Memo Pad: I Am Woman... Watergate Then - And Now

Informal and slightly self-effacing, Rachael Ray's contributions to a Newsweek "Women & Leadership" conference panel earlier this week were flawlessly on-brand...

Woodward's comments came 35 years after the duo broke the June 17, 1972, story about the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at The Watergate Hotel, as he and Bernstein reassessed their efforts before hundreds of journalists and journalism students at the Society of Professional Journalists National Conference in Washington.

"In a way, if you don't make mistakes, you're not doing your job," chimed in Ben Bradlee, former executive editor at the Post, who, like Woodward, was responding to a question posed by CBS newsman Bob Schieffer about the lessons of Watergate.

In a 90-minute exchange moderated by Schieffer, Woodward recounted Jason Robards' initial decline of a $50,000 offer to play Bradlee in the 1976 movie "All the President's Men." The reason? As the film's director, Alan Pakula, told it to Woodward, Robards had protested: "All he does is march around and say, 'Where's the f---ing story?'"

"That's what executive editors do," laughed Bernstein.

(The former Post reporting team did credit others for beating them to various parts of the Watergate tale: Bernstein cited Seymour Hersh's early 1973 New York Times story telling of hush money paid to a Watergate burglar and Woodward noted it was an Associated Press reporter who first reported that James McCord, security director for the Committee for the Re-election of President Nixon, was linked to the break-in.)

What if the Watergate affair had unfolded in 2007? "A big problem today is a dearth of good listeners," Bernstein said of contemporary reporters. "People increasingly say, 'Isn't the story x, y or z?' The truth is you never know where a good story is going to go," continued Bernstein, who earlier had given a thumbs-down to "sensationalism, gossip and manufactured events. (He sensed Watergate would go "somewhere, maybe to the C.I.A. or to Maurice Starts.")

"I'm not sure it would play out as it did then, now," he added. "But I do think the press would do its job." — Valerie Seckler
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