The crowd fell silent as Carl Bernstein stepped into the floodlights atop the Watergate Hotel with the Potomac River in the background.
Investigative reporters have been striving to get the next “gate” scandal since Bob Woodward and Bernstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation more than four decades ago.
For journalists from the Online News Association, this was a chance to meet a cultural icon at the location he made famous, courtesy of SmartNews, a digital media company that Bernstein would never have imagined existed during the Watergate reporting years.
Speaking to a crowd of his modern-day peers, Bernstein gave his outlook on the evolution of journalism. Here are our takeaways.
1. Carl Bernstein
“It’s clear that something basic is not working in America today, that our system is straining almost to the breaking point both in our journalism and in our politics and in our larger culture,” Bernstein said.
2. All The President’s Men
After the speech and Q & A, Bernstein stepped off the stage and signed a few copies of “All the President’s Men.” The only thing missing was a flower pot with a flag sticking out of it–the method that Bernstein and Woodward’s prime confidential source, Deep Throat (uncovered as FBI associate director Mark Felt after his 2008 death) used to call a meeting.
3. The Rooftop View
ONA attendees stood at the rails and looked out into the views of the Potomac River and the city.
4. An Objective Response
Even in a party atmosphere, journalists conditioned to show no response during a public presentation, carried their lack of reaction with them to Bernstein’s speech. A veteran public speaker, Bernstein seemed surprised not to get the applause that a non-journalist crowd might have given.
With lines that would usually elicit cheers, just a few stragglers responded with tentative claps.
5. The Next Whisky Bar
After Bernstein’s speech, attendees with a more particular taste in liquor sat at the Next Whisky Bar in the lobby of the Watergate Hotel.