CNN airs “Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal” at 9 and 10 p.m. on Sunday.
When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published their groundbreaking Watergate reporting that led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon in 1974, the duo thought he would be the last president to openly defy the Constitution and the law.
“And then, as we say, along came Trump,” Woodward said on “Reliable Sources” Sunday.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break in, after which a younger Woodward and Bernstein published a series of investigative stories in The Washington Post, the journalists have penned a new foreword to their book “All the President’s Men.”
“If you want a description of what brought Nixon and the Nixon presidency down, it is this hate and poison that was in his administration,” Woodward said. “And we now see (it) in our politics.”
Woodward recalled interviewing former President Donald Trump right before the 2020 election, while Trump was watching a taped recording of his recent State of the Union address.
“He said, ‘see the hate, see the hate,’ when people were just sitting there listening,” Woodward recalled Trump saying. “Hate is something we need to divest ourselves [from] as individuals and as a political system.”
Bernstein said the level of criminality in Trump’s White House perhaps exceeded Nixon’s. And 50 years later, he never thought he’d be reporting on another president who so abused the office.
“Trump goes to be the first seditious President of the United States, not just a criminal president like Nixon,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein saw other similarities between the two former presidents.
“Both their crimes began with undermining the most basic element of democracy” Bernstein said, “free and fair elections.”
Advice for today’s journalists
When Nixon resigned in 1974, the reporting duo received a personal note from their publisher at the Washington Post, Katherine Graham.
“Don’t start thinking too highly of yourselves. You did some of the stories fine. But I want to give you some advice,” Woodward quoted his former boss.
“Beware of demon pomposity,” Graham wrote, and five decades later, Woodward said that is advice today’s journalists should still heed.
Bernstein added that reporters today should adhere to a simple phrase he and Woodward relied on in the course of their investigation, which is to find, “the best obtainable version of the truth.”
“It involves perseverance,” Bernstein said. “Being a good listener, and the most important decision that reporters and editors make: what is news?”