Is this déjà vu? Are we looking at a Watergate-type scandal again as stories break about the IRS targeting of conservative nonprofit groups and the government’s seizure of The Associated Press’ phone records?
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein says no. “I think no comparison could be more inept,” he said.
Bernstein and fellow reporter Bob Woodward broke the Watergate stories that eventually ended Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Bernstein participated in a press conference at Misericordia University in Dallas Township on Saturday before giving the commencement speech and receiving an honorary doctorate.
He explained his opinion saying, “Watergate was about the triumph of the American system.” Bernstein cited the cooperation of all branches of government, including both political parties, in the effort to find out the truth about the Watergate scandal. But he thinks that kind of cooperation isn’t happening today.
And he blamed both parties for the problems he sees in government.
Bernstein spoke strongly about “the absolute outrage of President Obama’s administrative policies about leak investigation.” Obama was also called out for “the inability to preside over bureaucracy boldly.”
But both parties of Congress also come in for criticism. “Congress is a broken institution,” he stated flatly. He blamed the atmosphere in Washington on “a level of hyper-partisanship that has hijacked the American system.”
He accused Congress of “a failure in dealing with the problems of our time.”
“I’m not very optimistic about the system,” he said.
But he had more hope for the future of the press. “Much great reporting is being done today, maybe better than ever,” Bernstein said. He praised The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe as papers that are doing great investigative reporting.
He addressed the vast amount of information available on the Internet. “The Web has great possibilities,” he said. “I don’t think the press is destroyed.”
But he said that online resources make both information and misinformation possible. “News happens quickly,” he said. “Having some time to think about it, to talk to several sources, is crucial to good reporting. Increasingly, those methodologies are less common.”
Bernstein was asked if the search for truth is harder than ever. He replied that not everyone was looking for it. “There are always people who are not interested in the best obtainable version of the truth.”
He said politicians are not alone in looking for information that will “buttress their preconceived prejudices.” “Citizens are less interested in real solutions and complex information,” he said, “than in driving home ideological points of view.”