Carl Bernstein, currently a Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair Magazine, is best known as half of Woodward & Bernstein, the pair of Washington Post investigative reporters who broke the Watergate story that led to Republican President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in 1974. For this reporting he shared a 1973 Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward.
Bernstein was born in February 1944, the son of a radical labor union lawyer and activist mother. Both his parents were secret members of the Communist Party USA.
In 1966 Bernstein was hired by the Washington Post to cover police, court and city hall beats. In June 1972 one of the Post Metro Division’s newest reporters, Bob Woodward, was assigned to cover a petty burglary of the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate complex. After doing a sidebar piece to Woodward’s story, Bernstein persuaded editors to assign him to cover it as well. The two reporters used unnamed sources — most notably former FBI agent Mark Felt (who was code-named “Deep Throat”) — and confidential telephone and credit card records to link the arrested burglars to the Committee to Re-elect the President [Nixon].
During the 1972 presidential election season, and then into the fall and winter of 1972-73, Bernstein and Woodward, with the approval of Post editors, investigated the burglars’ connections to President Nixon. In their eagerness to bring down Nixon, Bernstein and Woodward transgressed ethical and legal lines — talking privately with members of a Grand Jury, making a false report of what had been testified before a Grand Jury, and leaking confidential congressional information.
“The reporters [Bernstein and Woodward] apparently believed the government was so corrupted by the President’s power that the press could justify morally dubious means to right the balance,” wrote liberal historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
In his book Chief Counsel, Samuel Dash, the Democratic Counsel to the Senate Select Committee chaired by Senator Sam Ervin that investigated Watergate-related issues, wrote that Bernstein’s and Woodward’s reporting degenerated into what he called “hit and run” journalism based on committee leaks that jeopardized the legal system’s ability to convict and punish the guilty.
Because of Bernstein’s and Woodward’s Washington Post reports, coupled with a concerted effort by congressional Democrats led by Edward Kennedy and the establishment media to topple Nixon, the President resigned on August 9, 1974.
Soon thereafter, Bernstein co-authored two books with Woodward. The first of these, All the President’s Men (1974), gave details about how the reporters had covered the Watergate scandal. The latter, Final Days (1976) focused on the last few months of the Nixon presidency.
“A case can be made that [Bernstein] should have disclosed the conflict of interest he brought to his Watergate exposes,” wrote New York media consultant Sidney Goldberg in 2003. “After all, he was brought up as a Nixon hater and readers might have been told that his family regarded Nixon as vile, as an enemy.”
Bernstein’s animus for Nixon is beyond dispute. He has written that anti-Communists such as Nixon and Joseph McCarthy unleashed a “reign of terror” in America. Yet he has always maintained that his motivation in pursuing Nixon was purely journalistic.
Bernstein also has said that growing up under the influence of his parents’ Communist values “has informed my beliefs about what is important.” Apart from his parents, one of Bernstein’s most admired role models is the radical journalist I.F. Stone.
Bernstein left the Washington Post at the end of 1976 to pursue other career opportunities. He worked for a time as ABC Bureau Chief in Washington, D.C. and later as its correspondent. In 1992, Bernstein was quoted as saying: “The lowest form of popular culture — lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives — has overrun real journalism,” he has said. “Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.”
In 1989 Bernstein authored the 1989 book Loyalties: A Son’s Memoir. Seven years later, he and Marco Politi co-authored His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time. And in 2007 Bernstein published A Woman in Charge, a biography of Hillary Clinton.
Over the years, Bernstein also contributed many articles to such publications as Time, New Republic, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone.
In December 2007 CNN television announced that Bernstein would join its network as an analyst during the upcoming 2008 election season.
One Saturday in February 2012 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Bernstein delivered a speech questioning why the U.S. government continued to list Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK) — a Marxist Islamic sect that had been trying to topple the government of Iran since 1981 — as an officially designated foreign terrorist organization. Paid $12,000 for that appearance, Bernstein told the crowd of approximately 1,500 people that “I come here as an advocate of the best obtainable version of the truth” and as “someone who believes in basic human rights and their inalienable status.” He also stated that if the U.S. State Department “has evidence that the MEK is a terrorist organization, have a show-cause hearing in court, let them prove it.”