Bob Woodward, who achieved fame with Carl Bernstein for his reporting on the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down Richard Nixon, has a message for reporters who cover every move of the Trump administration as if it were the mother of all scandals:
“We are not at the Watergate level yet by any means.”
In a short video recorded for The Atlantic, the longtime Washington Post reporter and associate editor advised his fellow journalists to tread carefully when it comes to impeachment talk. While much of the news media seem to be salivating at the prospect of Donald Trump getting booted from office over some as-yet unproven collusion with the Russians during the 2016 election, Woodward suggested that the country would be better served if they took a step back.
“We need to calm it down and listen more,” he said. “Be on the surface respectful, but never stop the inquiry.”
Woodward went on to say that the President Trump also doesn’t do himself any favors when he goes after the media for the way they cover him.
“Trump has an approach avoidance toward the media,” he said, “criticizes, calls us fake. I think it serves no one, the media or Trump, to have a thermonuclear war with each other.”
Woodward is indeed correct here–and in this age of obvious bias, when it seems like the mainstream media aren’t even bothering to hide it anymore, his statements are practically revolutionary. Then again, Woodward came up in the news business at a time when objectivity was held as the highest standard. Reporters didn’t always reach it, but they were at least expected to pay lip-service to the ideal, and editors could be counted on to reel in the worst impulses of their people. These days, everybody would rather be a pundit–and the quality of journalism, not to mention America’s trust in the institution, has suffered as a result.
As to whether President Trump should declare a cease-fire with the media, I think that would be tremendously helpful–but it also depends upon the media’s willingness to make the first move. Managing editors really need to take a hard look at their practices, and start cracking down on reporters who report rumor as fact and believe anything an anonymous source says because it feeds their confirmation bias. So long as nobody gets punished for getting the story spectacularly wrong, again and again, the problem will continue–and the administration will have no incentive to seek peace.
If that sounds like a tall order, it is. There’s a real institutional rot at the heart of journalism, one that’s been allowed to fester for a very long time. In that respect, it’s not so different from the kind of corruption that has plagued Washington for so many years, and eroded Americans’ trust in their own government. That the news media have no credibility to report on it, however, is a failure of their own making.