Woodward and Bernstein Talk Watergate Lessons 50 Years Later

In conversation at NJPAC, the legendary journalists also spoke about Donald Trump and the 2024 presidential election. 

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein spoke at NJPAC ahead of the 50th anniversary of their groundbreaking book, All the President’s Men. Photo: Courtesy of NJPAC

Legendary journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein spoke Thursday evening at NJPAC about the upcoming 50th anniversary of their groundbreaking book, All the President’s Men, the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and the lessons learned from covering one of the biggest scandals to ever rock the White House and country.

In a wide-ranging talk moderated by journalist Jonathan Alter, the former Washington Post reporters also discussed former President Donald Trump, the January 6 U.S. Capitol attack, and the 2024 presidential election.

Woodward, who has written more than 21 books, including a trilogy of nonfiction books about Trump, recounted his interviews with the former president, who he said called him constantly while he was conducting research.

“It was interesting because he was the sitting president,” said Woodward, 80. “And so our phone would ring, and we would think, Is it one of our daughters? Or is it a friend? Is it a robo call? Or is it Donald Trump? Any very often it was Donald Trump. And so it’s a very interesting experience for a reporter to have that kind of phone relationship.”

He also took Trump to task for his failure to adequately respond to the coronavirus that devastated our country.

[RELATED: Journalist Susan Glasser on Trump’s Chaotic Presidency]

“He got a very specific warning from the people who knew the most about it, but he lied and covered it up,” Woodward said. “And in July—so, four months before the reelection—I called him up and I said, ‘Well, things are pretty bad, aren’t they?’ And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, ‘The virus.’ And he said, ‘It’s under control.’ At that point, 140,000 people had died in our country, his country. He was president, and he knew, and he could have issued a warning.”

Bernstein, 79, also spoke about his early start in newspapers working for the Elizabeth Daily Journal as a young reporter. In his second week on the job, his editor suggested he have lunch with the city’s longtime mayor, Tom Dunn. When Bernstein arrived at a local Chinese restaurant called Christine Lee’s, he found himself eating not only with Dunn, but with a group of people that included the infamous mobster Tony Provenzano.

“We did some really terrific reporting there, and I happily won a bunch of prizes for my work. And on the strength of that and my experience, I got hired at the Washington Post,” he says.

But the life-changing experience that bonded these two men together forever was Watergate, which many consider the greatest example of White House reporting on a presidency. And their work eventually took down a president.

“What happened in Watergate was that a criminal president of the United States established this campaign—this huge, vast campaign of political espionage and sabotage to undermine the very basis of American democracy, the electoral system. Sound familiar? Yes,” said Bernstein. “And so what happened? The press did its job to the point where the American people could not ignore the facts in front of them. And gradually, Nixon, who maintained a very, very high favorability polling up until the discovery of his tapes and the Saturday Night Massacre, was forced to resign.”

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