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American Journalism: A Moment of Sadness and Celebration

June 29, 2018

On June 28, 2018, five people died in a shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland.

This news cuts me to the heart, a pain exacerbated by an American president who actively campaigns to paint the press as a public enemy even as he fosters an atmosphere of hatred among his followers.

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Journalists are critical to our democracy; they work long hours, often for modest pay, for the love of informing the public.

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I can identify with that love of researching, and writing, and, finally, delivering my finished report to the public, in my case in the form of a blog post (an effort for which the pay is very modest, I write with a smile).

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America needs its press, and in an effort to process my own sadness over a newsroom shooting, I want to celebrate a great moment in journalistic history: The Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers collection at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Carl Bernstein (L) and Bob Woodward (R)

I learned that in 2003, UT Austin purchased Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s notes for $5M for the papers’ scholarly value, complete with assurances that sources remain protected:

In April 2003, The University of Texas at Austin purchased Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate papers for $5 million. Paid for through private donations, the papers provide students, researchers, legal scholars, political historians, journalists, and the public with unparalleled behind-the-scenes resources to study Watergate, investigative journalism, and the American political process.

Housed at the Harry Ransom Center, the papers will further document the historical record of the Watergate era and support the academic mission of the University of Texas. In addition to providing their primary documents and sources for public availability, Woodward and Bernstein have established a $500,000 endowment to promote the study and use of the papers through academic conferences, lectures, and programs.

Of key importance in opening the papers to the public was the establishment of a system of access that will ensure Woodward and Bernstein’s guarantee of confidentiality to their sources who are still living while maintaining the historical integrity of the papers and ensuring their availability for future disclosure. Towards that objective, files and documents that could reveal the identity of journalistic sources who are still living will remain closed until the death of the individual source, or Woodward and Bernstein’s release.

The two Washington Post journalists who worked on the story, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, did so unrelentingly, as the UT Austin site details:

On June 18, 1972, a Washington Post front page story reported on the previous day’s break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s office in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. Five men were arrested while attempting to photograph documents and place bugging devices in the offices. Two of the reporters who worked on the story, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, spent the following days and months virtually alone among the nation’s media in their efforts to uncover the full extent of what the White House dismissed as a “third-rate burglary,” and others jokingly referred to as “the Watergate caper.”

For several months following the break-in, Woodward and Bernstein repeatedly wrote front page stories exposing links between the burglary and Nixon’s campaign organization, the Committee for the Reelection of the President (CRP). Despite mounting evidence, they were unable to connect the burglars directly to Nixon or his staff until an October 10, 1972 story in which they disclosed in detail that the Watergate break-in was part of a larger effort to sabotage Nixon’s political opponents–paid for through the CRP under the direction of some of Nixon’s closest aides.

After Nixon’s re-election in November 1972, many thought the story would die, but Woodward and Bernstein continued their investigation with increasing competition from other news agencies. A special Senate investigating committee was formed to look into Nixon’s campaign activities, and on April 30, 1973, due to the mounting evidence of their personal involvement, Nixon’s Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst all resigned and Presidential Counsel John Dean was fired. The following day, White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler apologized to Woodward, Bernstein, and The Washington Post for his previous criticism of their stories. Several days later The Washington Post received the Pulitzer Prize for Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate reporting.

The UT Austin site offers some documents for online viewing as well as a catalogue of Woodward and Bernstein’s papers on-site and a means to request viewing the documents on site.

Freedom of the press is an American cornerstone.

Seeing it valued lifts my heart.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

3 Comments
  1. PAmomma permalink

    The shooting was over a longstanding grudge against the paper. Regardless of the shooter’s political affiliations, a man who will stew over a lost defamation lawsuit for over 3 years before acting clearly has some issues. In this case, it is inconsequential who sits in the Oval Office.

    • It is certainly not inconsequential to the hate atmosphere created by Trump, which encourages people like this shooter to act on a years-old grudge.

  2. Christine Langhoff permalink

    While in high school, I worked part time at a direct mail company which had a contract with the Committee for the Reelection of the President. The acronym that was actually used and promoted was not the more benign CRP referred to here but CREEP. Turned out to be accurate.

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