More from ‘Frontline’ Interviews: Carl Bernstein on Nixon vs. Bush

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By: E&P Staff

Part one of the new PBS “Frontline” four-page series on the media debuted last night, mainly looking at the Plame affair. As usual, only snippets from dozens of interviews will make it on the air, but PBS.org is helpfully putting complete transcripts of many of the interviews up on its Web site (as we note in a separate article).

Here is a brief excerpt from the interview with Watergate sleuth Carl Bernstein. The interviewer is Lowell Bergman.

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Q. Finally, I just want to get your reflections on the [famously contentious] relationship of Richard Nixon and the press. … How does that compare to George W. Bush and the press?

BERNSTEIN: First, Nixon’s relationship to the press was consistent with his relationship to many institutions and people. He saw himself as a victim. We now understand the psyche of Richard Nixon, that his was a self-destructive act and presidency.

I think what we’re talking about with the Bush administration is a far different matter in which disinformation, misinformation and unwillingness to tell the truth — a willingness to lie both in the Oval Office, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in the office of the vice president, the vice president himself — is something that I have never witnessed before on this scale.

The lying in the Nixon White House had most often to do with covering up Watergate, with the Nixon administration’s illegal activities. Here, in this presidency, there is an unwillingness to be truthful, both contextually and in terms of basic facts that ought to be of great concern to people of all ideologies. …

This president has a record of dishonesty and obfuscation that is Nixonian in character in its willingness to manipulate the press, to manipulate the truth. We have gone to war on the basis of misinformation, disinformation and knowing lies from top to bottom.

That is an astonishing fact. That’s what this story is about: the willingness of the president and the vice president and the people around them to try to undermine people who have effectively opposed them by telling the truth. It happened with [Sen.] John McCain in South Carolina. It happened with [Sen.] John Kerry. It’s happened with [Sen.] Max Cleland in Georgia. It’s happened with many other people. That’s the real story, and that’s the story that [the press] should have been writing. …

It’s very difficult, as a reporter, to get across that when you say, “This is a presidency of great dishonesty,” that this is not a matter of opinion. This is demonstrable fact. If you go back and look at the president’s statements, you look at the statements of the vice president, you look at the statements of Condoleezza Rice, you go through the record, you look at what [counterterrorism expert] Richard Clarke has written, you look at what we know — it’s demonstrable.

It’s fact. Now, how do you quantify it? That’s a different question.

But to me, if there is a great failure by the so-called mainstream press in this presidency, it’s the unwillingness to look at the lies and disinformation and misinformation and add them up and say clearly, “Here’s what they said; here’s what the known facts were,” because when that is done, you then see this isn’t a partisan matter. This is a matter of the truth, particularly about this war. This is a presidency that is not willing to tell the truth very often if it is contrary to its interests. It’s not about ideology from whence I say this.

It’s about being a reporter and saying: “That’s what the story is. Let’s see what they said; let’s see what the facts are.” …


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Related E&P Stories:

Keller on Cutbacks, ‘L.A. Times’ and ‘Panic’ in the Industry

Beyond the ‘Frontline’: A Goldmine of Interviews

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