Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Watergate's 35th Anniversary: Would That Story Have Been Broken Today?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Watergate's 35th Anniversary: Would That Story Have Been Broken Today?

Article excerpt

Sunday will be a memorable day for me, for two reasons. Yes, it is Fathers Day and a reminder of the joy my two children have brought to my life, not to mention some likely breakfast in bed.

But just as significant in my life, and that of many other reporters is that it's also the 35th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Even though I was no more than six years old at the time that the five burglars broke into the Democratic National Headquarters in that Washington hotel and office building, the impact it had on me was strong.

As I grew older and became almost obsessed with the break-in and subsequent investigations, trials, and finally resignation of Richard Nixon, I also marveled at the way two reporters from The Washington Post had broken the story of Nixon administration ties to the crime, and later his criminal cover-up. As interesting to me, and probably thousands of other young journalists, was the way Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and many others at the Post meticulously investigated the administrative crimes, using old-fashioned "shoe-leather" reporting, sources, and digging up information.

As any readers of "All The President's Men" know, it took Woodward and Bernstein, as well as others who broke elements of the story, hundreds of boring hours poring over documents, transcripts and finding often-reluctant interviewees to track down the stories. When the Pulitzer Prize went to the paper in 1973, it was not for any "gotcha" interviews, opinion-laden blog postings, or cable gasbag arguments over guilt, innocence or constitutional abuse.

These reporters used the journalistic basics that I, and all other seasoned reporters, would learn and hopefully practice during our careers. Taking time to find out what happened, why, and what it meant. They also did much of their reporting through anonymous sources, with little if any real threat of jail time or court subpoenas.

Yes, subpoenas were threatened and even served on the Post journalists, but no one ended up in a Judith Miller-style court appearance, or jail time, and likely would not have given the way reporters were treated then.

If Watergate had broken today, chances are someone would have posted a news story with inaccurate information too early, or the in-depth reporting needed might have been neglected in favor of quicker, more immediate, and more broad-interest scoops. …

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