Reporters Bob Woodward, left, and Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, talk about their experiences as journalists while visiting Macomb Community College’s Center Campus in Clinton Township Feb. 6.

Reporters Bob Woodward, left, and Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, talk about their experiences as journalists while visiting Macomb Community College’s Center Campus in Clinton Township Feb. 6.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Woodward and Bernstein talk Watergate, media

Famous reporters pay a visit to Macomb County

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published February 11, 2019


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Back in 1972, when the Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began investigating a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex, there was no internet or social media on which to immediately share their findings.

And even if there had been, the two reporters would most likely have held off on what they uncovered — hush money, paper trails and tapes — until all the facts had been gathered and sorted.

“It demanded patience. We could work two or three weeks on one story,” Woodward said. “We would not have been tweeting out. We would been trying to find out more and discover what it meant.”

On Feb. 6, Woodward and Bernstein visited Macomb Community College’s Center Campus to meet with students, talk about their careers and mingle with local media. They started off their visit with a student session at Lecture Hall A at the University Center, where students asked questions and listened to the experiences the pair have had as newspaper reporters.

Woodward and Bernstein are best known for their investigative reporting on the Watergate scandal that began in 1972 in Washington, D.C., under President Richard Nixon. Their probing of the break-in eventually led to the indicments of dozens involved in trying to cover up their actions and the resignation of Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974.

“We had editors that turned to us (and said), ‘What about Watergate? Go work on it,’” Woodward said. “Without that kind of support system, you don’t go work on it. I have never found an editor at the Washington Post or anyone else say, ‘OK, let’s go find a story that’s routine and boring.’”

Soon, Woodward and Bernstein began gathering as much information as they could and interviewing many sources as rumors swirled about the break-in and a possible cover-up.

“Our major sources were Republicans,” Bernstein recalled. “I started making calls to the families of the burglars. I called waiters at Watergate restaurants.”

According to the pair, one way that helped get sources to talk to them about Watergate was to meet them at their homes rather than at their offices. At the time, “the public wasn’t behind us,” Woodward said. “After we did our major stories on Nixon, he won a landslide re-election in November 1972.”

In 1976, the movie “All the President’s Men” was released about Woodward, Bernstein and Watergate. Since Watergate, both veteran reporters have written about national and world affairs in newspapers and books.

One student asked the pair if they think social media has turned people’s backs on mass media.

“Yes, somewhat,” Woodward said. “The internet is impatience and speed. The answers to questions can’t be found right right away. Take your time. Go see people.”

Another student wanted to know what role educational institutions play in terms of “teaching political knowledge.”

“I think we need more that is out of the traditional educational realm,” said Bernstein, adding that he hopes people are looking at “history as it is being recorded and written. How is the New York Times looking at it? How is television looking at it?”

During the student session, Woodward asked the crowd where they get their news. Searching online, journals, Facebook, television interviews and surveys were among their answers. Woodward offered other options: human interaction, documents and personal observation.

“The human source … I think that is the backbone of reporting,” Woodward said. When something happens, “Go to the scene and see it.”

Bernstein added that most articles don’t turn out the way you might envision them. “Stories are always different than the preconceived notion in your head.”

“See what the other side is saying. That will always help you,” Woodward said.

MCC student Charity Roberts, of Macomb Township, and her stepbrother Hunter Reliford, a student at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights, attended the question-and-answer session. The presentation held their interest.

“It was really interesting,” Reliford said. “Always hear the second side of the story. Don’t lock your mind on something when there’s no proof to back it up.”  

“I thought it was very interesting to see their perspective on everything political, Watergate and the way they uncovered it,” Roberts said. “Human interaction is very important.”

Later in the day, the newsmen participated in a community presentation on the role of a free press in democracy at the campus’ Macomb Center for the Performing Arts.