Woodward & Bernstein at FAU

Posted on 27 February 2014 by JLusk

IMG_5788By Rachel Galvin

On Feb. 19, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein visited the campus of Florida Atlantic University. Moderated by historian and former director of Nixon’s presidential library Tim Naftali, the event included a back and forth between the duo talking about everything from the Watergate scandal and subsequent resignation (and later pardoning) of President Nixon to interactions with later presidents and others. President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among the list of mentions in a talk that contained much humor and candor. The event brought in approximately 2400 people to the Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium.

Bernstein classified Nixon as ‘the most fascinating figure in history’ saying that even after office, he still was in the arena “fighting for his own version of history.” He called Nixon ‘a human character that borders on being a tragic figure.’ He mused about Nixon’s deep desire for the presidency and the tragedy of getting his goal and then squandering it. He viewed Nixon as a “great political mind,” saying that his portraits of foreign leaders were “brilliant” and “incisive.” He also noted that Nixon seemed to understand his own downfall.

Woodward said that when Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, he called his friends and family to the east room to address them. In his “raw and unscripted” talk, he spoke about his mother and father and said that ‘others may hate you; but if you hate them, you destroy yourself.’

He got that hate was the piston of his administration,” said Woodward. “He knew that hating was what did him in.”

Naftali added that Kissinger learned from Churchill that the smartest way to be remembered was to write history about yourself. Kissinger, he said, wrote that he was the strategist and Nixon was the tactician. Actually, said Naftali, it was the opposite.

Woodward and Bernstein talked about how they were not believed by the general public or even by some of their own co-workers, but their editor stuck with them through thick and thin. The White House press core seemed to deflect their questions with ease by saying that the “Washington Post” was a “Fountain of misinformation.” The public, said, Bernstein, could not believe that the White House could ever “do anything so stupid as Watergate.”

When they did their due diligence to give the White House a chance to respond, they were ridiculed and threatened. When Bernstein called John Mitchell, the Attorney General of the U.S., for a comment and read him what they planned to put in print, including his involvement, Mitchell said, after saying Jesus’s name several times, “… if you run all that crap in the paper, Katie Graham (publisher of the “Washington Post”) is going to get her tit caught in a big fat wringer.”

Bernstein quipped, “I was more worried about my parts than Graham’s,” adding that Mitchell said “in a voice I can still hear today, ‘when this campaign is over, we’re going to do a story on you two boys…’.” Bernstein knew the threat was not an idle one.

When Bernstein told his editor Ben Bradlee about the conversation, he asked, “He really said that about Ms. Graham? Print the whole thing, but leave out her tit.”

[They talked about how Jason Robards in the film version of “All the President’s Men,” based on their book, did not want to play the editor role at first, despite the hefty $50,000 salary, because all the editor seemed to say was ‘Where is the f***ing story?’ They explained that that was what the editor of The “Washington Post” said. He finally agreed.]

During the Q&A, someone asked about Edward Snowden, to which Bernstein replied,”His actions have produced an awareness in this country and world about the scope of what NSA does.”

Although he viewed the information Snowden provided the masses as useful, he did point out that the issue needs to still be viewed in context of living in an age of terrorism.

Woodward felt that the main concern that we, as citizens, should be worried about is “secret government,” paraphrasing a judge who recently said that “democracy dies in darkness.”

Woodward said, “[After the Clinton presidency, in 2005] I asked Gore what percent of what went on in the Clinton White House (did we know ), he said 1 percent. If Clinton wrote a tell-all, [we would know] 20 percent.”

He said it is the job of journalism, citizens and the Congress to figure it out [what is going on in the government] and bring it to light.

The duo mentioned President Obama’s presidency, feeling he really is anti-war, but knowing that his use of drones is inconsistent with that agenda, something they deem to be quite difficult for him. In addition, they discussed their interactions with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Woodward said that Clinton upon meeting him mentioned she quoted his book so much she should give him royalties. When asked which passage, she said it was about when he interviewed President George W. Bush, asking “How do you think history will judge you on Iraq?”

Woodward retold the story, saying, “[Bush] said ‘history … we won’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

Clinton said to him adamantly, “You can’t think like that and be the president of the United States. Bush is a fatalist.”

Woodward quipped that he retorted, “Lincoln was a fatalist,” to which Clinton pounded her first against her hand and said, “George Washington, Thomas Jefferson … Bill …would never talk like that.”

Regarding President Gerald Ford pardoning Nixon, Woodward and Bernstein were angry at first, feeling it was “the final corrupt act [of the government]” But when Caroline Kennedy honored Ford with her “Profiles in Courage,” they saw that Ford’s response was actually a brave act beneficial to the country after all. Ford, they explained, felt that not pardoning Nixon would lead to Nixon, then a private citizen, being jailed and ‘two to three more years of Watergate.’ Ford wanted his own presidency and did not want to drag the country through any more than it had already endured.’

Woodward and Bernstein learned from this the importance of not rushing to judgment, a problem they have seen through the years, especially more recently, in journalism. They also see a lack of funding in journalism, and Woodward added that journalists need to get out in the field more, rather than typing away at their desks.

These were just a few of the topics they addressed during their talk and Q&A. Some of their responses were contested by guests following the lecture as they talked amongst themselves while waiting in a long line to get their recently purchased books written by the pair to be autographed at their book signing.

The following day, the pair went to FAU’s Jupiter campus for another talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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