Watergate-era reporter Bernstein says press exists for the common good, quest for truth
By JONATHAN OLIVIER
LSU Manship School of
Journalism means something different today, in an age of partiality and preconceived notions, and the news media need return to the “basic notions” that made American journalism great, Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein told Manship School students Thursday on the opening day of the school’s journalism program centennial.
Bernstein, who rose to fame at the Washington Post for his and Bob Woodward’s coverage of Watergate in the early 1970s, mingled informally with mass communication students in a question and answer session before speaking to a $50-a-plate public luncheon arranged by the Manship School.
Those basic notions, Bernstein said, include common sense reporting that uses the “best obtainable version of the truth,” which, he said, guided him while covering the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
“The press exists for the common good and we are losing sight of that,” he said.
News organizations today claim impartiality but don’t use the basic notions while reporting, he charged. The result is biased content from publications and broadcast outlets that have ratings or monetary goals in mind.
Washington Beltway politics that is riddled with “ideological closed- mindedness” only furthers the need for the next generation of journalists to use impartiality and the facts as a guide, warned Bernstein, who now teaches at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y.
LSU Manship School Dean Jerry Ceppos, who introduced Bernstein to students, asked the former Washington Post reporter, how the coverage of Watergate might be different today given the popularity of reporters using social media as part of their coverage.
Even with the age of technology and the 24-hour news cycle, responded Bernstein, covering the news is no different than it was 40 years ago. “Social media can be helpful, but it’s not an elemental part of reporting.”
The Watergate reporting was an example of the American system working, Bernstein said, adding the press obtained the truth and the branches of government worked together to prove that no one is above the law, “even the president of the United States.”
Bernstein called on the aspiring journalists to adhere to the basic notions, to be fair, and not approach news with pre-conceived notions. Do that, he urged, and the country will be better served.