Watergate duo savors the secret that was
WASHINGTON: The American writer Murray Kempton once called them the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn of American journalism, and their surnames became a single, swashbuckling compound noun: Woodstein.
Now Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are together again, joined in a visibly affectionate, sometimes awkward, embrace by the disclosure of Deep Throat's identity.
No longer "the boys" that their gruffly elegant editor, Benjamin Bradlee, embraced as The Washington Post's best hope of cracking the riddle of Watergate, Bernstein and Woodward are late-middle-aged men, a decade older than Bradlee was when they made their names in 1972. They long ago went their separate professional ways, Woodward to stability and riches, Bernstein to a more peripatetic stroll along the rich buffet of life.
"One was colorful and flamboyant, and the other one thought that was absolutely fine," said Robert Redford, who produced the film of "All the President's Men" and played Woodward. "Bob was quite comfortable with Carl being the more colorful, because that helped him do what he did best, which was to have a killer instinct masked by a very cool, Presbyterian presence. I used to tell him, I'm having trouble getting a handle on you; you're kind of dull.' And he said, 'No, I really am."'
But from thinner to thicker, Woodstein have preserved a special relationship, one that friends say has now led Woodward, 62, who had all but finished a manuscript on his secret-source relationship with W. Mark Felt, once the No. 2 man at the FBI, to take Bernstein, 61, aboard for another project likely to become the summer's hot book.
Onetentative plan is to have Bernstein write new material and share some kind of cover credit, though not co-authorship, according to a publishing figure who insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of the negotiations between the onetime colleagues.
But as they appeared together Thursday night on "Larry King Live," Bernstein said, "It'll probably be by both of us," while a somber-faced Woodward, who was caught on videotape Thursday visiting the White House for yet another book project on the second Bush administration, graciously allowed only that they could get a book deal if they wanted one.
In that moment, as it has for three decades, their collaboration defied easy definition.
"I just think these were two guys who were together in a war where their lives and professional reputations were at stake, and they went through lots of ups and downs, and they credit each other that they couldn't have done it without each other," said the writer Ken Auletta. "People may have liked to say that Bob was the big reporter and Carl was the better writer. It's just clear to me they were a team."
And so they were again on the Thursday morning talk shows, like a less crotchety version of the "Sunshine Boys," as anchors excitedly asked Woodward about his relationship with Felt, and Bernstein waited patiently, then chimed in with overlapping dialogue, often with more general observations.
When Matt Lauer of NBC's Today program asked if it was bittersweet or a relief to have the burden of their 33-year-old joint secret lifted at last, Woodward opened his mouth to answer, but Bernstein beat him to the punch.
"Wrong word, bittersweet," he said. "I think it's like having tried to protect something precious for all these years that you carry around, and for the first time it's not there to protect in your pocket anymore. It's a very strange feeling."
For many Washington journalists of a certain age, it was a strange but not unpleasant feeling to see Woodstein on the case again.
Woodward made his career at The Post, climbing the management ladder and building a career writing best-selling books, first with Bernstein but long since alone.
Bernstein left The Post for jobs at ABC News, Time magazine and Vanity Fair, and to embark on his own book-writing career. He wrote a memoir of his union activist parents' struggle with the anti-Communist blacklist, was the co-author of a book about Pope John Paul II's role in opposing communism, and in recent years has been at work on a biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Carl went off and was Carl, much less disciplined, in a lot of ways more creative," said John Stacks, a former chief of correspondents at Time who hired Bernstein as a correspondent-at-large and has known him since they worked together at the Washington Star in 1964. "He's always been a spectacular reporter."
While Woodward wrote a book, "Wired," about the actor John Belushi and his death from a drug overdose, Bernstein dipped more deeply into the world of Hollywood and entertainment. He married the writer Nora Ephron, who chronicled their messy breakup in her thinly veiled novel "Heartburn," which became a film in which Jack Nicholson played the character based on Bernstein, as Dustin Hoffman had a decade earlier in "All the President's Men."