Woodward, Bernstein reflect on Watergate reporting 50 years later

The “All the President’s Men” co-authors spoke with ABC News.

June 16, 2024, 9:10 AM

Fifty years after they published “All the President’s Men,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein remain “joined at the hip.”

“We're on the phone, usually a couple times a week to each other,” Bernstein said. “We keep up with the work that the other is doing. We talk about what's going on here in Washington, about what's going on in the White House.”

The two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters sat down with ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl at the Watergate Hotel as they marked the 50th anniversary of their iconic book, which Time called “perhaps the most influential piece of journalism in history.”

ABC News' Jonathan Karl sits down with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at the Watergate Hotel.
ABC News

Asked whether they predicted the impact “All the President’s Men” would have on the country, they both laughed. Writing the book was a “necessity,” Woodward said. “We’d written these stories that no one believed.”

“But more than that, we didn't think the truth about Watergate was going to ever come out,” Bernstein added.

Their first approach was to lay out the facts of the Watergate scandal. But it soon became clear it should center on the two of them, they said.

“I said, ‘Well, the one rule of journalism, write about what you know best, and you know nothing better than what you've done, so let's write about what we did,'” Woodward said.

Bernstein was skeptical. “[I thought] that it would be an undisguised ego trip and recognized as such, that we should just stick with the facts of Watergate,” he recalled. “But Woodward said, ‘Look, we don't have anything to write about at this point but ourselves.’”

The two wrote the book in Woodward’s mother’s house in Naples, Florida.

“Carl sat out by the swimming pool in the most awful pair of green shorts you've ever seen,” Woodward joked. “I sat in the kitchen and we said to get this done, we're going to have to each do 10 pages a day, and then we can go out to dinner. And so that's what we did.”

While they had a rocky relationship at first, as they detail in the book, they quickly gained an appreciation for each other.

Bob Woodward (left) and Carl Bernstein, Washington Post staff writers who have been investigating the Watergate case, at their desk in the Post.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

“Within a few days of working on this story together, each of us saw in the other remarkable things,” Bernstein shared. “We often switch, to this day half a century later, roles that are expected. What's expected of me, he'll do, what's expected of him I'll do.”

Added Woodward: “What it demonstrates is the power of collaboration. We learn in our personal lives you never do anything alone effectively. And it's the same with journalism.”

Karl asked their view on why the book, and the Hollywood adaptation in 1976, became such an important work of journalism.

“The book itself is like a primer on basic reporting,” Bernstein responded. “You see what's the most important decision we make as reporters? To go out at night and to visit people who work for Richard Nixon and his reelection in their homes, knock on their doors, have the doors you know, slammed in our faces, except for the few that didn't.”

He went on, “You see in the movie those people who talked to us enabled us to get our foot in the door. And the movie took it to another level, because visually, you see what we write, and it has a different kind of power.”

Dustin Hoffman, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward and Robert Redford attend the premiere of "All The President's Men" on April 4, 1976, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Woodward emphasized that the success they shared from their Watergate reporting happened in part by accident, recalling how he met Mark Felt years prior while he was in the Navy and was sent to deliver documents to the White House. Felt later became second-in-charge at the FBI and Woodward’s legendary source he referred to as “Deep Throat.”

“My initial contacts with him were kind of career advice, and then I'm working at the Post, and realized there's this guy, Felt, and he's now the No. 1 in the FBI and in charge of the Watergate investigation,” Woodward said. “We kept that secret from 1972 to 2005.”

Bernstein recalled his first reaction to learning of Woodward’s source.

“I said, ‘How does he get in touch with you?’ And Woodward said, ‘I moved the flower pot on my balcony.’ And I thought, ‘I'm with somebody here who is kind of pathological.’ You move the flower pot on your balcony?” Bernstein laughed.

Woodward said that Felt gave them “direction and encouragement,” emphasizing that they were only 28 and 29 at the time.

“We're living in a world where even our colleagues at The Washington Post were saying, you know, those two young kids are off on some sort of bender,” Woodward said. “In journalism, you have to protect truth and the sources of truth.”

Half a century later, their friendship and the curiosity that first connected them still persists.

“There came a point, I don’t know exactly when it was ... [Bernstein] said, you know, we are connected for life,” Woodward said.

“We’re joined at the hip,” Bernstein added.