Bernstein is not new to taking a critical look at the state of American politics, and discussed the state of democracy and journalism in a panel Tuesday night.
FAIRFIELD, Connecticut – Acclaimed journalist and author Carl Bernstein took the stage at Fairfield University Tuesday night to both discuss his new book and offer his thoughts on the state of American democracy.
In his new book, Chasing History, the 79-year-old former journalist describes entering the industry when he was just 16 and becoming a reporter whose work alongside Bob Woodward sparked a government investigation that eventually led to his resignation by former President Richard Nixon.
“Woodward and I, as reporters, have studied Nixon for nearly half a century,” said Bernstein, “in which we believe with great conviction that America would never again have a president who trampled on national interests and successfully undermined democracy.” the bold pursuit of personal and political self-interest… and then along came (former President Donald) Trump.”
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Bernstein, who spent 62 years on a newsroom, recalled his early start as a reporter for The Washington Star, covering President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 candidacy and subsequent years of service.
“[Kennedy] was president at a time when the country and the political system and the judiciary and the Supreme Court were really concerned with America’s problems and America’s opportunities,” Bernstein said, continuing that the national interest is paramount in any conflicting debate stood different.
He added that he didn’t think it was nostalgic to look back on that time and that we were in a better place.
“The common good has been served in this country,” he said, continuing, “Since the end of World War II, we have created the largest meritocracy in the history of the earth, not a plutocracy like the one we have today.”
Bernstein said one of the first things he learned as a young reporter was that “truth isn’t neutral.”
“I think one of the big mistakes we’ve made in journalism over the last half century is the idea that politics and journalism in this country somehow exist outside of the larger culture,” he said.
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The 79-year-old – during a brief question-and-answer session with panelists Phillip Eliasoph, founder of the Open Visions Forum, David Downie, associate professor of political and environmental studies, and Karla Barguiarena, communications professor and former reporter – was asked about his Criticism of local television news.
He said his criticism stemmed in large part from the fact that the growth of television news meant the death of local newspapers.
“These newspapers … were the fabric and glue of towns and cities across the country,” he said, continuing that the newspapers gave people a sense of community, a sense of civic fabric.
“At the same time, there was precious little of that and precious little real news that both serves the community and shares the same values of the best version of truth available on television news in almost every market in this country,” Bernstein added.
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Bernstein said the evening news was known as Lead and Bleed in its day. That the news would start with a car crash and the news would continue from that point.
“How many people here think your local news on TV resembles what’s really going on in your community?”
He went on to say that he didn’t think there was any possibility of change for television news because of the economics behind it. But, he concludes, good stories will always find a way out.
After the event, FOX61 asked Peter Van Heerden, Quick Center’s executive director, why Bernstein was chosen to speak. He said this was partly due to Bernstein’s experience as a journalist, but also because “telling the truth, and honesty and journalism and the search for the truth is something that’s really important to all of us at this moment.”
He added that he enjoys giving these monumental figures spaces to speak to small audiences and become ordinary people.
“There’s that interesting moment of complete honesty,” he said, “where a person is a person no matter how famous or how tall they are…”
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