Author Carl Bernstein, best known for uncovering the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, reflects on his long career in journalism in his new memoir, “Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom.”
Bernstein, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Watergate, recalls his lifelong interest in journalism, covering John F. Kennedy’s presidency while he was still in high school, and years later, as a college student at the University of Maryland helping the Washington Star report on Kennedy’s assassination.
On “The Takeout” this week, Bernstein recounted to CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett that he had just left class at the University of Maryland when he saw a group of students huddling around a radio as Walter Cronkite reported live on Kennedy’s death. He raced to work, where he was employed as a “dictationist” — someone who would type up reporters’ stories that were filed via telephone. Bernstein was tasked with typing up breaking news reports from the Star reporter in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
“My hands were shaking so bad as I took his dictation that I misspelled hospital and put an [extra] ‘o’ in it,” Bernstein said. Then, an editor dispatched Bernstein to Lafayette Square, a park adjacent to the White House, where he was assigned to monitor a growing crowd distraught at the news.
Bernstein added that “for the next 12 hours, until Kennedy’s body came back,” he stayed in the park.
“[Kennedy’s body] went right by me, and I could see through the rear window of the gray hearse, the casket with a flag over it,” Bernstein said. “I proceeded through that weekend to cover the assassination of the President of the United States.”
Bernstein views his book is a kind of prequel to “All the President’s Men,” his book with Bob Woodward detailing how they investigated the people involved in the Watergate scandal.
“Chasing History” details “everything I learned at The Star about reporting…and about what [Bob] Woodward and I have called the best obtainable version of the truth, which really is what reporting is about,” Bernstein said.
As it happens, he is not a fan of the habit of short-handing scandals by attaching “-gate” at the end, because Bernstein says it “trivializes” the events that led up to the Watergate Hotel break-in and cover-up.
“What happened in Watergate was we had a criminal president of the United States who attempted to undermine the electoral system, a familiar point today when we now have a former president of the United States who actually undermined the electoral system and continues to seek to undermine the electoral system as part of a presidency, infinitely worse in most regards to what the Nixon presidency was,” Bernstein said.
Also worse is the political climate — Bernstein noted that Congress is far different now than it was in the Watergate era.
“After our reporting early on in Watergate, there was a unanimous vote of the Senate… to create the Watergate Committee, the Senate Watergate Committee,” Bernstein said. “Compare that to the conduct of the [congressional] Republicans today, who are unwilling to investigate what happened on January 6, and the deeper questions of what Trump did to stay in office in this coup that attempted coup that I have referred to.”
Executive producer: Arden Farhi
Producers: Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson