Carl Bernstein at ONA 17

Recently, SmartNews (my employer) hosted Carl Bernstein, the distinguished, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, at the Watergate Hotel during the annual Online News Association conference in Washington, DC.

Under a full moon on a warm DC evening, Mr. Bernstein inspired us all to strive harder to make use of the powerful “reportorial platform” the digital era provides us to seek out, “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Mr. Bernstein reminded us that it is not the job of the press to undo a candidate or knock a one out of office. The mission of the press is to uncover the truth, in context and developed through great investigative reporting so that the people may make the important decisions that drive our democracy.

But lately the press has been,

disfigured by celebrity, celebrity worship, gossip, sensationalism, manufactured controversy (particularly in the press), denial of our society’s real conditions (good and bad), and by a political and social discourse that we (the press) the politicians, and the people have allowed to devolve into a cacophony of name-calling, idealogical warfare and, especially, easy answers to tough questions

He pleaded for all journalists to keep their focus on the larger story. Even with the new tools available today, it is the unique perspective and context that comes from knocking on doors and “shoe leather” reporting that will unearth the truth required by our democracy. To gather that truth we all needed to be better listeners.

His remarks concluded with a quote from his editor at the Washington Post, the late Ben Bradlee.

The more aggressive our search for the truth, the more some people are offended by the press. So be it. I take great strength knowing that in my experience the truth does emerge. It takes forever sometimes but it does emerge. Any relaxation by the press will be extremely costly to democracy.

Amen to that.