RALEIGH — The Watergate investigation that brought down President Richard Nixon was the product of an earlier era, when Congress could put its trust in a country lawyer from North Carolina and when the nation was not so polarized that it couldnt agree on basic facts.
Those were among the observations Thursday night by journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who spoke to about 400 people at the Fletcher Opera Theater as part of the N.C. History Museums ongoing programs and exhibitions marking the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal and hearings. Tickets for the event were $35 to $50.
Woodward and Bernstein, while reporting for The Washington Post, became the most famous journalists of their generation because of their investigation of the Watergate scandal a rubric that covers numerous break-ins, buggings and political sabotage that resulted in 43 people, many of them top Nixon administration officials, going to prison.
Watergate really means a criminal president of the United States who presided over a criminal conspiracy for virtually the whole of his presidency, Bernstein said. Watergate was not just a break-in. Rather it was a massive campaign of sabotage to undermine the process of free elections in this country.
As part of that campaign, Bernstein said, the Nixon presidential campaign helped engineer the defeat of Sen. Ed Muskie in order to get the Democratic opponent that it wanted in 1972 Sen. George McGovern.
The best explanation for Nixons maneuverings, Woodward said, was stated by North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin Jr., a Democrat, who called it a lust for power.
Woodward noted that the Senate voted 77-0 to create a committee to investigate the Watergate scandal and to name Ervin to chair it.
Today, you could never get anything like that through the Senate and the House, Woodward said. Bernstein said it showed the respect for Ervin as a constitutional expert that crossed party lines.
It was eventually the loss of Republican congressional support, Woodward said, that lead to Nixons resignation.
Bernstein said today we have dysfunctional politics that is infinitely worse than it was during Watergate and would have made the Woodward/Bernstein investigation more difficult. He said many people are no longer searching for agreed upon knowable facts, but information that reinforces their own views.
Christensen: 919-829-4532; Twitter: @oldpolhack