Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein spoke to the White House Correspondents Association dinner, recalling their most famous story to the press corps gathered as the media is under attack from President Trump and others in the administration.
“The effort today to get this best obtainable version of the truth is largely made in good faith,” Woodward said. “Mr. President, the media is not fake news. Let’s take that off the table going forward.”
Woodward did cite polling showing public distrust of the media, something that Trump himself has cited in his speeches criticizing journalists.
“This is no time for self satisfaction of smugness,” he said, while also noting that late Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee once said that the more aggressive the reporting is, the more offended the public may be.
Bernstein quoted a line from the movie version of “All the President’s Men,” based on their book about their Watergate investigation.
“When lying is combined with secrecy, there is usually a pretty good road map in front of us. Yes, follow the money, but follow the lies,” Bernstein said.
They each talked about their approach to the unfolding story of Watergate, and how persistent shoe-leather reporting and a stream of incremental stories trying to shed light on the truth was essential.
The theme of the dinner — celebrating the First Amendment — was a response to Trump’s attacks on the media, the latest earlier in the evening at a speech in Harrisburg, Pa. That message has always been part of the dinner, but it was accentuated this year.
A video featured past presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama praising the independence of the media and the White House press corps. Historian Michael Beschloss talks about how Richard Nixon hated the dinner — but he came anyway.
The president of the WHCA this year, Jeff Mason of Reuters, drew a standing ovation when he responded to Trump’s attacks on the media. “We are not fake news. We are not failing news organizations. And we are not the enemy of the American people.”
Although he said that press access with Trump has actually been pretty good, he said that efforts to delegitimize journalists are “dangerous to the republic.” He said that “we must remain vigilant. The world is watching.”
Although Trump did not appear, Alec Baldwin as Trump did. In a short clip that played during the dinner, Baldwin looked at the camera and said, “Keep up the good work.”