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My encounter with Carl Bernstein

By Sean Smith

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-10-22


October 10th 2007 is a day that I won't soon forget. In fact, I think it's safe to say I won't ever forget that day. Not only did I meet Carl Bernstein that day, but I was put in place by him, as well. And let me tell you, you really haven't lived until you've been put in place by someone who is at the top of his game in your chosen field.

It would be hard to argue against the fact that Bernstein is one of the most respected and revered journalists of the last 30 odd years. After securing his place in history (alongside Bob Woodward) with his work to uncover the Watergate scandal he could have easily disappeared to spend the rest of his life pursuing leisure activities. Instead, he continues to seek out the truth and expose abuses of power. He also chooses to give lectures, which is how our paths crossed. He was in town as part of IPFWs Omnibus Lecture Series.

After circling the lot at least a half dozen times, I finally discovered a parking space and headed toward the CM building on the campus of IPFW. Not wanting to be late for the 3:30 press conference I had decided to arrive at least ten minutes early, but given that I've only walked this campus a handful of times, I suddenly realized I had no idea where anything was and was certain I would show up late. Finally, I found the building and then made my way to the auditorium. I picked out a seat in the first row and waited. 3:30 came and went. Every few minutes I would turn my head and check over my right shoulder to see who was coming through the door. Suddenly, I realized I was getting a pain from constantly doing this, so I turned my neck to the left when who should I see, but Mr. Bernstein himself.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but for some reason he didn't look anything like I had envisioned in my mind. Blame it on those Hollywood films in which Robert Redford and Will Ferrell portrayed him. Blame it on the photo that adorned the lecture invitation. He just didn't look like the Carl Bernstein composite I had grafted in my head. But, he was unmistakably Carl Bernstein. He walked like you would imagine Carl Bernstein would walk. He talked like you would imagine Carl Bernstein would talk. And pretty soon, he was admonishing like you would imagine Carl Bernstein would admonish.

After customary pleasantries, Bernstein asked if everyone present would be attending his lecture later in the evening. Most, including myself, replied in the negative. He quickly pointed out that this was nothing short of preposterous. A journalist shouldn't report on something that hasn't happened yet. How could we talk about something that hadn't yet occurred? Good point. A journalist shouldn't rush in and out of events. As if to prove this point, Bernstein showed up twenty minutes late.

His voice never got loud or angry, it didn't need to. I couldn't help but think this was how an IU basketball player felt while getting an earful from Bobby Knight. This was certainly the closest I would ever come to realizing what poor Bud Fox felt like as Gordon Gekko told him what for.

Part of me agreed completely with what he was saying. Slow down. Take your time. Report the facts and, more importantly, keep reporting the facts. Keep the important stories front and center.

Part of me felt as if there is just no possible way to reverse what's happened within the world of media and reporting. Perhaps Ted Turner should have been present and on hand to account for his twenty-four hour news network that he started all those years ago. You have to fill up those hours somehow and sound bites and stories that are dated as soon as they are reported have long been the norm.

I realize journalists still have a responsibility to seek out stories that have a real impact and to report those stories with integrity. But, doing that in a timely manner is also very important. That's just the world we live in today. There is no denying that.

It all comes down to balance. Reporting with honesty and integrity without sacrificing the story for the sake of speed or sound bites. So, thanks for the reality check Mr. Bernstein. It was a pleasure to be held accountable by you.

Now if I could just get Jonathan Ames to scold me for not being neurotic enough in my writing.

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