I was intrigued by this question that The Washington Post posed on Twitter today: “Could the Web generation uncover a Watergate-type scandal?”
I followed the link and saw that the piece was based on a panel discussion featuring Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They had their doubts:
“Why don’t you say what school it was,” suggested Carl Bernstein, sitting to Woodward’s left in a session titled “Watergate 4.0: How Would the Story Unfold in the Digital Age?”
“Yale,” Woodward said. “He sent the one-page papers that these bright students had written and asked that I’d talk to the class on a speakerphone afterward. So I got them on a Sunday, and I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm, because the students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there.’ ”
“This is Yale,” Bernstein said gravely.
“That somehow the Internet was a magic lantern that lit up all events,” Woodward said. “And they went on to say the political environment would be so different that Nixon wouldn’t be believed, and bloggers and tweeters would be in a lather and Nixon would resign in a week or two weeks after Watergate.”
A small ballroom of journalists — which included The Washington Post’s top brass, past and present — chuckled or scoffed at the scenario…
I also enjoyed the way the piece, written by Dan Zak, characterized the Woodstein legacy:
Tuesday’s panel briefly reunited the pair, whose untangling of the Nixon administration inspired a generation of journalists who have since been laid off or bought out in large numbers. Woodward and Bernstein’s main point was evocative of a previous, plentiful era: Editors gave them the time and encouragement to pursue an intricate, elusive story, they said, and then the rest of the American system (Congress, the judiciary) took over and worked. It was a shining act of democratic teamwork that neither man believes is wholly replicable today — either because news outlets are strapped or gutted, or because the American people have a reduced appetite for ponderous coverage of a not-yet-scandal, or because the current Congress would never act as decisively to investigate a president.
For the record, while I may indeed be one of those “who have since been laid off or bought out in large numbers,” I didn’t get the idea to go into journalism from these two guy — however much their example may have encouraged me. I was already working as a copy boy at The Commercial Appeal when I first heard of them…