Nearly 35 years ago they methodically gumshoed a report of a bungled Washington, D.C., burglary into the most storied investigative feat in American journalism.
The details of the Watergate break-in, campaign spying and sabotage directed from Nixon's White House and the coverup that young Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposed took down a president. Their work — and Woodward's guidance from the shadowy "Deep Throat" — spawned a generation of eager reporters.
That same kind of investigation has a future once news organizations figure out how to make it pay, the former reporting duo known as "Woodstein" said Monday at the Lesher Center for the Arts. During a rare appearance together, they discussed journalism, Watergate, the Bush and Nixon presidencies and the emotional unveiling of Deep Throat's identity in a 2005 Vanity Fair story.
Now in their mid-60s, Woodward and Bernstein say they are close friends. They often finish each other's sentences. Their common hope is that the kind of journalism that shook the nation in the early 1970s will continue on the Internet, cable TV and elsewhere.
"You get the truth by not working an hour or a day on something. It takes a long time," said Woodward before the appearance. "There's a tradition in newspapers of digging into things. It's a part of their culture. It's a part of their belief in what we call accountability reporting — really making every power center accountable for what they're doing. I think that's going to live on."
Bernstein blamed Congress, not news media, for failing to hold President George W. Bush accountable for what he called deception on the Iraq war and elsewhere.
"When you look at the difference between Watergate in the Nixon presidency ... after the press, after the judiciary had done some work, Congress, both parties, said we have to find out what happened in this presidency, and they did," Bernstein said. "And there's been none of that with this presidency, not when the Republicans controlled Congress, not in the two years with the Democrats."
Woodward, who has written four books on Bush, spending long hours with him, credited the president's historically low popularity to his inability to "find a way to tell the truth about what was going on. "One of the things that happened with Bush is he outsourced it. He delegated it. He wasn't on top of the facts," Woodward said.
"He didn't want to be on top of the facts," added Bernstein.
"Exactly," said Woodward, adding that Bush told him six months ago that he was not central to the decision to send 30,000 extra troops to Iraq.
Bernstein credited reporters with ultimately exposing Bush on misleading statements about Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.
But the legacy of the two reporters is in danger, thanks to news industry cutbacks, said Lowell Bergman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose probe of the tobacco industry was the basis for the movie "The Insider." Bergman, a UC Berkeley professor, noted that the Watergate story started out in night court, with Woodward covering the initial appearance of the five men arrested in the break-in at Democratic party headquarters.
"Just the fact that Woodward was sitting there in the courtroom might not happen today," Bergman said. Bergman said Woodward "has become a very prosperous member of the kind of celebrity crew that you see on 'Larry King.' That may be good. That may be bad. But that's not investigative reporting. He does access reporting."
Woodward said Bergman "doesn't know what he's talking about," insisting little has changed in how he operates, talks to sources and pieces things together.
"We were kids," said Bernstein of Watergate. "Part of that is about the energy and curiosity and willingness to do things a little bit differently ... to be a little hungrier."
"We're still kids," Woodward countered. "Being a kid has to do with what's in your head, and there's a certain extent to which we still both get up in the morning and ask the question, 'What are the bastards hiding?' Because they're always hiding something."
Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or email@example.com.