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  • John Slaga

Bernstein and Woodward: A Case Study in Digging Deeper

How two journalists and their commitment to ethics changed the political landscape of America.


By; John Slaga


If there is one thing that is desperately needed in the media today, it is adherence to traditional journalistic values. Among these are integrity, determination and the ability to seek facts without personal bias. To me, there are few that can serve as an example of these features better than Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.


I chose these two reporters as the source of my inspiration in journalism because of the impact that they made on the nation through their reporting and at such a young age. What started as a simple investigation into an act of vandalism evolved into a political scandal that led to the single instance of a presidential resignation in the history of our country. I find it incredibly admirable that Woodward and Bernstein’s dedication to the story led to drastic change within our nation. I also feel that the media of today could learn a lesson about just how impactful their work can be if they follow the right leads, and act in an ethical manner.



No Story Too Small


Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during their tenure at the Washington Post
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) during their tenure at the Washington Post

Perhaps the most endearing part of the Watergate scandal story is that it started as what many considered to be an insignificant event. While the story of the break-in at the Watergate complex appeared on the front page of the Washington Post the day after it happened, many in the media laughed it off as the “Watergate Caper”. White House Press Secretary, Ronald Ziegler, would later apologize to Woodward and Bernstein for calling their article in the Post a “third-rate burglary”. It was persistence and dedication to investigative journalism that kept the story alive. Had Bernstein and Woodward caved to pressure from their own colleagues, the public or the government, the breadcrumbs connecting the Nixon administration and the Watergate break-in might never have been uncovered.



Utilizing and Protecting Assets


Vanity Fair article where Mark Felt, AKA “Deep Throat”, exposes his own identity.
Vanity Fair article where Mark Felt, AKA “Deep Throat”, exposes his own identity.

Because of the incendiary nature of the Watergate scandal and its proximity to the most powerful political office in the world, Woodward and Bernstein were extremely protective of their confidential source for the information they received. They nicknamed this source “Deep Throat,” which is widely associated with the Watergate scandal today. Many in the media at the time attacked the two journalists for relying so heavily on one source. They asserted that the pair of journalists could easily be falsifying evidence. It was through “Deep Throat” that the duo was able to uncover important links between the President and the bad actors that were responsible for the break-in including checks, and proof that the incident was part of a larger spying operation conducted by Nixon’s reelection campaign.


Then and certainly today, there is still much debate about whether confidential informants are ethically viable due to their hidden identities. Woodward and Bernstein were successful at concealing the identity of their informant until 2005 when he outed himself due to the public. This was later confirmed by both Woodward and Bernstein. The duo said they were simply following journalistic protocol by protecting the identity of their informant. Journalists today can see this as a lesson in what can be accomplished when one keeps their word.



Role models for the modern-day journalist


The greatest impact of the investigative reporting conducted by Bernstein and Woodward would be the lasting impact that their work has had on the industry today. There are several examples of journalists violating simple ethical guidelines during the course of their reporting. This unfortunately is an issue on both sides of the political aisle. While Bernstein and Woodward’s adherence to the core values of impartiality and confidentiality seem elementary, it is one of the reasons that their work is seen as an example of groundbreaking investigative reporting. A recent Gallup poll indicates that Americans trust the mass media far less than they ever have. There are many factors at play into this sentiment, but lapses in moral and ethical behavior are some of them.


After closely examining the works of Woodward and Bernstein, I feel as if I have a sense of purpose with everything that I am working on. Surely it is silly to equate segmenting the target market for a junk business to investigating and ultimately exposing corruption within the presidency of the United States. However, the determination to pull at threads until the truth is uncovered is certainly one that can be applied to countless situations. On top of the tenacity of these young reporters, it is also admirable to contemplate how they acted ethically and did not waiver in the face of the media or the government when asked to expose their confidential source. This trust allowed their reporting to assist in the investigation of the Nixon administration that ultimately led to his resignation, and arguably, a large shift in the landscape of American politics. Their impact will live on through the journalists that they have inspired, and I hope to be one of them.



About the Author

My name is John Slaga, and I am a senior at the University of North Texas. I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in marketing. I have been a resident of Denton County my entire life and take every chance that I get to interact with my community that I get.









Sources

Bush, Daniel. “The Complete Watergate Timeline (It Took Longer than You Realize).” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 30 May 2017, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/complete-watergate-timeline-took-longer-realize.

Fisher, Marc. “Watergate at 40: The Long Shadow of the ‘National Nightmare’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 June 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/watergate/.

Goodman, Peter. “Fox News Hosts' Jan. 6 Texts Lacks Journalistic Integrity.” MSN, Las Cruces Sun-News, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/fox-news-hosts-jan-6-texts-lack-journalistic-integrity/ar-AARXCc7

“Jonathan Freedland: Deep Throat's Big Impact.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Dec. 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/dec/19/watergate-usa-mark-felt.

Michael. “CNN Fires Chris Cuomo amid Inquiry into His Efforts to Aid His Brother.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Dec. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/04/business/media/chris-cuomo-fired-cnn.html.

O’Connor, John D. “W. Mark Felt Reveals Himself as Deep Throat, Ends Years of Post-Watergate Speculation.” Vanity Fair, 17 Oct. 2006, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/politics/2005/07/deepthroat200507