One liberal journalist praised another liberal journalist on Monday's CNN Tonight. Former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein appeared along with Dan Rather to discuss the 40th anniversary of Watergate. Host Alisyn Camerota played a 1974 clip of the ex-CBS anchor sparring with Richard Nixon.
After the then-president jokingly asked Rather at a news conference, "Are you running for something," the reporter retorted, "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?" Sitting with Rather, Bernstein marveled, "How did you come up with that? Do you have any idea what clicked in your mind?" The Post journalist continued, enthusing, "It was so brilliant, such a great comment." An irony-free Rather, who left CBS in disgrace for using fake documents, said with of the Nixon question: "And I have no -- plenty of regrets, but not about that." [MP3 audio here.]
The two newsmen now have a cinematic connection. Bernstein and his colleague Bob Woodward were portrayed by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in 1976's All the President's Men. Rather will be played by Redford in an upcoming biography on the journalist's expulsion from CBS.
In an earlier part of the segment, Bernstein defended Obama's relationship with Israel:
CARL BERNSTEIN: Every American president has struggled mightily. Clinton did particularly well, almost got a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Arafat backed out at the last moment. But every President has tried, and Obama has been very unfairly tagged as anti-Israel or somehow anti-Semitic, which is outrageous. There's a question of trying to balance to push the Israelis toward recognizing now and moving toward a two-state solution on the West Bank which is, we need in the world, a Palestinian state on the West Bank. But we need Israel's security guaranteed. And it's eluded everybody.
A partial transcript of the August 4 CNN Tonight segment is below:
CARL BERNSTEIN: Well, Harry Truman did the most courageous thing, which is he fought to recognize the state of Israel, having the United States recognize this new state in 1948, and it's made all the difference in Israel's existence. Every American president has struggled mightily. Clinton did particularly well. Almost got a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Arafat backed out at the last moment. But every President has tried, and Obama has been very unfairly tagged as anti-Israel or somehow anti-Semitic, which is outrageous. There's a question of trying to balance to push the Israelis toward recognizing now and moving toward a two-state solution on the West Bank which is, we need in the world, a Palestinian state on the West Bank. But we need Israel's security guaranteed. And it's eluded everybody.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: All right. Let's cast our memories back 40 years to Watergate and that scandal. Carl, can you believe it's been 40 years? And what do you think now in the rearview mirror?
BERNSTEIN: Yes, I believe it's been 40 years. I think what we know now definitively is that the Nixon presidency was far worse than what Bob Woodward and I were reporting at the time. It was a criminal presidency from the beginning, from the first days.
CAMEROTA: What do you mean?
BERNSTEIN: If you listen to these tapes, which really are the story of the Nixon presidency and of Richard Nixon, you hear in the first year, Nixon set up the illegal mechanism by the same people for break- ins, illegal wiretapping, fire bombings. You hear Nixon on tape saying, "Fire bomb the damn place," referring to the -- to the Brookings Institution to get some papers out of there that would reflect badly on his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. This was a criminal presidency. And that's what we see and hear on the tapes. Never, ever do we hear the president of the United States say, "The dog that never barks. What would be right for the United States of America?" It is all about vengeance, revenge, getting back at enemies. And the cover-up is worse than the crime? No, the crime was enormous from beginning to end.
CAMEROTA: Dan, you had a famous exchange. Probably many. But one in particular with President Nixon. Let's watch this.
[Clip from 1974]
RATHER: Dan Rather, CBS News. Mr. President, Mr. President --
RICHARD NIXON: Are you running for something?
RATHER: No, sir, Mr. President, are you?
BERNSTEIN: Can I ask Dan a question?
BERNSTEIN: How did you come up with that? Do you have any idea what clicked in your mind?
RATHER: I have no idea. I didn't have it in my mind.
BERNSTEIN: It's so -- it was so brilliant, such a great comment.
RATHER: Well, you're kind to say that, but I simply want to get on with the question. And I have no -- plenty of regrets, but not about that. But one slight thing I have in my head is, nobody remembers the question. The question was, "Mr. President, how do you reconcile the facts as being turned up by the special prosecutor with what you've been telling the American people," which I thought was an appropriate question. Nobody remembers the question.
But it just -- be had tried for -- this was a technique President Nixon, if he thought you were going to ask a tough question, he tried to throw you a little off balance by saying something. But I do -- while it's very kind of you to remember that, I want to underscore, italicize what Carl said before. So many people, they hear Watergate as a word. Watergate is shorthand for a widespread criminal conspiracy led by the president of the United States himself from the Oval Office. More than -- at least 43 members of his administration were indicted, faced trial and/or served hard time. So this is not an opinion. Just go to the tapes. It's all on the tapes.