If you’re addicted to politics and political writing (like me!), it’s hard to resist anything penned by or about Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein, the two journalists who brought us All the President’s Men.
Even though I was only a teen at the time of the Watergate investigation, the Washington Post’s reporting and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, I was fascinated with the story as it unfolded and, like many aspiring writers of my generation, hoped that someday I would be able to do even a fraction of the kind of investigative reporting that “Woodstein,” as the two came to be known, did.
So, as you might guess, I am loving a new book called, Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate.
Written by Alicia Shepard, a journalism professor at American University, Life in the Shadow of Watergate is a great peek behind the scenes of the biggest journalistic coup of our lifetime.
The 1970s was a time when there were few journalism celebrities. 24/7 news coverage with semi-celebs a la Anderson Cooper wasn’t even a twinkle in the eyes of any TV news executives. Sure, we had the nightly news anchors like Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings and John Chancellor, but celebrity newspaper reporters were an unheard of phenomenon at the time. Neither Bernstein nor Woodward expected they were going to be thrust into the limelight just for doing their jobs, but that’s exactly what happened.
Shepherd’s book explores the lives of Woodward and Bernstein during and after the Watergate heydays and how they handled the unexpected national attention to their efforts, especially after their book became a hugely successful movie starring Robert Redford, and how their later lives were impacted by, as she says, the shadow of Watergate that could not be escaped.
What makes this a particularly fun “insider” account of the back story of Woodward and Bernstein is that Shepherd was one of the first to have access to their voluminous archives at the University of Texas — all their notes and papers from the time were at her disposal to craft this behind-the-scenes look at their lives that was culled in large part from their own contemporaneous words.
Some have wondered why we should care about Watergate today, over 30 years after the fact? Isn’t Watergate is a thing of the past?
It shouldn’t be.
Every journalist today, including the current White House Press Corps, needs to be reminded what happens when our government isn’t honest about how it is governing. When reporters covering our lawmakers don’t approach governmental actions with a healthy measure of skepticism, that leaves too much room for politicians to govern without accountability.
I have often asked myself in the last six years, where are the “Woodsteins” of today? And if we had reporters who were willing to question more and not take a president’s words at face value, would things be different today when it comes to the war in Iraq, government corruption and even the state of hunger in America?
For anyone who sees even a bit of similarity in the political climate of the current administration to that of the Nixon era, this is a must read — especially for journalists. And it should give us some hope that there might still be a few reporters out there willing to dig for a good story while digging for the truth.