Two of the towering figures in journalism—men who defined my generation—took the stage yesterday at FAU and talked casually about what is generally regarded as “the greatest single reporting of all time”—the Watergate investigation by the Washington Post. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are silver-haired now, almost statesmanlike, but you could still see the scrappy kid in Bernstein, countered by the midwestern elegance of his partner in the story, Bob Woodward. The latest in Larkin Symposium speaker series at FAU, yesterday’s lecture was “Inside the White House from Nixon to Obama—A Conversation with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein” moderated by former director of the Nixon Library, Dr. Timothy Naftali.
The conversation was chilling as well as darkly funny—tales of bumbling Watergate burglars with address books listing the “W. House” (Woodward: “That could have only meant two things—and it wasn’t what Bernstein said, the whorehouse.”) Of Nixon’s rages, the 4,000 hours of tapes both men listened to (“even in the car”), the personal threats to Bernstein by Attorney General John Mitchell when the latter realized the investigation was closing in, the ever-supportive editor Ben Bradlee, who “stood up for us” in their quest for what they called “the best obtainable version of the truth” even when their own Washington Press Corps colleagues sided with the rest of America in ridiculing the Post’s ongoing investigation.
Woodward and Bernstein, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the work that would eventually topple President Nixon, painted a portrait of a man who was at once autocratic and criminal, yet had a “fascinating” political mind, and who was, after all, a tragic figure. “Hate was the piston during his administration,” Woodward said. Bernstein said the whole affair demonstrates “what a truly free press means for the country.”
Both men were affable and outspoken, critical of government secrecy, the public’s lack of curiosity, Obama’s triumphs and failures, Benghazi, and the current state of the press. They were generous of their time, still going strong after 90 minutes, when droves of grey-haired audience members apparently decided it was time to go, presumably to catch an early bird special somewhere. But that kind of rudeness is for another blog; this one will stay on topic, which is that Boca had the opportunity to listen to history yesterday from two journalists who redefined investigative reporting for all time.
Maybe the best takeaway from the lecture was what Woodward said about his longtime editor, Bob Kaiser, who worked at the Post for 50 years before he retired recently. Woodward said it was a tearful occasion in the newsroom, but he will always remember what the old editor said upon his departure: “Remember, it’s all about the reporting. Save the ship.”