Tag Archives: Carl Bernstein

Happy Watergate Day, everyone

June 17, 1972 has gone down as the day when a presidency started to unravel, except that virtually no one on that very day predicted it would happen.

It started out as a “third-rate burglary.” Some men got caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate office and hotel complex in Washington, D.C.

They rifled through some files. They left. A security guard discovered the break-in and reported it to the cops.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A couple of reporters for the Washington Post — Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward — covered the event as a police beat story. Then a few tips began trickling in. The reporters then began to piece together some hints that the story was a lot bigger than a run-of-the-mill “cop shop” tale.

It turned out to be the biggest political story of the past century. President Nixon sought to cover it up. He told federal authorities to shut down the investigation. Thus, the cover-up swallowed this event whole. Revelations about the cover-up prompted the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to approve articles of impeachment; a select Senate committee had hearings as well.

It ended with the president’s resignation.

The scandal also produced a suffix that results in adding the word “gate” to every controversy — large and small — that bubbles up in the halls of power. To me, as I’ve noted before, “Watergate” stands alone. The current president recently used the term “Spygate” to describe the alleged espionage of his campaign by the FBI in 2016. Fiddlesticks! There was no spying on the Donald Trump campaign. There damn sure was no “Spygate” occurrence.

Watergate also signaled the rise of gumshoe journalism. Bernstein and Woodward would be honored by their peers for the work they did to expose the enormous level of corruption they discovered. They helped energize a crop of journalism students and young reporters who sought to serve their own communities.

The reporters who covered the Watergate scandal did their job. They held the government accountable. They revealed the truth to a public that demanded it of the media and the government.

At many levels, the Watergate scandal illustrated a dark time in our nation’s political history. It also instigated the media shining a bright light down the halls of power.

I am proud of the role the media played in revealing the truth behind the scandal that toppled a president. Yes, it produced a “long national nightmare,” as the new president, Gerald R. Ford, told us.

We awoke from it and the nation emerged stronger as a result.

A ‘malignant presidency’?

Carl Bernstein knows a political malignancy when he sees one.

The famed journalist and author believes he is witnessing one at the moment that well might be metastasizing before our eyes.

Those of us of a certain age who pursued journalism as a career owe that choice in large part to the work that Bernstein did along with his Washington Post colleague and pal Robert Woodward. Together they uncovered the Mother of All Scandals that erupted in the wake of that “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate office complex in June 1972.

That was then. Bernstein is still in the game, although now as an author and TV news pundit/contributor.

Bernstein takes a hyper-dim view of what is transpiring with Donald J. Trump, the current president of the United States. According to CNN.com: “We’re in foreign territory,” Bernstein said, speaking on CNN’s “New Day.” “We have never been in a malignant presidency like this before. It calls on our leaders, it calls on our journalists to do a different kind of reporting, a different kind of dealing with this presidency and the President.”

Bernstein sounds fearful of where this might all end up with the president. The Russia probe, the alleged conflicts of business interest, the nepotism, the failure to unite the nation, the incessant tweeting and the tirades against the media, the incessant stream-of-consciousness lying … it’s all part and parcel of Trump’s still-developing presidency.

How does Trump govern? That seems to be the major question shadowing the president as he lurches from crisis to crisis.

He threatens members of his own party who don’t support his effort to replace the Affordable Care Act. Upon whom can he depend in Congress to have his back if he unleashes his venom against fellow Republicans? The president is about to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man he’s never seen up close. Still, Trump continues to refuse to accept what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded, which is that Putin and his gang of goons sought to influence the 2016 election outcome.

I’m pretty sure he carries a substantial anti-Trump bias as he offers his analysis of the current political climate. However, I am not going to dismiss this guy’s view out of hand.

Instead, I accept his challenge to the media in this country to stand up to the president and to do the job they are entitled to do, which is to hold the president accountable for his words and deeds.

As Bernstein said: “We have to … be kind of medical reporters right now. I don’t mean about the president’s psyche, but rather about every aspect of his presidency, and how and whether it is functioning, because many aspects are not functioning.”

Woodward knows a ‘scandal’ when he sees one

Bob Woodward knows his way around a political scandal.

He once was a young police reporter working for the Metro desk at the Washington Post. Then some goofballs broke into the Democratic Party National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex. Woodward and Carl Bernstein, another young reporter, began smelling a scandal in the works.

It turned out to be a big one. President Richard Nixon ended up resigning when it was learned he ordered the cover-up of the burglary.

Woodward sees a similarity between then and what’s happening now with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mail controversy. The e-mail matter deals with messages Clinton sent on her personal server that might have contained highly classified information while she was serving as secretary of state.

According to The Hill: “’Follow the trail here,’ Woodward said on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ noting that emails erased from Clinton’s private server when she led the State Department were either sent or received by someone else, too.”

Clinton erased the e-mails, just like those audiotapes were erased back in the 1970s as the Watergate scandal began to creep up on President Nixon. That’s according to Woodward.

The man knows what a scandal looks like. The Clinton e-mail controversy isn’t a scandal. At least not yet.

Nixon could have squashed scandal … easily

Forty-three years ago today, President Nixon missed an opportunity to squash what had been termed a “third-rate burglary.” All he had to do was deliver a brief speech on national television that went something like this:

My fellow Americans. Good evening.

By now you’ve heard about the break-in at the Watergate office complex and hotel in Washington, D.C. Several burglars were apprehended by the D.C. police and arrested and charged with breaking and entering. 

You also have heard that the men apparently were working at the behest of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. They broke into the Democratic National Committee offices and allegedly rifled through some files, looking for papers relevant to the Democrats’ campaign they intend to launch against me this fall.

I called DNC Chairman Larry O’Brien and expressed my deepest regret for this intrusion into the Democratic Party’s office.

It doesn’t stop there. Today, I fired the head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President and his senior staff. I informed all of them that this kind of chicanery will not be tolerated by me, my closest advisers, and anyone associated with my re-election campaign.

Accordingly, I have instructed the attorney general, the director of the FBI and have asked local police to do all they can to get to the bottom of this caper and to ensure that anyone caught is brought to justice as quickly as possible.

I want to apologize as well to the American people for this shameful criminal act.

Thank you and good night.

That event didn’t happen on June 17, 1972. What did happen is that President Nixon launched the Mother of All Cover-Ups. He instructed the FBI to stonewall the investigation into what happened. He told his senior White House staff to do all it could to block any and all inquiries.

He abused the office to which he had been elected and was about to be re-elected later that year in historic fashion.

Contemporary politicians today keep yapping about the “lawlessness” of the current administration. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is among those who toss around the “lawless” label a bit too carelessly.

Back when young Teddy was in diapers, the Nixon administration set the standard for lawlessness that hasn’t been met since. If he wants to see how an administration can flout federal law, he need look no further than what the Nixon administration did in the name of the man at the top.

So … there you have it.

The Watergate break-in occurred 43 years ago. It could have been put aside and relegated to the kind of story it was in the beginning: a minor cop story covered by the Metro desk of the Washington Post. Then two young reporters — Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward — began smelling a rat.

They found it — in the Oval Office.

 

 

R.I.P., Ben Bradlee

I came of age during a most interesting and turbulent time.

Being near the leading edge of the baby boom, I was born not long after World War II. I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s as the nation was being shaped into the greatest economic and military power in world history.

Then came the turbulent time of Vietnam, a war that divided Americans. I did my tiny part in that war, came home and re-enrolled in college. Dad asked me, “Do you have any idea what you want to major in?” I said no. He offered a suggestion: Why not journalism? “You wrote such descriptive letters when you were away,” he told me, “that I think you might want to try journalism as a career.”

So, I did take some entry-level journalism courses in college. I fell in love with the written word.

Then a burglary occurred on June 17, 1972. It was at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. Some goofballs had been caught breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters. The Washington Post covered the event as a “cop shop” story initially. The paper buried it.

Then a couple of young reporters began sniffing around. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein smelled a rat. This is bigger than we think, they told their editor, Ben Bradlee, who died today.

The reporters had to talk their editor into letting them go hard after the story.

Bradlee eventually relented. He turned the young men loose. They uncovered the greatest constitutional crisis of the 20th century.

It was a good time to be a journalist.

I’ll make an admission. I was among the thousands of  young journalism aspirants who became star-struck by the notion of breaking the “big story” because of the work that Bradlee, Woodward and Bernstein did in uncovering the Watergate story.

I trust others in their mid-20s, such as myself, were as smitten as I was at the intrepid nature of the reporting that was done in the field and the tough decisions the reporters’ editor had to make to ensure that they got it right.

Brother, did they ever get it right.

They can thank Ben Bradlee for guiding them, pushing them, perhaps even goading them into telling this story completely.

My own career, of course, didn’t produce that kind of notoriety. I am grateful, however, for the nudge my dear father gave me in late 1970 to seek an educational course that would enable me to enjoy the career I would have. I also am grateful that Ben Bradlee had the courage to seek the truth in a story known as Watergate and gave young reporters all across the land further incentive to pursue a noble craft.

Thank you, Ben.