“Woodstein”

In baseball, it is Babe Ruth, for pianos, a Steinway.

But in journalism, at least for those of my generation, the gold standards are Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Their collaborative reporting of the Watergate scandal forced the resignation of President Nixon and won a Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post.

The book that chronicled the corruption, All the President’s Men, inspired a movie and legions of people to become newspaper reporters.

In town this week for an event at the University of Tulsa, “Woodstein” sat down with staffers at the Tulsa World.

They spoke for more than hour, dishing out advice and a flurry of anecdotes.

Here are some highlights:

Woodward on former Vice President Al Gore, whom he sat next to seven years ago at a conference in Colorado.

“Sitting next to Al Gore is taxing. In fact, it’s unpleasant. If you know his biography, before he became a politician, he was a journalist. He practiced journalism. He thinks he invented that, also, not just the Internet.”

Woodstein touched plenty on the essence of reporting.

Bernstein: “All good reporting is done in the defiance of management.”

Added Woodward: “That means. Don’t break the rules. Don’t break the law. But the reporters know the story…The reporter has to generate the heat.”

The best advice, Bernstein said, is to be a good listener. “…Give people a chance to tell their story because your pre-conceived notion about where the story is going almost always turns out to be wrong.”

Martha Mitchell: In the words of Woodward, Mitchell was the “crazy, alcoholic” wife of John Mitchell, U.S. Attorney General under Nixon from 1969-72.

In 1974, about eight months before Nixon resigned, Mitchell and Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, were preparing to go to trial.

The phone rang at the Washington Post and Woodward answered. It was Martha.

“The son of a bitch finally moved out,” he recalls her saying. “…He left a lot of papers in his office. Why don’t you and Mr. Bernstein grab a shuttle and come up here and have a look?”

The two went to her apartment and rang the doorbell.

“She’s standing there with a martini in one hand and a Chinese food menu to order Chinese takeout for the three of us,” Woodward said.

The trip netted the pair a slew of notes the AG had written preparing for trial and a letter from a pharmaceutical company head asking for a favor.

Woodward on the importance of hanging around the newsroom: “One of the things we’ve learned, and in large part Carl taught me is ‘You get the truth at night and lies during the day.’

“…That’s too simple. But it is about the environment of going to people when they have time…What are the four most potent words in journalist for a reporter going to interview somebody to find out what’s going on? Those words are `I need your help.’”

Bernstein on changes in the trade: “As the Web has become predominant in many ways, speed is becoming a substitute for accuracy, for significance, for all the things that really get to what the best obtainable version of the truth is.”

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