Carl Bernstein is a legend.
He doesn’t have any obvious superpowers, but he was part of the discovery and reporting of a story that brought down a President, changed American politics and made adding “gate” to every trivial scandal seem cool.
It isn’t cool, by the way. It is really quite silly. Watergate wasn’t a “gate” about water. Every knows — or should know — that the Watergate Office Complex was where the famous “third-rate burglary” occurred that ended up pulling back the curtain on a criminal President.
Thus, calling something Troopergate or Inflategate or anything gate is silly.
Bernstein even had a laugh about that phenomenon when he was taking questions after giving a speech at the annual banquet of the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists Saturday night.
Listening to Bernstein, he wouldn’t classify himself as a legend. Sure, he has won a Pulitzer Prize and been portrayed in movies by Dustin Hoffman, but he was just doing his job. It just so happened that he did his job very well in an instance where doing your job well could make you one of the most famous journalists in the history of ink on paper.
Bernstein focused on several themes including what news is, delivering “the best obtainable version of the truth” and how the institutions of government actually worked as designed during the Watergate scandal and subsequent investigations.
He pointed out that there was bipartisan support for investigations into the alleged actions of Nixon and “all the President’s men.” He even wondered aloud if that kind of investigation could happen today.
I know the answer to that question — not a chance.
There is absolutely no way in this political climate that any Democrats would ever work with Republicans to investigate or impeach Barack Obama. The Republicans would never do anything of the sort against one of their own either.
We can’t even get hearings held to get a vote on a possible Supreme Court Justice because of the intransigent ideology that exists in those institutions that functioned properly during the Watergate investigation.
Beyond what would be the obvious failings of those in government, the media would fail to work as it did during that investigation more than four decades ago.
Bernstein pointed out that everyone in the Watergate case worked together for the common good. I don’t know if anyone pursues a common good any longer. Every politician, organization and media outlet has its own agenda and no one worries about how those separate agendas affect the common good.
As for the media, Bernstein criticized “the idiot culture” that allows the media to skim the surface of issues and seek salacious details rather than reporting on truly important topics. That is certainly an issue.
Some of that is brought about by the fact that our army of information gatherers at every level and in every medium is shrinking. Some of it is related to the supply and demand economics of the news industry where sex and violence sell. Luckily for those of us in this in this arena, small market newspapers don’t have that same supply and demand equation.
Those two driving forces have combined to create an interesting news cycle. Many people like to bemoan the 24-hour news cycle. It is hard to keep eyes fascinated with news 24-hours a day.
With fewer reporters in the system, there is less information today than there was in the years before the internet, but more consumers have instant access to it.
Because of that, I would argue that there isn’t a 24-hour news cycle. We have a 24-hour pundit cycle. There might only be about an hour’s worth of news every day and much of that is spoon-fed through press conferences or political debates or town hall meetings.
After the news is presented to reporters rather than gathered by reporters, the next 23-hours of the news cycle is spent with commentators reflecting on what happened and what it means.
The news is reported, the first pundits react to the news, the next set of pundits react to the news and the initial reactions and then the prime time talking heads reinterview the subjects and rehash all of the news and commentary from the day.
I hope more people listen to veterans of the craft like Bernstein and actually recommit themselves to finding that “best obtainable version of the truth.”
People make good choices when they are given good information. That is our role. We have to play it.
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at email@example.com.