By Wade Coggeshall
— Two of the country's most famous investigative journalists - responsible for breaking perhaps the biggest political scandal in U.S. history - don't seem to think much progress has been made since.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the featured speakers at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's 23rd annual awards dinner Nov. 1 at the Indiana Convention Center.
The two discussed their part in reporting on the infamous Watergate break-in of 1972 as young reporters for the Washington Post, which ultimately led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. They spoke before a crowd of about 1,400 business, civic, and political leaders.
During a pre-speech question and answer session with the media, Woodward and Bernstein expressed opinions of today's political environment that aren't much more hopeful than they were during Nixon's presidency. Bernstein called the current political climate "ugly," while Woodward noted it's not unusual to see four of five campaign ads in a row on television.
"TV stations are getting rich from all this," he said. "And these ads are mostly negative and always a partial slice of something."
That can make for a cynical society. Perhaps Watergate and scandals like it helped push the populace that way.
"No one really believed what we were writing, even our colleagues," Woodward said of Watergate at the time. "There was a false Nixon presented to the public, and people bought into that."
Of course it would, or should, be tough for anyone to believe that the president of the United States could be behind something like that. Bernstein said it wasn't until they uncovered that Watergate was a massive campaign of political espionage that it began to make sense to them.
"Anything's possible," Woodward said as a sort of summation. "That's what all of this experience of 40 years of trying to understand presidents and other institutions (has been). It stretches your threshold for dealing with the inconceivable."
Bernstein, who now writes for Vanity Fair, and has written several books, believes there's still plenty of good reporting being done. He cited the Boston Globe's investigation of the Catholic Church's sexual misconduct, a cover-up he called "beyond Nixonian."
"There are news institutions that are still around that are committed, even in the face of financial reductions," Bernstein said.
His concern is the "cacophony" of the 24-hour news cycle that's veering from the best obtainable version of the truth to coverage that supports people's pre-conceived prejudices and ideologies.
But to both of them, journalism is still an important and noble profession. Woodward, who continues to work for the Washington Post and also is an author, said if a Martian spent one year on Earth in the United States, then returned to Mars and was asked what the best job was there, it would say journalists.
"We get to make momentary entries into people's lives when they're interesting, then get the hell out when they cease to be interesting," Woodward said.
At the awards dinner, the chamber named Scott Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of ExactTarget in Indianapolis, as its Business Leader of the Year. Rep. Jerry Torr and Sen. Carlin Yoder, who co-authored the right-to-work legislation that became state law, were honored as the Government Leaders of the Year. Indianapolis was named Community of the Year for its successful hosting of the Super Bowl and its cultural and business growth.
Visit the website IndianaChamber.com for more information.