Carl Bernstein (born 1944) and Robert Woodward (born 1943), investigative reporters for the Washington Post, wrote a series of articles about the Watergate scandals that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Carl Bernstein, born on February 14, 1944, in Washington, D.C., began part-time work at the Washington Star at the age of 16 and later dropped out of the University of Maryland to work full-time as a reporter. He joined the Washington Post's metropolitan staff in 1966, specializing in police, court, and city hall assignments, with occasional self-assigned feature stories.
Robert Upshur Woodward, born on March 26, 1943, in Geneva, Illinois, attended Yale University on a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship, after which he served for five years as a naval officer. He joined the Washington Post's metropolitan staff in 1971.
On June 17, 1972, Woodward was assigned to cover a story about an attempted burglary the night before in which five men had been arrested at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex. Woodward was soon joined on the story by Bernstein, and together the two young reporters undertook a series of investigative reports that gradually revealed the connections between the burglary and a converging pattern of crimes that finally implicated President Richard M. Nixon himself, forcing his resignation in the face of otherwise certain impeachment. The burglary was revealed as part of an extensive program of political espionage and sabotage run by Nixon subordinates at the White House and its political campaign organization, the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP, or, as referred to in most later press coverage, CREEP). In addition to the espionage and sabotage, another series of felonies stemmed from the attempt to cover up the earlier crimes by perjury and other obstructions of justice.
Bernstein and Woodward did not, all by themselves, bring about the destruction of the Nixon presidency, but some historians of the period do credit their early investigations with both informing and stimulating the official investigations by a special prosecutor, the courts, the Senate Watergate Committee, and the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives that eventually forced Nixon to resign when it was revealed that he had participated in the cover-up almost from the beginning.
Starting with the Watergate burglars, the two young reporters traced the money used to finance the break-in, following it by October 1972 to John Mitchell, formerly Nixon's attorney general and at the time of the break-in the head of the CRP. Bernstein and Woodward pursued documentary evidence by cross-checking telephone books, airline records, building directories, hotel records, and—in what some claimed were violations of journalistic ethics— confidential credit card and telephone company records. In addition, they tracked down and interviewed a large number of people who gradually revealed various pieces of the puzzle. Their editors at the Post allowed them to keep most of their sources confidential, but demanded that alleged facts be confirmed by more than one witness. This practice was usually followed scrupulously, but broke down when Bernstein and Woodward wrongly claimed that Hugh Sloan, a CRP official, had implicated H. R. "Bob" Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, in testimony before a grand jury. (They later discovered that Sloan meant to communicate to them that Haldeman was guilty, but that Sloan had not said so to the grand jury because he had not been asked.) Woodward relied on one source whom he refused to identify even to his editors except by the code-name "Deep Throat."
From the time of the break-in, and through the fall and winter of 1972-1973, Bernstein and Woodward, under increasing public attack from White House spokesmen, worked virtually alone on the story. In February the U.S. Senate voted seventy to zero to establish a committee of four Democrats and three Republicans to investigate the Watergate affair. Then in March 1973 one of the Watergate burglars, James McCord, a former CIA official, wrote a letter to Judge John Sirica, who was trying his case, that essentially confirmed the Bernstein and Woodward stories. Soon other newspapers began to investigate the Watergate story more energetically, and legislative and judicial agencies began to uncover a larger and larger pattern of lawbreaking. Bernstein and Woodward stayed on the story, though the government agencies they had helped to prod into activity now began to resent their continuing revelations. Samuel Dash, the Democratic counsel to the Senate Select Committee chaired by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, argued in his later book on the Senate investigation, Chief Counsel, that the admirable, early investigative reporting of Bernstein and Woodward had now degenerated into what he called "hit and run" journalism based on leaks from the committee and jeopardized the ability of the legal system to track down and punish the guilty.
But Bernstein and Woodward were already branching out into another form of journalism, having secured a contract to write a book on their Watergate investigations. Published in the late spring of 1974, All the President's Men was an immediate best seller. Whereas the Bernstein and Woodward stories in the Washington Post had consisted of straight investigative reports, All the President's Men told not only the story of Watergate but the story of Woodward and Bernstein. Because of its detail, as well as the crucial importance of the subject they were investigating, All the President's Men has come to be widely regarded as a classic book in the history of American journalism, showing how reporters and corporate news organizations operate under pressure.
Nixon resigned from the presidency on August 9, 1974, after tape recordings that he had ordered made, and then tried to conceal from and deny to investigators, were made public. The tapes incontrovertibly showed that he had participated in an attempt to obstruct justice from as early as six days after the Watergate burglary. Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as president on August 9. (Spiro Agnew, who had been elected as Nixon's vice president in 1968 and 1972, had resigned in October 1973 after pleading no contest to a charge of tax evasion.)
Soon after the Nixon resignation, Bernstein and Woodward began work with a team of researchers on The Final Days, an account of the last months of Nixon's presidency, based on interviews with 394 people. All the President's Men was made into a hit motion picture starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein (1976). Both men continued to work for the Post. Woodward, with Scott Armstrong, wrote a study of the Supreme Court, The Brethren (1979); and Woodward wrote a study of the death by drug overdose of comedian John Belushi, Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi (1984). Nora Ephron's novel Heartburn (1983) caused a minor journalistic sensation with its fictionalized description of her divorce from Bernstein. The five Watergate burglars and several other Nixon subordinates, including former U.S. Attorney General Mitchell, were sentenced to prison terms. On September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for any crimes he might have committed while in office, thereby cutting off further criminal investigation of the former president.
As of 1997 Woodward is an assistant managing editor of the CIA in Veil (1987), the Pentagon and the Gulf War in The Commanders (1991), and the Clinton White House in The Agenda (1994). In The Choice, he uses his proven research methods for an illuminating examination of the quest for the presidency.
Woodward lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Elsa Walsh, a writer for The New Yorker and the author of Divided Lives. His daughter, Tali, attends the University of California at Berkeley.
Further Reading on Woodward and Bernstein
A great many of the participants in the Watergate story have written books about their parts in the events. Bernstein and Woodward's All the President's Men (1974) and The Final Days (1976) capture the excitement of the chase, the enormity of the constitutional crisis, and the agony of the downfall. J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years (1976) is an exciting narrative and analysis by a New York Times reporter that puts Watergate into the context of what the author refers to as "Richard Nixon's abuse of his presidential powers." The End of a Presidency (1974) by the staff of the New York Times provides a useful combination of analysis and chronology with a sampling of the major documents. David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (1979) places the Bernstein and Woodward story into a history of recent American journalism. Richard Nixon's RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978) gives the former president's version of the events surrounding Watergate. See also Myron J. Smith, Watergate: An Annotated Bibliography (1983).Updated information gathered from simonsays.com, an online service.