| BBC News
| The Daily Beast
As Watergate calcifies into myth
, it's inevitable that the Internet would try to break a few bones in return. Writing in Gawker, John Cook grabs his blackjack and starts swinging, listing nine "crimes against journalism"
he says Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein committed in their pursuit of the Watergate story. Among them: revealing a confidential source to his boss, lying, and acquiring phone and financial records. "It's worth noting that Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper holdings are currently burning to the ground over behavior that is barely distinguishable" from Woodward and Bernstein's, Cook writes.
Cook's article takes a fascinating turn into what he sees as their biggest failure: allowing their legacy to become ever more gold-plated as time passes.
But those various sins would likely render any major contemporary journalistic enterprise illegitimate if exposed in the hothouse environment that is Watergate's legacy, largely because they diverge from the attitude of public rectitude that Woodward (not so much Bernstein) continues to represent. It's the one thing Nixon and the right got out of Watergate: They were able to milk the increasingly professionalized and self-regarding press corps for commitments to propriety and ethical forthrightness, ratcheting up the baseline for what "acceptable" journalism is and in the process robbing a new generation of reporters of the tools and reckless swagger to pull off a repeat performance.
Woodward and Bernstein were allowed to be wrong, Cook says, something almost unimaginable for reporters on such a high wire today. "Thanks to the press mavens for whom error is a moral failure, the stink of a mistake is harder to wash off. The audience is less forgiving and more suspicious; one screw-up throws the whole enterprise in doubt." (Incidentally, I recently watched "All the President's Men" again and was surprised at how baldly it portrays Woodstein's and The Washington Post's cross-fingers-and-jump approach toward some of their stories.)
Will Bunch says the pair's biggest problem is "Nixon Exceptionalism" -- the idea, evinced in a recent Post piece by the reporters
, that "Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law."