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Home » Woodward, Bernstein and Simon Schama in call for return of truth

Woodward, Bernstein and Simon Schama in call for return of truth

Watergate scoop reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have urged colleagues to call time on the “post-truth” era.

And it was a rallying cry that was picked up by historian and journalist Sir Simon Schama who was also speaking at the Sir Harry Evans Summit on investigative journalism in London.

The News Agents and former BBC presenter Emily Maitlis asked the former Washington Post duo in a panel session: “In a post-truth world you can find the facts, you can knock on the doors, you can give people the answers and they say – ‘oh that’s a witch hunt’.”

Bernstein said: “This gets back to the role of journalism. We have a very different culture than we did at the time of Watergate. Our readers and viewers were much more open to the best obtainable version of the truth then.

“So many of our news consumers today are looking for information that reinforces what they already believe.”

Woodward said: “You used the term post-truth, if I may channel Harry Evans for a moment. Post-truth? Don’t let it happen. We cannot let it happen…

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“Post-truth? Harry’s coming down and he’s taking away our chairs and microphones and saying do not let this happen.”

Both veteran reporters picked up on the example of Russian opposition leader and activist Alexei Navalny as an inspiration for journalists in the West, mentioning a message of appreciation they had just received from him.

Vladimir Putin’s regime poisoned Navalny and has imprisoned him since January 2021, currently keeping him in solitary confinement. Navalny said he had read their books while in prison.

Bernstein said: “This is why we are here, this message is from someone who understands what is happening to democracy in many parts of the world today where fascism and authoritarianism and death is a daily part of being in opposition. So we got this extraordinary message today that he had read these two books that we had written and here we are in this conference.”

Woodward picked up on Navalny’s message saying: “The freedom we have in the United States and the Free World to actually operate, that is a daily liberation.”

Maitlis had referred to a previous speech from Woodward in which he said: “My first thought on waking up is: ‘What are the bastards hiding?’”

But he said here: “You can’t do that in Russian and lots of countries. We’d better bask in that freedom and realise that we have been liberated to actually explore what happens and we’d better work on that liberation every day.”

Wrapping up the conference, historian and journalist Schama said: “We have been listening to the possibility that we are living in a post-truth world…

“Harry never went for post-truth fatalism and neither do I. For Harry there was a kind of gritty innocence in his rock-hard belief that truth was there, provided you put in the elbow grease and had the fortitude to go after it.

“Everybody I have heard today takes that as the foundation of social decency and all of you here exemplify this heroic extraordinarily brave determination to pursue the truth however long it takes and at whatever cost.

“Our civilisation, what’s left of it, will live or die to the exact degree to which you all win the battle for the marketplace of attention and make the arrogantly powerful lose their sleep, lose their sense of invulnerability.

“What Harry gave us his whole life long was an unswerving eloquently articulated faith that in the end truth will out, hard evidence has the strength to disarm paranoia, public spiritedness has the moral power to prevail over the politics of the ego trip. Cool reason can be argued to and even adopted by those in power. To those convictions Harry added righteous fury and the intolerance of intolerance.”

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