From Watergate to What’s Next?: Carl Bernstein Speaks

This past Friday I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Carl Bernstein, the journalist who broke the Watergate story and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “All the President’s Men”, speak at my local library. As you might imagine, it was fascinating.

What were some highlights?

One early, favorite point was his remark, “In 57 years I have never followed a story that ended up where I thought it was going.”

This idea seems important to keep in mind while listening to others’ speak in any situation: an easy way to keep our brain from putting words in other people’s mouths.

Another, frequent point he made was that—in these days when reporting often comes with an editorial bias—it is important for everyone to seek, “The best obtainable version of the truth.”

The best obtainable version.

I emphasize that as it led to an interesting conversation when we got home about the distinction between the best “attainable” version and the best “obtainable” version. And while I don’t know Mr. Bernstein’s exact thinking* (and the dictionary takes you down a primrose path of possibilities) to me, something you attain is something you reach for but something you obtain is immediately graspable….and that seems particularly important when speaking about truth.

Finally, Mr. Bernstein closed with the one prescription he might offer our increasingly divided society. (Spoiler alert: I LOVE THIS**) He said that, in his opinion, the best way to bring America back together was to reinstitute compulsory service among our young people. Not necessarily in our Armed Forces—people could enter teaching programs, the Coast Guard, our National Park service—but that these shared experiences were a way for us all to begin to recognize our shared humanity.

* Because we were asked not to record his talk this post relies on notes I took while he was speaking. In other words, any inaccuracies are mine alone.

** Before telling us this, Mr. Bernstein asked if anyone in the audience had been in the Armed Forces and I was proud to be sitting between these two gentleman: my husband Keith, a former officer in the Air Force and my nephew, Andrew, an officer in the Navy— both excellent examples of humanity!