PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post reporter who shared a Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward for their reporting on Watergate in the 1970s, still has plenty of presidential probing going on in his notebook.
Bernstein, speaking Thursday in South Florida, talked about a number of newsworthy topics and didn’t hold back on his notion that both the public and the press have a joint responsibility for holding presidents accountable.
Bernstein was one of four reporters whose byline appeared on a CNN story this week that reported President Barack Obama and Donald Trump were presented with classified documents last week that contained allegations Russian operatives had compromising personal and financial information about the president-elect. Some memos were in circulation this summer.
"We need to find out what is happening and what has happened," he told a room full of people in La Posada, a senior living community in Palm Beach Gardens.
Trump quickly pushed back against CNN’s reporting on Twitter. He initially responded with a tweet that accused CNN of reporting "Fake News" and held a news conference Wednesday vehemently denying the allegations.
Intelligence officials said a two-page synopsis outlining the allegations for Trump and Obama was to demonstrate Russia possessed potentially damaging information about both parties but only released that which was harming to Democrats, CNN reported.
Bernstein drew a comparison between former President Richard Nixon’s intent to sabotage the Democrats, disrupting the 1972 election, and "what the Russians seem to have done in this election cycle."
"I think this is maybe the darkest, most dangerous moment in our history in a long time," he said.
He said both journalists and consumers need to seek the public good — which has been relegated to an "almost quaint notion" — and the best attainable version of the truth. Reporters need to do so without getting thrown off by ephemera, "fancy" items on stage or threats to go to a lawyer's office, he said.
Any presidential administration needs to be held accountable for its commitment, or lack thereof, to the public good, Bernstein said.
"Unfortunately, we’re coming to this task way too late in this election cycle, long after the field of candidates was winnowed," he said.
Bernstein scoffed at Trump's notion that handing control of his business interests to his adult sons and daughter would completely isolate him.
He used the famous catch phrase "follow the money" that was attributed to Deep Throat, the informant who played a huge role in pointing Woodward and Bernstein toward uncovering the truth in the Watergate scandal.
"We need to find out what’s in the envelopes. We need to follow the money," he said of the numerous files that Trump pointed to at his Wednesday news conference. Trump said the files are evidence that he is officially turning over control to his children.
The amount of free airtime accorded to Trump when there was still a wide field of Republican candidates in the primary, "the choice of covering the circus," was an abdication of responsibility by the media, Bernstein said.
Bernstein said he hopes Trump will abandon his demagoguery but credited him for recognizing the stagnant wages and struggles of working class people that seemed forgotten by Democrats.
"Democrats appeared brain dead, except for Bernie Sanders, whose campaign seemed one-dimensional, or two-dimensional," he said of the 2016 election cycle.
As for the public, Bernstein said people are disinterested in anything resembling the best version of the truth.
"People are looking for information to reinforce what they already believe," he said. "We saw it in both sides of this election."
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