Watergate: A Milestone in Journalism

fbbd224128a03b0656f29010__aa240__lBy Jade Taenzler

There can be no doubt – the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal still stands as one of the most dramatic triumphs in the history of American journalism. The Post and its two legendary reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, showed determination in pursuing a difficult and controversial story that many other reporters believed was only a replay of the same old articles about dirty campaigning. Even if they were not highly enthusiastic about the Watergate story at first, they were tenacious in discovering new relevant facts, in tracing down sources and in working their way into the story. Even today, Watergate still reflects the value of hard work and determination in journalism. It still teaches sourcing, how to verify information and what it means to get the story right.

One of the best examples for how Watergate exhibited the core journalistic values and used essential journalistic tools is the compilation of sources, investigative efforts and actions in the book “All The President’s Men” itself. The book describes step by step the revelations and pieces that Woodward and Bernstein put together in the Watergate ‘puzzle’: Through revealing most of their work strategies and through naming many of their sources, the book makes the two reporter’s work transparent. It displays how Bernstein and Woodward stuck to one of the journalistic core values, namely being accurate. In fact, they were accurate in all their investigations, except for the Hugh Sloan error, and their investigative efforts can be reconstructed.

Another very good example of the core values of journalism are the steps that Woodward and Bernstein took that led them to the Kenneth H. Dahlberg check, the slush fund and the President Richard Nixon connection. They stayed in late, worked extra hours, and did not give up on their lead but kept pursuing. Woodward tenaciously kept calling the General Accounting Office investigator every day to learn how the audit was going. By being curious and perseverant, but responsible and patient at the same time, he made the investigator tell him after several phone calls that the fund, which totaled at least $100.000, included the money from Barker’s bank account obtained from Dahlberg’s check. He was empathetic to the investigator and kept calling him, and he respected his’ integrity despite using him for his cause.

Bernstein also traveled to Miami to see investigator Martin Dardis, who had launched an investigation since most of the Watergate burglars were from Miami. Dardis showed Bernstein a copy of a check for $25,000 that had been deposited into the bank account of Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate burglars. The check was made out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg. Through the help of a librarian, Bernstein and Woodward discovered that Dahlberg was the chairman for the Committee to Re-elect the President. They also found out that the $25,000 came from Dwayne Andreas, chief executive officer of Archer Daniels Midland, as an anonymous donation to the Nixon campaign. Therefore, finding Dahlberg’s check was a turning point in the Watergate investigation: It led to the discovery of how the burglars were financed.

Woodward and Bernstein succeeded because of their and their editor’s as well as their publisher’s willingness to stick with the story. In my opinion, the Dahlberg episode illustrates in the most profound way why perseverance, a passion for the story you are working on and curiosity are the core values and tools of journalism.

Stories like Watergate never write themselves – they are the result of journalistic integrity, passion and hard work. Bernstein and Woodward were courageous and driven, worked as a team and fact-checked each other. They listened and asked questions, they went out into the field all day, and often all night. And they kept their source’s integrity – in the case of ‘Deep Throat’ until Mark Felt outed himself. ‘Deep Throat’ alias Felt played a crucial role in feeding them information about the Nixon administration’s efforts to hide its involvement in the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters and the resulting illegal cover-up. In return for inside-information, Bernstein and Woodward agreed on keeping the identity of their source secret until the person dies. In fact, they did not break that agreement until Mark Felt revealed himself.

< Journalists have a responsibility to lead – to uncover things that are important and new and that change community paradigms. Curiosity, accuracy, responsibility, perseverance and passion – Woodward and Bernstein definitely lived up to these journalistic standards.