Stony Brook students caught a glimpse into the past, present and future of the American press through the eyes of world-renowned journalist Carl Bernstein at the fiftieth “My Life As” presentation on Tuesday night.
Carl Bernstein rose to national prominence in 1972 when he and fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward broke the story of the Watergate Scandal, which linked President Richard Nixon to illegal activities and led to his resignation. Since then, Bernstein wrote about the connection between the Central Intelligence Agency to the news media during the Cold War in 1977 and was the first person to report from Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982. He has also covered every United States president since 1960.
At the lecture, Bernstein discussed the debate and deadlock in Washington, D.C. over the government shutdown and debt ceiling, which on the day of his presentation was in its fifteenth day. This failure of the federal government, according to Bernstein, shows a failure of the news media to obtain “the best obtainable version of truth.”
“There are plenty of terrible stuff on both sides to go around,” he said, “but the real story is the hijack of [the republican party] by fanatics.”
The truth meant to inform the public has instead, according to Bernstein, been replaced by a tendency of news organizations, including Fox News and MSNBC, to “be subject to politics and ideology over problem solving.” He did, however, express his admiration for both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s ability to succeed in the job that some journalists have failed at over the last several days.
Looking back at the Watergate story, Bernstein noted that the main thing he learned was the need to have “common sense,” and that to be a good young reporter, before anything, “I would learn to be a good listener.”
The most frightening moment of his time covering Watergate was when he and Woodward realized John Mitchell, the United States Attorney General at the time, was involved in operating a slush fund, leaving both the journalists fearing for their lives
He also mentioned the feeling of “chills down [his] back” when he thought about the possibility of President Nixon being impeached, and said he was afraid to go home some nights.
Presently, Bernstein is directing his efforts toward Stony Brook University, where he is a visiting professor. He chose Stony Brook because it agreed to let him teach courses in multiple disciplines. He will be here for the next two years as well.
“I’ve known for a while that I wanted to teach and also have known for a while that I did not want to teach just journalism,” he said. “I believe reporters need to be well rounded.”
Bernstein added that he has faith in the next generation to fix the problems he blames on previous ones. “I’m not an optimist of what is going on [in Washington, D.C.],” he said. “I’m an optimist of your generation.”