Fifty years ago, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post became journalistic legends, reporting on, arguably, the most consequential political story of our time.
It started with the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. It ended inside the White House.
They wrote hundreds of stories over several years and followed the money. Ultimately, more than 40 government officials were indicted or jailed, President Richard Nixon resigned, and Woodward and Bernstein became icons, inspiring generations of reporters. Their Pulitzer Prize-winning work, which has been described by some as the greatest reporting of all time, led to a best-selling book and the movie “All the President’s Men” — considered the gold standard of movies about journalism.
And the legendary careers of Woodward and Bernstein have gone far beyond the Watergate scandal. They’ve written best-selling books on other topics, appeared on TV as contributors and they continue to make an impact on journalism.
On Saturday night, Woodward and Bernstein were honored with the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at Poynter’s annual fundraising gala, the Bowtie Ball, in Tampa.
Bernstein received his medal at the ball in Tampa, while Woodward was given the award by Poynter president Neil Brown at Woodward’s home last week in Washington, D.C. Woodward and Brown taped a conversation about Watergate and journalism for a video that ran during the Bowtie Ball, while Brown and Bernstein had a live conversation about Bernstein’s life and career before an audience of more than 500 in Tampa.
Bernstein shared some of his memories about the Watergate story and his career in journalism, as well as his very specific thoughts about former President Donald Trump.
Bernstein told the audience, “Making the conduct of the press is easy. Nixon tried to make the conduct of Woodward, Bernstein, (Post editor) Ben Bradlee, The Washington Post, (Post owner) Katharine Graham — he tried to make that the issue of Watergate rather than the conduct of the president and the people around him.”
Nixon thought the press was the enemy. Sound familiar?
“Donald Trump, same thing,” Bernstein said. “The messenger is under fire. We just have to keep on doing what we do. The more we can explain what we do, and the fewer mistakes that we make, the more determined we are to pursue this idea of investigative work that we do. … If we do that, (we will be doing our job).”
Bernstein mentioned how he and Woodward wrote a new introduction for the 50th anniversary edition of the book “All the President’s Men” and how they never thought they would see another criminal president. They wrote, “And then came Donald Trump.”
Bernstein went on to say, “One of the two great political parties in our history, the party of Lincoln, has been overtaken, become hostage to authoritarian, undemocratic values that are antithetical to every principle on which this country was founded. … We’ve never had one of the two major political parties that has become seized and overwhelmed by these kinds of forces. And that is really part of the big story.”
The conversation also was about today’s media and reporting, and the idea of objectivity and neutrality. Bernstein, quoting a line from his memoir, said, “The truth is not neutral.”
“I think we’re saddled by the word ‘objectivity,’” Bernstein said. “Being a reporter is the most subjective objective partly because we decide what is news. That’s one of the essential things that we do. A lynching is not neutral. … We have a responsibility to be fair, to be judicious, not judicial.”
Bernstein also talked about his relationship with Woodward, calling it a “loving relationship” that has had its “ups and downs” over the years. Clearly, however, judging by the comments of both, the two remain close.
“We still collaborate,” Bernstein said, “and still talk a couple of times a week. We’re kind of joined at the hip.”
Joined at the hip through history, and into history as two of the greatest reporters who have ever lived.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, didn’t hold back blasting former President Donald Trump during his Sunday appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Hogan said the midterms “… should have been a huge red wave. It should have been one of the biggest red waves we have ever had.”
But it was not, and Hogan said Trump is part of the reason why, as Trump and other candidates continued to talk about the 2020 election. Hogan said, “I think it’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race. And it’s like three strikes, you’re out.”
Hogan added, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. And Donald Trump kept saying, we’re going to be winning so much, we will get tired of winning. I’m tired of losing. I mean, that’s all he’s done.”
Hogan said it was Trump’s fault that the Republicans are not going to control the Senate, but on his Truth Social, Trump blamed someone else for Arizona Republican Blake Masters losing his Senate bid to Mark Kelly and helping the Democrats keep control of the Senate.
Trump wrote, “It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault. Spending money to defeat great Republican candidates instead of backing Blake Masters and others was a big mistake. Giving 4 Trillion Dollars to the Radical Left for the Green New Deal, not Infrastructure, was an even bigger mistake. He blew the Midterms, and everyone despises him and his otherwise lovely wife, Coco Chow!”
Speaking of Trump
Trump is scheduled to make a “special announcement” on Tuesday. That’s what he said at a rally last week and the assumption, of course, is that he’s going to announce that he will run for president in 2024.
Many Republicans, however, are looking at the disappointing performance of the GOP in the midterm elections and wondering if it’s time to distance themselves from Trump.
Appearing on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” on CBS, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton acknowledged Trump’s popularity among some in the party, but seemed to dodge moderator Margaret Brennan’s question about whether or not Trump should remain the party’s leader.
Cotton said, “When any party is out of power, as Republicans are now, we don’t have a single leader.” But he then went on to mention the names of several Republican governors — Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Georgia’s Brian Kemp and Virginia’s Glen Youngkin — and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott as strong party leaders.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy indicated that those who were still harping on the 2020 election were not the right leaders for the party. Cassidy said, “Our party should be about the future. I think our next candidate will be looking to the future, not to the past, and I think our next candidate will win. And so I anticipate supporting a candidate that is looking to the future.”
Cassidy also offered this intriguing quote on “Meet the Press”: “We’re not a cult. We’re not like, ‘OK, there’s one person who leads our party.’ We are not going to have one person anointed unless she or he happens to be a sitting president. We should have a set of principles and ideas and legislative accomplishments that is our lodestar, if you will. That’s where we need to go.”
More midterm analysis
Despite not running for office and not even being in office at the moment, Trump had his fingerprints all over this election. The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes, “Trump has changed politics in many ways, and Republicans paid a price for it Tuesday. His presence has created an energized electorate. Since he was elected, huge voter turnouts have become the norm: a midterm record in 2018, a presidential-year record in 2020 and a near-record again this year. Midterm elections usually mean complacency among voters whose party just won the White House. In the age of Trump, every election is consequential, and both sides come highly motivated.”
In her column for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote, “If, in 2024, Republicans aren’t serious about policy — about what they claim to stand for — they will pick him as their nominee. And warm themselves in the glow of the fire as he goes down in flames. If they’re serious about the things they claim to care about — crime, wokeness, etc. — they’ll choose someone else and likely win.”
In other words, the Republican party has come to a crossroads regarding what’s next and whether Trump should be a part of that.
The New York Times’ Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein wrote, “… if Mr. Trump remains a major motivator for Democrats, Republicans are starting to have to take sides, with his allies in Congress pressuring other Republicans to endorse his 2024 candidacy and a loyal band of senators looking for ways to undercut Senator Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader in that chamber and the object of Mr. Trump’s scorn.”
The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer report that some Republicans are already doing something about distancing themselves from Trump. They wrote, “In private conversations among donors, operatives and other 2024 presidential hopefuls, a growing number of Republicans are trying to seize what they believe may be their best opportunity to sideline Trump and usher in a new generation of party leaders.”
The Post reporters added, “Many of the party’s top donors are actively trying to back other candidates and are tired of Trump, according to Republican officials and operatives in touch with them, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations.”
But the Post noted that this isn’t the first time that Trump’s power over the party seemed to be in trouble, and that some inside the party were whispering about moving away from Trump. The question now is whether those anonymous whispers will eventually turn into on-the-record shouts for the GOP to turn to someone else other than Trump to lead the party.
Much of the focus of midterm results was on the Republicans underperforming expectations, but what about looking at it from Democrats’ point of view?
In a guest essay for The New York Times, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote, “Democrats Just Held the Senate. Here’s What We Do Next.” Warren complimented President Joe Biden, criticized Trump and wrote, “… the American people — Democrats, independents and Republicans — validated the president’s agenda with their votes.”
So what is next?
Warren wrote, “Continuing to reduce inflation and putting money in people’s pockets, expanding the work force through affordable child care, lowering housing costs by increasing supply, raising taxes on the superwealthy, tackling corporate price gouging — this is not a progressive wish list.
It’s the unfinished business of the Biden agenda, and the way to help families and win elections.”
The latest with Twitter
This is a media newsletter and, obviously, Twitter is a major topic in media. But every time I start to give the latest updates on all the shenanigans going on at Twitter, the story shifts. It’s almost impossible to keep up with everything.
Projections are all over the place about what will eventually happen with the social media site. Will it be around in six weeks? In six months? If so, will Elon Musk still own it? Will Twitter declare bankruptcy?
Stay tuned for all that.
But check out this: late last week, The Washington Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler wanted to find out what a blue verification check mark actually means in Musk’s new Twitter once users could pay a monthly fee to be verified. Getting permission from comedienne Blaire Erskine and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey, Fowler posed as both and ended up getting verified.
The whole thing has been such a wreck that Twitter has now paused the Twitter Blue verification because of all the fake accounts and impersonators. But not before a testy exchange between Markey and Musk.
The real Markey account tweeted, “A @washingtonpost reporter was able to create a verified account impersonating me — I’m asking for answers from @elonmusk who is putting profits over people and his debt over stopping disinformation. Twitter must explain how this happened and how to prevent it from happening again.” The tweet included a letter demanding answers.
Musk snarkily responded, “Perhaps it is because your real account sounds like a parody?”
Markey responded with “One of your companies is under an FTC consent decree. Auto safety watchdog NHTSA is investigating another for killing people. And you’re spending your time picking fights online. Fix your companies. Or Congress will.”
Musk might have picked the wrong guy to mess with. Markey is on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees the Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Big media news: Top-notch political reporter Jonathan Swan is leaving Axios for The New York Times. Here’s the Times announcement. Here’s the story from Axios’ Sara Fischer. Swan, who has been at Axios for six years, will start at the Times in January.
- The New York Times did a good piece on PBS’s Judy Woodruff, who will soon retire as anchor of “PBS NewsHour.” It’s Katherine Rosman with “Judy Woodruff Is Too Busy for Nostalgia.”
- In addition, “CBS Sunday Morning” and host Jane Pauley profiled Woodruff.
- ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir interviewed former Vice President Mike Pence for a piece that will air on tonight’s newscast. Talking about the Jan. 6 insurrection, Pence calls Trump’s words “reckless.” ABC will air a one-hour special — “Breaking with the President: The Mike Pence Interview” — tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern
- On tonight’s “NBC Nightly News,” anchor Lester Holt will have an exclusive interview with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about holiday travel.
- NPR’s Eric Deggans with “Dave Chappelle monologue disappoints on ‘Saturday Night Live.’” Meanwhile, Deadline’s Bruce Haring writes, “‘SNL’ Opening Monologue By Dave Chappelle Draws Anti-Defamation League Fire, Claims It ‘Popularizes’ Antisemitism.”
- Max Tani’s latest media column for Semafor: “The New York Post aims national.”
The Ringer staff with “Every Episode of ‘Atlanta,’ Ranked.”
If you like Bruce Springsteen, you’ll really love this clip from “The Graham Norton Show.”
Cool video journalism from the Los Angeles Times: “To compete in artistic swimming, you must accept the pain.”
More resources for journalists
- Subscribe to PolitiFact’s weekly newsletter. Get facts delivered straight to your inbox.
- Hiring? Post jobs on The Media Job Board — Powered by Poynter, Editor & Publisher and America’s Newspapers.
- Learn how to suss out misinformation online like a fact-checking pro in one week with MediaWise’s free Find Facts Fast text message course.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.