Woodward and Bernstein @The Washington Post (UPI / Bettmann)
"Carl’s a phenomenal jitterbugger. At parties in high school, we danced together. ... if I saw him in the nursing home and somebody put on Bill Haley, we could get up and do it again." Annie Groer, Washington Post reporter
I've led a pretty interesting Been There, Done That life. Ask me to celebrate a "formative political event" and I've got a pretty long menu of choices. I can't cook any of them. But I can offer you some tasty tidbits in another way.
Eat My Words
My experiences, especially with the Great and Near Great, have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime to many fascinating spots in between.
Rebecca Farwell's winning entry "Nixon resigns dinner party" got me thinking of Watergate and the good old days when I knew Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. My story's more about Bernstein, but I'll give you a soupcon of Bob.
In the early to mid 70s, working in journalism and politics, I spent a lot of time in Washington. When in DC I lived with a galpal in her great little Georgetown house. A bit older than I, she'd actually worked in the Watergate during the scandal. And she knew everybody.
A lot of well known journalists and pols were frequent visitors to the House on P Street. (More about some of them another time). A rumpled, hungry, chainsmoking reporter named Carl Bernstein was pretty much living there. He wasn't famous. Yet.
Bob Woodward showed up a few times. Frankly, he was a tightass then, as he gives every indication of being now. Full of his preppy self, oh so serious, thinking Deep Thoughts. Acting like a dork.
Carl, on the other hand, was fun and funny, a party guy, intense and yet full of nonsense -- when he wasn't slaving at the Washington Post trying to make a name for himself.
If you're a Boomer, or, well, have studied any American politics, you know what's coming.
Carl started working more and hanging out less. He and Woodward were onto something big. When Carl fell through the door late at night, he was bursting with stories about break-ins and cover-ups and sleazy wheelings and dealings in the Nixon administration.
We should have paid more attention, but what can I say, we were young and --in retrospect-- as clueless as everybody else about what was happening to our country.
"The burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate were, in effect, breaking into the home of every citizen." Senator Sam Ervin
If you were picking Cheerios off your high chair when the Watergate scandal was tearing the country apart, consider yourself lucky. But don't for a minute think Watergate didn't have an effect on you.
Every scandal that followed has had "Gate" appended to its name. No accident. The events stemming from the Nixon administration-backed break-in and bugging of Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate complex set the scandal bar at an all time high -- or more accurately, low.
Richard Nixon and his evil minions were soulless villains. Hard to say if Bush, Cheney and Co. were better or worse. Both, in their unspeakable arrogance and hubris and paranoia believed themselves to be above the law. And thus justified in hitting America below the belt.
We take political scandals almost too much for granted today. They've always been the dark side of our government's history. From Teapot Dome to Iran Contra to MonicaGate -- our elected leaders have found numerous ways to betray us.
And as is sadly the case in American culture, we vilify the least of them and allow the worst to prosper.
Bill and Monica, a circus of disproportionate outrage masterminded by Republicans of far less than sterling character themselves. And in the end, who got hurt, save the participants' families? Was the Republic in danger? Never.
Watergate, on the other hand, put our liberty, lives and the government itself in jeopardy. Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and The Washington Post exposed a scenario of desperately deep corruption, huge payoffs and serious criminal acts, from the President down.
Highly placed Nixon administration officials went to jail. Nixon himself escaped that penalty only by resigning the Presidency.
Woodward and Bernstein co-authored a best-selling book, All the President's Men which subsequently became a movie. Dustin Hoffman was totally convincing as Carl. It was actually kind of creepy to see a friend portrayed on a movie screen. Even creepier for Carl himself.
The Smothers Brothers
Before the movie and all the hoopla, Carl and Bob crisscrossed the country on book tours. One day Carl came to Philly to flog the book on a nationally syndicated talk show taped locally at KYW TV.
By then I was living in Philly again. I picked him up at the airport and took him to the studio. We were both so excited that The Smothers Brothers were also among the day's guests.
Note to the Cheerios Crowd: The Smothers Brothers were a wildly popular topical comedy team with their own show on CBS. Which CBS cancelled when they got too political. Another story.
Carl, new to the Fame Game, wondered over and over if it would be dorky to ask for their autograph. I urged him to go for it. Over and over. Did I mention his dogged nature? Well, yeah, breaking the Watergate story and all.
Still, he was dorky Carl. Who didn't want to act like a dork. We walked into the Green Room and there they were. The Smothers Brothers.
Carl's sweaty hand grabbed mine as he fumbled for words, clearly star struck.
Tommy Smothers stood up and said, "You're Carl Bernstein."
"Uh, yeah," was Carl's articulate answer.
Tommy picked up a book from the end table. It was, of course, All The President's Men. Sheepishly, he held the book out to Carl. "I hope you don't think this is dorky," Tommy said, "but can I have your autograph?"
Eat those words with a spoon.