carried out "largely in public."
Trump has called the Committee hearings on January 6th "lies and misrepresentations," while demanding equal time.
Other media sources did not pay attention to Woodward and Bernstein's reportage in the months following the break-in. However, just before the election in October 1972, Walter Cronkite devoted large chunks of two CBS Evening News programs to the story.
In her biography, Katherine Graham stated that "at that point, The Washington Post was a local paper. Walter put us on the map." "She is right... The Post's reporting was "validated" by CBS.
Woodward stated that one unsolved question about Watergate is, "Why?" Six weeks after Nixon's landslide reelection, he read a clip from one of the White House recordings in which the president raves against "our enemies… The press is the enemy….The establishment is the enemy….the professors are the enemy. "
“That is somebody who can’t let go of his grievances,” Woodward declared.
Prior to their appearance on Post Live, Woodward and Bernstein attended a luncheon event where Fred Ryan revealed a piece of history from the burglary: the lock from the Watergate office building's door. That night, while doing his rounds, security guard Frank Wills noticed a piece of tape over the lock, which had been placed there to prop it open. Wills took it away. When he returned, he saw a new piece of tape had been applied to the lock. This alerted him to the fact that something unusual was going on, prompting him to call the police.
Woodward stated that the Post's owner, Jeff Bezos, purchased the lock at an auction and that "we’re trying to find out how much Bezos paid."
“We’re going to get the answer,” Bernstein assured.