In 2015, I travelled to Sweden for an event with former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. It was billed as a conversation about modern journalism between the reporter who had broken the biggest story of the prior generation (Watergate) and the one responsible for the biggest story of the current one (NSA/Snowden revelations).
A couple of years earlier, at the height of the Snowden reporting, Bernstein and I had traded some barbed insults through the media. So before traveling to Sweden, he generously reached out to invite me to dinner in order, essentially, to clear the air so that we could have a civil conversation. The night before the event, we met for dinner at the hotel restaurant. We quickly laughed off the acrimony — it had been a couple of years prior, and both of us have had much worse said about us — and proceeded to have a perfectly enjoyable conversation.
Truth be told, I was excited to meet and talk to Bernstein. Though his Trump-era persona became conventionally fixated on melodramatizing Trump’s evils for CNN, at the time Bernstein for me was most associated with the high investigative drama of Watergate. As a kid, it was that journalistic triumph, along with the Pentagon Papers, that captured my obsessive attention and shaped my views of what journalism is: reporters and whistleblowers who risk everything and face various multi-level dangers to confront and expose corruption by the most powerful actors in society. Throughout pre-adolescence, I spent countless hours reading All the President’s Men and repeatedly watching the excellent 1976 film based on it — in which Bernstein was played by Dustin Hoffman and Bob Woodward played by Robert Redford — and that noble and exciting iconography stayed with me and shaped how I view what journalism should be. It still does.
Our two-hour conversation that night covered many topics, but one comment from Bernstein stayed with me. “I know you likely already know this,” he said, “but a story like the NSA reporting you’re doing is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so make sure to enjoy it while it lasts.”
But just a few years later in 2019, on Mother’s Day in Brazil, a series of events began that proved his prediction quite wrong.