Bernstein, Carl 1944-

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Bernstein, Carl 1944-


Born February 14, 1944, in Washington, DC; son of Alfred David and Sylvia Bernstein; married Carol Ann Honsa (a reporter), April 28, 1968 (divorced); married Nora Ephron (a writer and editor), April 14, 1976; children: Jacob. Education: Attended University of Maryland, 1961-64. Hobbies and other interests: Bicycling.


Home—Washington, DC. Office—1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005. Agent—David Obst, 525 Madison Ave., Ste. 1614, New York, NY 10022.


Washington Star, Washington, DC, began as copy boy, became city desk clerk, later became telephone dictationist, 1960-63, reporter, 1963-65; Elizabeth Daily Journal, Elizabeth, NJ, reporter and columnist, 1965-66; Washington Post, Washington, DC, reporter, 1966-76; writer, 1976-77; Vanity Fair, New York, NY, contributing editor. Military service: U.S. Army, 1968.


New Jersey Press Association first prize for general reporting, 1966; Drew Pearson Foundation Award, George Polk Memorial Award, Pulitzer Prize, Worth Bingham Prize, Heywood Broun Award, International Newspaper Guild Award, Sidney Hillman Foundation Award, and Sigma Delta Chi Award, all 1973, all for investigative reporting of Watergate scandal.



(With Bob Woodward) All the President's Men, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1974, reprinted, 1999.

(With Bob Woodward) The Final Days, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1976, reprinted, 2005.

Loyalties: A Son's Memoir, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Marco Politi) His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including the New Yorker and Rolling Stone.


At the time Carl Bernstein started working on what would become the most important news story of the decade, he had been on the metropolitan staff of the Washington Post for six years. Bernstein had covered local county and municipal governments, and he liked to write long, colorful pieces about the capital city's people and neighborhoods. He was known around the newsroom as a capable, if undependable, reporter, who frequently went on "all-night prowls" of the city and didn't always bother to call in to the newsroom the next morning. A colleague, Leonard Downie, Jr., characterized him as "an iconoclastic throwback, cast in the reporter-as-social-misfit mold."

Bernstein also had a reputation for maneuvering his way into stories not originally assigned to him. Although he was not assigned to the story of the break-in at the Watergate complex headquarters of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, he wrote a sidebar story about the five burglary suspects to complement Bob Woodward's coverage of the break-in. He then persuaded the Post editors to let him cover leads Woodward was not following.

What at first appeared to be a routine burglary took on added dimensions when the Post reporters learned from a wire story that one of the burglars, James McCord, was the security coordinator for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRP) and that some of the burglars had ties to the CIA. Following other leads, Bernstein traveled to Miami at the end of July and was given a copy of a twenty-five-thousand-dollar check that had been deposited in the bank account of one of the Watergate burglars. The check was traced to CRP's Midwest finance chairman.

Until the August 1, 1972, story about the check appeared under Woodward and Bernstein's joint byline, the reporters had worked independently of each other, establishing their own sources and tips, which they only reluctantly shared. As their mutual distrust decreased, Woodstein (as they were known collectively in the newsroom) discovered advantages in working together. The writing method that evolved from their partnership was that Woodward, who wrote quickly and comprehensively, would write a first draft, and Bernstein would rewrite the draft. As they admitted in All the President's Men: "To those who sat in the newsroom, it was obvious that Woodstein was not always a smoothly operating piece of journalistic machinery. The two fought, often openly. Sometimes they battled for fifteen minutes over a single word or sentence. Nuances were critically important; the emphasis had to be just right. The search for the journalistic mean was frequently conducted at full volume, and it was not uncommon to see one stalk away from the other's desk. Sooner or later (usually later), the story was hammered out."

Finding knowledgeable sources was the reporters' most difficult problem. Woodward and Bernstein quickly learned that people were likely to talk to them when the reporters approached them in their homes after working hours. They spent many evenings ringing doorbells of potential sources, trying to persuade them to be interviewed. Bernstein compared himself and Woodward to "magazine salesmen. For every sale, you had fifty rejects." He explained their strategy to Downie: "People come to perceive you as a friend if you come to see them at their homes. It really involved a different kind of relationship. If you think there is a chance of their agreeing to let you in by prearrangement, you call first. Otherwise, you just go and knock on the door. We went back to several places several times, were thrown out again and again, and then maybe on the fourth time, they will say, ‘Okay, we'll talk to you.’"

Bernstein and Woodward were particularly successful in obtaining information from lower-level employees, who felt freer to talk than did their bosses. One conscience-stricken bookkeeper played an especially prominent part in steering the reporters in the right investigative direction. "Deep Throat" was their most infamous and mysterious source. A highly placed administration official with ties to the CRP, "Deep Throat" was an acquaintance of Woodward's before Watergate. Their clandestine meetings usually took place in the middle of the night in a parking garage. While "Deep Throat" was reluctant to provide primary information, he would often confirm information and would guide the reporters in fruitful directions.

Throughout the investigation, Bernstein and Woodward scrupulously collected information for their stories. While many interviews were conducted on background (the information could not be directly attributed to the source), information was confirmed by at least one other source before it was printed. As the Watergate stories began to implicate officials closer and closer to President Nixon, White House denials became more frequent and more caustic. Woodward and Bernstein were virtually alone in covering Watergate-related stories for almost a year, and they and the Post were often accused of using third-hand information and of practicing shabby journalism, most audibly by presidential press secretary Ronald Ziegler.

Bernstein and Woodward made one major misstep that undermined their credibility. They reported that Hugh Sloan (a former aide to H.R. Haldeman) had testified before the grand jury investigating Watergate that Haldeman was one of five men with control over the secret slush fund that had financed the Watergate break-in and other campaign dirty tricks. Sloan's attorney immediately disclaimed the story, and Ziegler issued a vehement denial.

The reporters were stunned. Because the story implied the president's involvement in the cover-up, the reporters had taken the extra precaution of confirming the information with four sources (including Sloan himself, who was one of their key sources throughout the investigation). Believing that one of their sources had knowingly given them faulty information and that they were therefore entitled to know the truth, they compromised their professional ethics by revealing him to his superior. Later, the reporters learned that although Sloan would have given the grand jury Haldeman's name, he was never asked: the reporters had misunderstood this point.

This was the low point of their Watergate investigation. Sources and new leads had seemingly dried up: no page-one stories under their byline appeared for five weeks. In their desperation, Bernstein and Woodward contacted members of the grand jury in an attempt to get information. While their actions were not specifically illegal, they later admitted that it was decidedly unethical to prod others into breaking the law. An enraged Judge Sirica censured them for their conduct. Bernstein later commented: "I think we were wrong. Period."

In March 1973, a letter from Watergate burglar James McCord to Judge Sirica implicated highly placed administration officials in perjury and use of political pressure, confirming much of what Bernstein and Woodward had written. Other reporters jumped into the Watergate investigation and scrambled with Woodward and Bernstein for scoops. Eventually, they lost the lead in evidence.

When the McCord letter was released by Judge Sirica, Woodward and Bernstein had already written four chapters of the book that was to be the culmination of their Watergate reporting. But rather than rehash events that would be common knowledge by the time the book was published, Woodward suggested that they write about their coverage of Watergate. Bernstein was at first opposed to the idea on the grounds that it would appear to be an "ego trip." But Woodward began a first draft. As Bernstein recounted it: "I looked at it, said, ‘OK, it needs a lot of work, but it seems to me that if we're going to do this, there's only one way….We have to be totally honest about what we did, including the mistakes we made and including the ethical problems that we had to deal with, and didn't always deal with very successfully."

All the President's Men was well received by critics, who praised the book for its fast pace, historical value, and fascinating exposure of the inner workings of a large, metropolitan daily newspaper.

Bernstein and Woodward began their next book, The Final Days, within a week of Nixon's resignation. They had originally planned to write an account of the President's impeachment and trial through the eyes of six senators, but when Nixon's resignation became imminent, "people started telling us a truly incredible story, not just of those last couple of weeks but during the whole period," Bernstein said. They decided instead to chronicle the last fifteen months of Nixon's presidency, from the resignations of his chief aides in April 1973 to his own resignation in August 1974.

The reporters received a year's leave of absence from the Post and immediately began conducting interviews. "We wanted to get to the people quickly, before hindsight changed any perceptions," Bernstein explained to a Publishers Weekly interviewer. They decided to conduct all interviews on background and to corroborate all facts with at least one other source. They collected notes, memoranda, letters, logs, calendars, and diaries, and with the help of two researchers, divided their material into twenty-two "areas of inquiry," which were further divided chronologically into the last one hundred days of the Nixon administration. Each reporter wrote first drafts for separate weeks. Woodward wrote the first half of the final draft and Bernstein wrote the second half.

Even before publication The Final Days had become a media event. Newsweek's two 15,000-word prepublication excerpts (the second of which was the fastest-selling issue in Newsweek's history) evoked accusations of inaccuracy, shoddy methodology, and tastelessness. People who were quoted in the book were among the most vocally critical: Henry Kissinger, for example, complained of the book's "inaccuracies, distortions, and misrepresentations."

Bernstein vehemently defended the accuracy of the accounts. Noting that some sources had told the reporters in advance that they would publicly deny being interviewed, he told a Newsweek reporter: "The fact is that the principals described in this book, the sources of information for this book, and those who are making comments about this book all know the accuracy of this account….As for some statements people have made that they have never said things, in each of those instances we have confirmation of their actual statements by those to whom they spoke at the time—or in some cases from themselves." Most of the statements issued claiming inaccuracy rang hollow, and none of the principals ever successfully refuted that their quotations were substantially inaccurate.

Time addressed Woodward and Bernstein's problem in "where to draw the line of discretion or taste. The fact is that Presidents and other major political figures to some extent forfeit their right to privacy by the career they have chosen. Their state of mind and their morals are subjects of legitimate concern to citizens and hence to journalists, even when the leaders are out of power or dead but especially in the case of a deep national crisis involving a President's character and personality." Bernstein told a reviewer for the Guardian that to omit personal details "would have been a tremendous abrogation of responsibility as reporters. When you start to understand how distant Nixon was from his own family, then it starts to make it more understandable why he was so distant from everything that was happening around him and from his staff. You can't divorce a man's personal life from his public behavior." Bernstein told Time: "I'd be surprised if readers do not find the book not at all sympathetic to the former President of the United States." Controversy was engendered by critics who couldn't decide if the book should be considered journalism or history.

In A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernstein offers readers a tough-minded look at the woman who was once first lady of the United States and went on to have her own political career, first as a senator for New York and then as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. Bernstein begins with Clinton's childhood in an attempt to determine what experiences contributed to the forming of her character. He addresses the issue of her father, who it has been suggested was abusive, despite Clinton's assurances otherwise, as well as the early days of her relationship with Bill Clinton. Bernstein links much of Clinton's personality and behavior to the times in which she grew up, noting that she was a member of a generation in transition, where women were able to aim high and to join the men at Ivy League institutions and illustrious law schools, but at the same time still felt a certain obligation to use their intelligence and their educations to help their equally brilliant husbands to find a firm footing and to achieve their dreams, while the women's own ambitions were either put on the back burner or forgotten entirely.

Bernstein goes on to discuss Clinton's role during her husband's presidential tenure, noting her errors and in some cases holding her responsible for his failures as well. Although he does not tear her down, he is frank regarding the Whitewater financial scandal and her "discovery" of documents that should have been handed over to attorneys two years earlier—a situation that painted Clinton in a poor light, but that she seemed unable to understand from an outsider's point of view. He also looks at her own tenure as a senator, in particular reflecting on her choices regarding the war in Iraq, but this section of the work is very brief.

Reviewers had mixed reactions to Bernstein's biography of Clinton, with some suggesting he was holding back in comparison to some of his more hard-hitting works. Others noted that he failed to give close analysis to the time when she herself held the political reins. In a review for the Spectator, James Forsyth commented on the short shrift given to Clinton's years in the Senate, remarking: "Considering the detail, sometimes plodding, with which Bernstein records her childhood, university years, life in Arkansas and the rest it seems odd to ignore the one period of her marriage when she has been the indisputably dominant partner." Elizabeth Kolbert, writing for the New Yorker, noted of Bernstein's apparent bias toward Clinton: "Even as he chronicles one fabulous misstep after another, he describes the former First Lady as "well-intentioned’ and ‘principled,’ motivated by deep religious faith and a passionate sense of caring." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews dubbed Bernstein's effort a "revealing, admiring, often surprising book."



Downie, Leonard, Jr., The New Muckrakers, New Republic (New York, NY), 1976.


Guardian, June 7, 1976, review of The Final Days.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2007, review of A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Newsweek, April 12, 1976, excerpt of The Final Days; May 3, 1976, excerpt of The Final Days.

New Yorker, June 11, 2007, Elizabeth Kolbert, "The Lady Vanishes," p. 130.

Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1976, review of The Final Days.

Spectator, June 16, 2007, James Forsyth, "The Odd Couple."

Time, May 3, 1976, review of The Final Days.