The Institute of Politics hosted journalist Carl Bernstein at The Revival on Wednesday for a screening of the movie All the President’s Men and a discussion with Director of the IOP David Axelrod (A.B ’76).
Following the movie—which chronicles Bernstein’s investigation of the Watergate scandal with fellow journalist, Bob Woodward—Axelrod asked Bernstein about the parallels between the Nixon era and Trump administration before opening the conversation to audience questions.
Bernstein drew a parallel between the Trump and Nixon administrations, pointing to each administration’s flurry of first amendment activity and distinct dislike of the press.
However, Bernstein emphasized that, while the Nixon administration harshly criticized The Washington Post’s coverage of Watergate, the Trump administration’s attack on news organizations has been more vitriolic.
“Trump has made the conduct of the press the issue: The enemy of the people isn’t ISIS, it’s the press,” he said.
Aside from the differences in the two administrations, Bernstein repeatedly stressed that the White House is a reflection of the country—and the country is a different place than it was in 1973, primarily in terms of changes to the way people get their news and in their decreased openness to “the best attainable version of the truth.”
Bernstein attributed much of this to social media and what he called “thought siloing,” in which people seek to have their opinions reinforced rather than challenged.
“We cannot have a fact-based debate. Richard Nixon lied situationally…. We have a president of the United States who lies about almost anything!” he said.
He also noted that some news organizations on both sides of the aisle are catering to people’s ideological insulation by seeking out news that advances their political goals, rather than publishing the most accurate truth possible.
Bernstein said that this approach is a corruption of journalism’s purpose, contrasting his and Woodward’s thought processes during Watergate with the motives of some of today’s news organizations.
“We saw our job as really trying to figure out what happened…. It’s not the press’ job to get a desirable political result, it’s to get the information out there,” he said.