What Woodward and Bernstein Said at FAU in Boca
By Marci Shatzman
Reminiscing about their reporting 50 years ago that brought down a sitting president, journalists and authors Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had plenty to say about comparisons to the Donald Trump era.
“People are looking to reinforce their own beliefs,” Bernstein said in a candid “conversation” with moderator Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg in FAU’s nearly full 2,400-seat Carole and Barry Kaye auditorium Thursday night.
Aronberg opened the interview asking about the Florida connection to uncovering the Nixon conspiracy through a re-election check that ended up with the Watergate burglars. “In the movie you snuck into his office,” he asked about how the incident was portrayed in “All the President’s Men.” They did.
“This was not the Internet,” Woodward said, describing how they identified the check holder by finding his photo in The Washington Post morgue/library, tracking him down and going there.
“If you were at the Post today, would you be able to do what you did?” Aronberg asked. “Teamwork was the essence,” Woodward said. “Carl got that $25,000 check…”
With a 49-state landslide victory, “people didn’t believe it was possible” the scandal would end up in the White House and force Nixon to resign, despite the Post’s revelations, Woodward said. He read a Nixon tape blaming the press, professors and the “establishment,” his enemies list, and jokingly telling Henry Kissinger to write it down 100 times.
“How would you compare Trump and Nixon? Nixon seems like child’s play now,” Aronberg said.
“The system worked in Watergate, it’s not working in the Trump era,” Woodward said. “He is the first seditious president, willing to foment a coupe to prevent the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6. Willing to do anything to sabotage that.”
He talked about Trump’s frequent calls to him, and his willingness to be candid, even about the coronavirus. “I said 140,000 people have already died. He said it was under control and he’d have a plan in 105 days. I realized that was the election, and the people were not his concern.”
“He knew you were taping him, but he sued for a copyright violation,” said Aronberg, a frequent legal commentator for MSNBC and CNN. “Why would he keep calling you, and then trash you and sue you? There’s something wrong there.” The audience laughed.
“His actions are not about the people. They’re about himself,” Woodward added, calling the presidency “a sacred trust.” The audience applauded.
The pair talked about the proliferation of hate speech, Trump’s co-oping the Republican party and his Maga support. The subject changed to the support of Ukraine in the war against Vladimir Putin and his “land grab.” They segued into the Tucker Carlson interview and said if they could interview Putin they would, but would ask him “the hard questions.”
“How we fix this?” Aronberg asked toward the end of the hour-long interview. The pair had no ready answers. They called for a “curatorial consensus,” setting the highest “obtainable” journalistic standard for the truth. “We are living in an era where most people don’t give a d***,” Bernstein said.
Woodward said reporters have to be relentless. “You gotta show up,” he said. “It’s the yesses that count.” The audience gave them a standing ovation.
Woodward is an associate editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1971. He won two Pulitzer Prizes and has authored 22 books. Bernstein is an investigative reporter and has authored seven books, including memoirs. The lecture was offered by Florida Atlantic University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and sponsored in Boca by Stephanie and Jim Sokolove. The same program was set to be presented on FAU’s Jupiter campus.