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Watergate journalists revisit Nixon, government transparency

Journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward addressed the media 5 p.m Oct. 30 in Room 123 inside Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center prior to their lecture “Inside the White House: from Nixon to Obama,” part of Trinity’s 2013 Distinguished Lecture Series. Photo by Lucia Espino

By Alma Linda Manzanares

In observance of the 40th anniversary of Watergate, journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein revisited the political scandal, drawing a crowd of more than 2,000. Tuesday’s lecture, “Inside the White House: From Nixon to Obama,” was part of the Distinguished Lecture Series held at Laurie Auditorium at Trinity University.

Woodward and Bernstein’s investigative reporting on the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post led to the resignation of Nixon in 1974. The duo won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.

Tuesday’s lecture focused on the criminal presidency of Richard Nixon, but discussion with media and audience members focused on parallels between Watergate wiretapping and recent surveillance by the National Security Agency and government transparency.

Following the scandal discussion, a member of the audience asked for comparisons and distinctions between Watergate wiretapping and NSA surveillance.

Bernstein said the break-in and bugging of Watergate was an “NSA-like vacuum cleaning,” to learn everything about the political opposition.

The difference is Watergate was about a criminal president. “What is going on now is about what and how far have the agencies of government gone and have they exceeded their authority. And even if they have, is it right?” Bernstein said.

Woodward agreed, asking if it makes sense for government agencies to have concealed authority.

“What we got here is a whole secret world that was created after 9/11, maybe for good reason, maybe it’s excessive,” Woodward said.

However, he said there has to be some sympathy for the government because if there is a terrorist attack in the near future, people will ask, “What were we doing? Were we doing everything?”

Prior to the lecture, during a media-only session, Woodward and Bernstein addressed differences between Nixon and President Barack Obama, and their perspectives on what they labeled the secrecy and dysfunction of the government.

Woodward said there has been no evidence that the Obama administration is criminal, even though there is “too little transparency and openness in government.”

“People need to know how the government functions and I think in any White House there is an instinctive reaction to conceal,” he said.

Bernstein blamed reasons such as money and politics for a broken Congress.

“It has ceased to do what even the founders, or those who came after them thought the Congress of the United States ought to do,” he said. “I think it has reached a level where there’s no agreement, no consensus of what the nation interest is.”

Woodward disagreed Congress is completely broken, but said next year his perception may change.

“Whether it’s dysfunctional or broken, something isn’t working,” he said.

In politics, Woodward explained there are lots of people who are pursuing a power grab, believing they should not just have, but exercise power.

“What’s missing is you got to compromise in everything. There’s a no compromise attitude and by next year I may agree fully that congress is broken,” he said.

Bernstein gave the example that Republicans handled the government shutdown with a power grab approach over the national interest, adding that the Democratic party “has been brain dead in the congress and unopen to change.”

Woodward said the other issue is Obama has not found a way to lead and solve problems.

Bernstein said while he doesn’t think Obama could have solved the government shutdown, “we’re seeing a lot of evidence that Obama is not good at governing. There are aspects of government that elude him.”

The duo said they would visit these issues during the lecture, but the majority of the lecture focused on sharing what was uncovered during the Watergate scandal.

Journalists Carl Bernstein said the country’s well-being is in danger because of blackmail in american politics, during the media availability 5 p.m. Oct. 30 in Room 126 inside Ruth Taylor Arts Center. Along with Journalist Bob Woodward, Bernstain was a feature speaker during the lecture “Inside the White House: from Nixon to Obama,” as part of Trinity’s 2013 Distinguished Lecture Series. Photo by Lucia Espino

Revisiting Watergate

Sitting side by side before a packed audience, Bernstein said: “Watergate was a brazen and daring assault lead by Richard Nixon himself against the heart of the American democracy: the constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.”

It started with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., in 1972. Five men, sent by the Nixon administration to gather information on Nixon’s political opponents, were arrested.

“The break-in itself in the Democratic headquarters, gumshoeing, burglary, wiretapping, and political sabotage, had become really a way of life in the Nixon White House,” Bernstein said.

Nixon attempted to cover up his involvement until it was confirmed by evidence, leading to his resignation and convictions of dozens of government officials.

‘Five wars of Watergate’

The discussion focused on wars the Nixon administration directed at the anti-Vietnam War movement, the press, the Democrats, justice and history. Woodward and Bernstein called them the ”five wars of Watergate,” which used illegal tactics such as wiretappings, burglary, and blackmail against enemies.

The wars and use of illegal tactics are described in recordings of Nixon in the White House, released through uncovering the scandal.

Woodward described a recording about the war directed at the anti-Vietnam War movement. He said Nixon approved the Houston Plan in 1970, which authorized the CIA, FBI and military intelligence units to intensify efforts against the anti-war movement through electronic surveillance of individuals identified as “domestic security threats,” intercepting mail and lifting restrictions on surreptitious entry.

“What you see is Nixon using the power of the presidency as an instrument of personal revenge,” Woodward said. “The real tragedy of Watergate for the country was the smallness of the vision of the president of the United States. He never said lets fix the things that will matter for real people.”

Journalist Bob Woodward said, to a Room mostly full with journalism students, that it was unfortunate how journalism is disapearing, and it appears to have an unsertain future. The media availability took place at 5 p.m. Oct. 30 in Room 126 inside Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center as part of Trinity’s 2013 Distinguised Lecture Series. Woodward and Journalist Carl Bernstein addresed the public later that day, for their lecture “Inside the White House: From Nixon to Obama.” Photo by Lucia Espino

Nixon’s resignation

Nixon’s resignation was driven by a group of Republicans led by Sen. Barry Goldwater. “Too many lies, too many crimes,” Woodward said, quoting Goldwater.

Woodward said when Nixon left on Aug. 9, 1974, he gave a speech to his staff, friends and Cabinet. “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,” Woodward said, quoting Nixon.

In the end, Nixon realized that hatred drove much of his presidency and brought upon his downfall, Woodward said. “He grasped that the day he resigned but it was too late because he had already destroyed himself,” he said.

About the Author

Alma Linda Manzanares
Alma Linda Manzanares is the Editor-in-Chief for The Mesquite. She is a communications major with a passion for journalism. Alma Linda attended San Antonio College and held four editor positions: Opinion/Calendar Editor, Managing Editor, Editor and Web Editor at The Ranger, the award winning newspaper at SAC. She received her A.A. in Journalism from SAC in May 2013.

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