“Mr. President, the media is not fake news.”
Bob Woodward has a strong message for President Trump. The reporter whose discoveries, along with those of his reporting partner Carl Bernstein, played an essential role in uncovering President Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal, leading to his subsequent impeachment and resignation in 1974, joined Bernstein to give remarks and present awards at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday night in Washington, D.C.
The iconic reporting duo had much to say about the state of the press under the Trump administration and the unshakable tenets of journalism. Woodward said, “reporting is about human connections, finding the people who know what is hidden, and establishing relationships of trust,” while Bernstein summed up their reporting methodology as “the best attainable version of the truth.”
“It’s a simple concept yet something very difficult to get right because of the enormous amount of effort, thinking, persistence, pushback, removal of ideological baggage, and, for sure, luck that is required,” Bernstein said. “Underlying everything reporters do in pursuing the best attainable version of the truth, whatever our beat or assignment, is the question, ‘What is news? What is it that we believe is important?’”
While he never directly addressed President Trump or the current administration, Bernstein had some reporting advice for today’s White House press corps. “Almost inevitably, unreasonable government secrecy is the enemy and usually the giveaway about what the real story might be,” he said. “And when lying is combined with secrecy, there is usually a pretty good roadmap in front of us. Yes, follow the money, but follow also the lies.”
Woodward reflected on the tenacity and patience that informed his and Bernstein’s reporting, noting that journalists today do not have the necessary luxury of time in the current 24-hour news cycle. “Now in 2017, the impatience and speed of the internet and our own rush can disable and undermine the most important tool of journalism – that method, that luxury of time to inquire, to pursue, to find the real agents of genuine news — witnesses, participants, documents,” he said.
Both Woodward and Bernstein spoke to the essential role of journalists in giving the American people the truth. Tantamount to that pursuit, they both stressed the importance of removing political bias and ideology from reporting. ‘We’re reporters, not judges, not legislators,” said Bernstein. “What the government or citizens or judges do with the information we’ve developed is not our part of the process, nor our objective. Our job is to put the best attainable version of the truth out there. Period. Especially now.”
Woodward shared a similar message, saying, “Journalists should not have a dog in the political fight except to find that best attainable version of the truth. The indispensable centrality of fact-based reporting is careful, scrupulous listening and an open mind. … Whatever the climate, whether the media is revered or reviled, we should and must persist, and I believe we will.”
The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj later paid tribute to the reporters in his own speech, saying, “I want to thank Woodward and Bernstein for inspiring a generation of journalists.”