Carl Bernstein made his name on the Watergate story. Last year he said the Trump presidency was worse than Watergate. In Bernstein’s view that was true because “the system worked in Watergate,” meaning that Nixon was held accountable for his behavior. But Bernstein says that isn’t happening with Trump and now he’s blaming that failure at least partly on the media. In an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, he said the coverage had focused too narrowly on collusion and obstruction.
“I think we’ve made a big mistake in the press about how we’ve covered the Mueller report that we’ve gotten totally wrapped up in the internecine warfare in the Congress between Republicans and Democrats and is there obstruction of justice or is there not obstruction of justice,” Bernstein said. He continued, “In fact, there are dozens and dozens of leads in there about Trump’s business dealings, his things having to do with women as well that we know about from elsewhere, and trying to keep women silent who have been in his past, about his business dealings, about oligarchs, about money laundering, about Ponzi schemes.”
He’s indirectly right about who is to blame for the intense focus on the collusion question. The media certainly made that a constant topic of discussion but it was top Democrats who did their best to keep that story in the news. The question for the media is why they were so eager to go along with it. The fact that the media doesn’t even ask that question is also the answer to the question. They are partisans rooting for one side. In fact, Bernstein openly says we’re in a “cold civil war” and it seems to go without saying that the media is a big part of that struggle.
“We’re in a cold civil war in this country. The figures of Trump’s approval rating is a reflection of that cold civil war and how appealing his message has been to almost half the people in this country,” he said. While it’s not completely clear what Bernstein expects the media to do at this point, he clearly wants the media to spread the negative coverage more broadly: “We are not making in the press the connections between what’s going on in the country and Donald Trump, the president.”
It’s interesting that, without really saying so, Bernstein’s analysis of the situation probably isn’t that different from Trump’s own. They both see the country as divided and they both recognize the media is largely on one side of the divide. Where Trump sees the media as the enemy (because they oppose him) Bernstein sees them as the potential saviors of the Republic (also because they oppose him). Bernstein just wishes the media were being more effective in its opposition. The laser-like focus on collusion and obstruction in the Mueller report didn’t work out as Democrats and Bernstein hoped. Maybe something else in the Mueller report will. He doesn’t seem to care what it is. What matters is the result.
Here’s the clip of Stelter’s show cued up to Bernstein: