Highlights from David Segal’s profile of the famed Watergate reporter that appears today in the former newspaper of that famed Watergate reporter:
- The full, wonderful life isn’t cheap, however, and Bernstein has told friends that he long ago burned through the roughly $3 million he earned from Watergate-related books and movies. He was somewhat notorious for borrowing money from friends and not paying them back, a habit he developed as a kid. Occasionally, those who know him say, his spending has landed him in serious financial straits.
Those straits appear to be behind the announcement in 2003 that the papers of Woodward and Bernstein would be sold to the University of Texas for $5 million. Woodward had planned to donate his notes and rough drafts, gratis, to Yale, and shipping the lot to Austin for a gargantuan sum was not his style. In the days before Deep Throat was revealed, Woodward worried, too, about exposing him and every other source who had helped the pair break the Watergate story.
“I wasn’t sure it was a good idea,” says Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Post, on the phone. “So I asked [attorney and agent] Bob Barnett and he said, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”
But as Ben Bradlee, The Post’s former executive editor, later put it in a speech the same year, “I think Carl needed the money.” Woodward, switching to the passive voice, says, “I was convinced,” and in the end he asked Barnett to draft a contract with elaborate protections to Watergate sources. He donated his cut to a foundation he had created with his wife.
- The relationship between the two is complicated and has inspired plenty of speculation. “Way down, they hated each other,” guessed Alan Pakula, the director of “All the President’s Men,” who spent hours interviewing both men to prepare for filming.
But that was a long time ago. The two didn’t speak for a brief period in the late 1970s, when Bernstein, by his own admission, underperformed during the reporting of “The Final Days,” the duo’s second Watergate book. That prompted Woodward to swear off future collaborations, but the two say they have a close if contentious friendship. When Bernstein landed in a bramble, Woodward usually got the first call.
- The hard part, as it happened, came after Nixon resigned, when “Woodstein,” as they were dubbed, got the ticker-tape treatment and money gushed in — money for two bestsellers, money for movie rights, money for speeches. Also fame and parties. A lot of parties.
It would put the zap on just about any head. One year, Bernstein is a reporter, earning less than $20,000 a year, and 24 months later, Dustin Hoffman is camped out in the newsroom, studying the guy’s mannerisms for “All the President’s Men.”
“It’s something I handled very badly in some ways,” Bernstein says. “I hope not as badly as some have said.”
- And he is forever measured against Bob Woodward, his onetime byline buddy and a modern publishing phenomenon. Stolid and utterly focused, Woodward has written more than a dozen books — six since Bernstein signed the Clinton deal in 1999, all of them bestsellers.
Is it fair to compare? No, it’s not. But the Bernstein of today has little choice but to contend with the Bernstein of yore, if only because the accomplishments of the latter are the reason we remain interested in him today. In the first few years after Watergate, Bernstein frittered away millions in a frenzy, on travel, home renovations, clothing and God knows what else, until he nearly went broke. His drinking became a problem. Nora Ephron portrayed him as the ultimate rake in “Heartburn,” a not-very-fictional account of the dissolution of their marriage.
In the ’80s, he showed up with some regularity in New York tabloids, the celebrated reporter turned night-life fixture, squiring the likes of Bianca Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor. The period he spent studying Hillary Clinton may well be a personal record in the category of “Longest Time With the Same Woman.”
- But when he wasn’t writing, Bernstein often seemed at the mercy of his appetites. There is nothing like an all-you-can-eat buffet to bring out the glutton in a man, and acclaim brought with it an aromatic heap of temptations. Anyone who has struggled with the concept of “enough” will understand; Bernstein seemed at moments like an object lesson in the mishandling of fame.
- Maybe it can. Over lunch, Bernstein can sound defensive when asked questions like “What have you been up to, all these years?,” but he can sound positively serene, too. There were fallow years — he’ll acknowledge that — but when he wasn’t writing, he relished life and never more so, he says, than now, in the fourth year of a very happy marriage. In a series of follow-up phone interviews he will come across as irascible as ever, but here at J. G. Melon’s, waving to diners who recognize him, he swears he has mellowed. Meeting high expectations, his and others’, doesn’t vex him the way it once did.
- Arguably, the most reckless of several reckless acts was cheating on Ephron, whom he’d married in 1976, and who discovered her husband’s affair with the wife of the ambassador to England while pregnant with the couple’s second child. By the time “Heartburn” was published, in 1983, Bernstein had left the newspaper and was working as a correspondent at ABC News. After his arrest for DUI that same year — it was Woodward who retrieved him from police custody — Bernstein checked himself into a hospital, citing migraines and depression. Charges were later dropped.
Shenanigans notices that the Post’s picture shows Bernstein reading…The New York Times.