June 3, 2023

The Commuter goes to Washington

Society of Professional Journalists features Watergate reporters and other top journalists at its 2022 MediaFest

By Kaitlyn Seawood

The Commuter’s deputy editor smiles for a photo with veteran journalist Carl Bernstein. Photo by Thanh-Thanh Nguyen

Journalists from across the country came to Washington, D.C. in late October to attend the annual MediaFest convention hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists.

A select team from The Commuter’s staff had the privilege of attending numerous seminars, including a talk given by the notorious investigative journalists from the Watergate Scandal, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who spoke in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in.

Woodward had not been working as a reporter at The Washington Post for two years when the Watergate break-in occurred. When asked about how they connected on the case, Woodward stated that he had been asleep when his editor at the Post had called him about the breaking news and later went to the courthouse for the arraignment of the five burglars.

“I have never seen a burglar in a business suit,” Woodward said. “In fact, I’ve never seen a well-dressed burglar.”

Bernstein at the time was serving as chief Virginia reporter for the Washington Post. He was working on a story about a candidate who was running for governor of Virginia when suddenly he noticed the commotion around the city desk. After learning the news, Bernstein dropped his candidate story to pursue the Watergate break-in.

Woodward and Bernstein met at the courthouse, where Bernstein began making calls to the burglars’ wives and learned through them that the burglars were associated with the CIA. This was just the beginning to compiling their list of credible sources.

Calling strangers, also known as cold-calling, was the root to developing their sources throughout their investigation. Journalists tend to fear reaching out to people they don’t know, but sometimes it’s where to get the best information.

“Find the people at the lower level who have day-to-day responsibilities,” Woodward said. “That’s exactly what Carl taught me.”

Woodward notes the “Bernstein method:” starting from the bottom and working your way up to obtain better-informed sources. They knocked on doors, called people at all hours of the day and met in questionable places to gain the trust and information needed for their story.  

Woodward and Bernstein reflect on Trump presidency

Woodward and Bernstein reflected on similarities between Nixon’s and Trump’s presidency, comparing the two former presidents by the way they treated the press and media.

“‘Never forget, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it,’” said Woodward, quoting Nixon from December 1972.

As president, Trump’s ignorance and reckless approach to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. Woodward disclosed the fact that Trump had been warned of the virus from his National Security Adviser, Robert O’ Brien.

“It was unimaginable to us that anything could surpass what Nixon had done in terms of criminality, in terms of undermining democratic notions … and then along came Donald Trump,” Bernstein said. “Not just that he was a criminal president, but that he was the first seditious president in our history.”

“There is no real democracy without journalism,”

John Quiñones – aBC news correspondent

MediaFest wraps up with inspirational speeches from top journalists

The following day, MediaFest recognized their 2022 Fellows of the Society: Roland Martin, Bill Whitaker, Jerry Green, Clarissa Ward and ABC News correspondent John Quiñones for their extraordinary contribution to the profession of journalism. The honorees discussed their careers, their views on journalism and perspectives on what the future holds for the profession.

Ward is CNN’s chief international correspondent, known for her in-depth investigations and high-profile assignments. She was unable to attend due to being in Ukraine covering the war against Russia but sent a thoughtful video to display during the conference.

After covering war for the last nearly 20 years, Ward describes how detrimental misinformation and disinformation can be on any society and how difficult it makes journalists able to do their job.

“‘Any society that stops believing in the truth becomes uniquely vulnerable to totalitarianism,’” said Ward, quoting Hannah Ardent.

Quiñones said he always dreamed of pursuing journalism, despite several of his teachers discouraging him against it. Eventually, he met an English teacher who supported his dream.

“There is no real democracy without journalism,” said Quiñones. “It’s the candle in the darkness, especially for those who find themselves marginalized by society. As a journalist it’s vital to not only tell the stories of the movers and shakers of the world, but also shine a light on the moved and the shaken.”

The next MediaFest convention will be held in New York City, March 8-11, 2023.

Contact deputy editor Kaitlyn Seawood at kaitlyn.seawood@nullstudent.northampton.edu.

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