Carl Bernstein: A Pioneering Investigative Journalist

4 min

Carl Bernstein

Carl Milton Bernstein, born February 14, 1944, is an American investigative journalist and author who gained prominence for his groundbreaking reporting on the Watergate scandal. Teamed up with Bob Woodward at The Washington Post, their work led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. Esteemed as “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time” by journalism figure Gene Roberts, Bernstein’s career has spanned over five decades. This article delves into the life, achievements, and contributions of Carl Bernstein to the world of journalism.

Early Life and Career

Born in Washington D.C. to a secular Jewish family, Carl Bernstein is the son of civil-rights activists Sylvia (née Walker) and Alfred Bernstein. Both his parents were members of the Communist Party USA in the 1940s. He attended Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he worked as circulation and exchange manager for the school’s newspaper, Silver Chips.

Bernstein’s journalism career commenced at the age of 16 when he became a copyboy for The Washington Star. He quickly moved through the ranks, but the Star unofficially required a college degree to write for the paper. Bernstein attended the University of Maryland, College Park, where he reported for the school’s independent daily, The Diamondback. However, he was dismissed after the fall 1964 semester due to poor grades.

In 1965, Bernstein left the Star to become a full-time reporter for the Elizabeth Daily Journal in New Jersey. During his time there, he won first prize in New Jersey’s press association for investigative reporting, feature writing, and news on a deadline. In 1966, he left New Jersey and began reporting for The Washington Post, where he covered various aspects of local news and became known as one of the paper’s best writing stylists.

Watergate Scandal

In June 1972, Bernstein was assigned, alongside Bob Woodward, to cover a break-in at the Watergate office complex. Five burglars had been caught red-handed in the complex, where the Democratic National Committee had its headquarters; four of them turned out to be ex-CIA agents who did security work for the Republicans. In a series of stories that followed, Bernstein and Woodward connected the burglars to a massive slush fund and a corrupt attorney general, John N. Mitchell.

Bernstein was the first to suspect President Nixon’s involvement and found a laundered check that linked him to the burglary. Bernstein and Woodward’s discoveries led to further investigations of Nixon, and on August 9, 1974, amid hearings by the House Judiciary Committee, Nixon resigned to avoid facing impeachment.

All the President’s Men and The Final Days

In 1974, two years after the Watergate burglary and two months before Nixon resigned, Bernstein and Woodward released the book All the President’s Men, which drew upon their notes and research while writing articles about the scandal for The Washington Post. The book remained on best-seller lists for six months and was later adapted into a movie starring Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Robert Redford as Woodward. The film received multiple Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations.

A follow-up book, The Final Days, was published by Bernstein and Woodward in 1976, chronicling Nixon’s last days in office.

After Watergate

Bernstein left The Washington Post in 1977 and expanded into other areas due to his reputation from the Watergate reporting. He worked as a political commentator at major news networks such as ABC, CNN, and CBS. During this time, he investigated the secret cooperation between the CIA and American media during the Cold War. His research culminated in a 25,000-word article published in Rolling Stone magazine.

He also worked for ABC News between 1980 and 1984, first as the network’s Washington Bureau Chief and then a senior correspondent. In 1982, Bernstein reported for ABC’s Nightline during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, revealing that Ariel Sharon had deceived the cabinet about the real intention of the operation.

Two years after leaving ABC News, Bernstein released the book Loyalties: A Son’s Memoir, revealing that his parents had been members of the Communist Party of America. The assertion shocked some, as even J. Edgar Hoover had tried and failed to prove Bernstein’s parents had been party members.

In 1992, Bernstein wrote a cover story for The New Republic magazine indicting modern journalism for its sensationalism and celebration of gossip over real news. The article was titled “The Idiot Culture”.

Hillary Rodham Clinton Biography

Bernstein’s biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, A Woman In Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, was published by Alfred A. Knopf on June 5, 2007. The book appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for three weeks, and a CBS News end-of-year survey of publishing “hits and misses” placed the book in the “miss” category, implying total sales of approximately 55,000-65,000 copies.

Television Appearances and Newsweek Contributions

Bernstein is a frequent guest and analyst on television news programs and has written articles for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, comparing Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World phone-hacking scandal to Watergate.

In 2012, Carl Bernstein spoke at a rally of People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an opposition Iranian organization that had previously been listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, reportedly receiving payment for his speech.

Personal Life

Carl Bernstein has been married three times: first to fellow Washington Post reporter Carol Honsa; then to writer and director Nora Ephron from 1976 to 1980; and since 2003 to former model Christine Kuehbeck. During his marriage to Ephron, Bernstein had a much-publicized extramarital relationship with Margaret Jay, daughter of British Prime Minister James Callaghan and wife of Peter Jay, then UK ambassador to the United States.

While single in the 1980s, Bernstein dated Bianca Jagger, Martha Stewart, and Elizabeth Taylor, among others.

Portrayals and Differences with Woodward

Bernstein was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film version of All the President’s Men and by Bruce McCulloch in the 1999 comedy film Dick.

Although they worked together to report the Watergate scandal, Bernstein and Woodward had very different personalities and work styles. Bernstein was the big thinker and a strong writer, while Woodward’s strength was in investigation. Their different styles made them a perfect team, as described by Alicia Shepard: “Carl was the big thinker, and Woodward was the one that made sure it got done… [T]hey knew that each of them had strengths that the other didn’t, and they relied on one another.”

Bibliography and Legacy

Carl Bernstein’s contributions to investigative journalism have left a lasting impact on the field. His work has not only exposed the Watergate scandal but also provided insights into various aspects of American politics, media, and society. As a pioneering journalist, Bernstein’s work serves as an inspiration for aspiring investigative reporters and a reminder of the importance of holding power accountable.

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