Carl Bernstein raps about everything but the topic of his upcoming MPC lecture.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
When we heard journalistic icon Carl Bernstein would visit Monterey Peninsula College to lecture on journalism ethics, our enthusiasm in the Weekly’s editorial department bordered on dweeby. It was like Star Trek fans getting the memo that Leonard Nimoy would drop by for a spaceship demonstration.
Bernstein made his name as the Washington Post reporter who, along with colleague Bob Woodward (the William Shatner of the ship), broke the Watergate scandal – toppling the Nixon presidency and nabbing a Pulitzer in 1973. He has since kept busy as an ABC news correspondent, magazine freelancer and contributing editor, CNN contributor and book author.
He and Woodward take readers behind the scenes of Nixon’s downfall in All the President’s Men and The Final Days. Bernstein’s memoir, Loyalties, offers a look into his childhood during the McCarthy era, when his parents were investigated as communists. His latest, A Woman in Charge, profiles America’s most controversial presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
In preparation for a brief phone interview, I compiled a list of questions – culling ideas from co-workers – about the ethical challenges of modern media. But Bernstein immediately swept journalism ethics off the table.
What do you think is the biggest ethical dilemma facing journalists –
Lemme interrupt you. One of the things I never do is give my speech in an interview. Why would I come give a speech if you’re gonna put it in your newspaper? It doesn’t make any sense.
Do you see the demise of the print product –
I’m not gonna talk about this topic.
Hillary Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee for a while, and suddenly she’s scraping to survive. What happened?
I think obviously she didn’t foresee how strong a candidate Obama would be. Also, she hasn’t run that good a campaign. I think voters have correctly perceived that there’s more to this than the question of whether we want to elect Hillary Clinton. There’s a question of the restoration of the Clintons plural to the White House, and voters are mulling that over in their minds. There’s a lot of baggage that goes with her and with the Clinton years. Obama has had a positive message that has been hard for her to come to terms with.
Would Clinton or Obama have a better chance against McCain?
You can make an argument for either. Most Republicans I’ve talked to think Obama would be the stronger candidate.
You were a part-time rock critic at The Washington Post. That’s a very different kind of journalism. Did you find yourself taking off your investigative reporter’s hat?
I don’t believe that investigative reporting is some kind of pseudo-science that’s different than the rest of reporting. All good reporting is the same thing: the best obtainable version of the truth. Writing about rock music is fun. I listen to classical music; I listen to rock.
Do you have an iPod?
I do; I don’t listen to it much. I’m a kind of high-end audio nut. I listen to classical music more than I listen to rock ‘n’ roll, but I’m sitting in my study here, and I must have a few thousand records here, vinyl. Let me pull one up: The Rolling Stones. Plus there’s about 5,000 CDs. It’s about half-classical, half-rock. I don’t keep up with rock the way I used to, but I still love it.
Switching gears here – What do you think the media’s role should be when dealing with the personal lives of national figures?
What do you read and watch in order to get fair and balanced reporting?
Pass. No – I’m online most of the day ‘cause I work on my computer, so today I was looking at The Washington Post, The New York Times, Real Clear Politics, The Huffington Post, because they all have a role in determining what is news these days. I read The New York Times. I like the arts section of The New York Sun. I’m a contributor at CNN and I watch a lot of their political coverage. I especially like the news hour with [Jim] Lehrer.
What do you think of comedy news shows like “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show”?
I’ve been on them both. I think they’re great fun and I think they do great stuff.
How was the TED conference? We couldn’t get in.
It was tremendous fun. I was on a panel about media with [Jordan’s] Queen Noor and [Google co-founder] Sergey Brin and a wonderful Ugandan journalist. We had a technical glitch, so Robin Williams came up and riffed for a few minutes. It was great.