Bob Woodward Laments “Curse” of Celebrity Journalism

By Nancy Ramsey

Apr 22, 2011 2:01pm

ABC News on Campus reporter Ashley Jennings blogs: On Thursday evening, former Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, along with actor and producer Robert Redford, gathered in Austin to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the film “All the President’s Men.” Drawing a crowd of more than 700 people, the famed reporting duo, who broke the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, discussed how investigative journalism has changed over the years and offered their take on the current state of the industry. “How do you redeem journalism? How do you get better at it?” Woodward said. “And I think some of the answer is slowing down- don’t be in such a hurry to put out the sound bite.” The event, "Could the media break a story like Watergate today?", drew panelists from across the nation, including Peter Baker of The New York Times, Dana Priest of The Washington Post and Mark Miller of The Texas Tribune. Glenn Frankel, the director of the University of Texas School of Journalism, moderated the panel.  “All the President’s Men,” directed by Alan Pakula, was released in 1976. Redford played Woodward, and Dustin Hoffman played Bernstein. In the film, the journalists are hard-hitting, meeting sources in dark parking lots, aware that their actions may bring down a President. The film sparked a slew of young people eager to enter the profession. Frankel opened the discussion by asking what Woodward and Bernstein thought the greatest challenge was in journalism today. “We’ve got to go back to the basics, and the basics are what are really endangered in this environment,” Bernstein said. “In this cultural and speedy environment, the basics are getting overwhelmed.” Addressing government in both the time of Watergate and the present, Bernstein says, that same “secret government” is the nation’s biggest problem. “At all levels, there’s so much unnecessary secrecy,” Bernstein said. “As a journalist you have to develop a method to get around that- try to get people’s head in the game.” During the panel discussion, Bernstein — whose recent books include “A Woman in Charge,” a biography of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — said the same journalism skills and persistence he and Woodward used could break a similar story today, but the culture around journalism has shifted dramatically. Woodward (“Obama’s Wars” and “Bush at War”) called this shift the “curse” of celebrity journalism itself- the “Paris Hilton factor and Kardashian equation.” “It should be our job not to give equal time, not to give 12 inches in a newspaper story about what Donald Trump says and 12 inches to what the Secretary of State of Hawaii says,” Bernstein said, referring to the birther controversy that, though investigated and settled, continues to provide provocative soundbites for President Obama’s critics. “Then our agenda becomes manufactured controversy as a means of getting more readers, more viewers, and we skew the political debate.” The Woodward and Bernstein Watergate papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at UT, with the agreement that both men hand over notes from confidential sources after the sources’ death.  The most famous confidential source, known as Deep Throat, was Mark Felt, a former associate director of the FBI whose identity was kept secret for more than 30 years.  While many, including Nixon himself, suspected Felt, it was not revealed until 2005, when Felt was 91. On Tuesday, the writers released their latest set of reporting notes, detailing a private conversation with Alexander Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff and one of 17 confidential sources.
“Basically, Nixon said [to Haig] if there were a pistol in his desk, he would have taken his own life,” Woodward said. A display titled “All the President’s Men: Newsroom to Big Screen,” including reporting notes, film scripts, book drafts and the official film rights to Robert Redford are also on display at Lyndon B Johnson Library at UT through April 29. “The reason I’m here is that I’m so anxious and hopeful about journalism’s future,” Robert Redford said to a crowd of students. “I want us to give you the reins. Take these reins and see if you can correct something that’s in such horrible shape right now. The future is in your hands and journalism is part of that future.”

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