March 8, 2017
The American Experiment cannot continue without a free press…what we can’t do is say that the basic facts are not facts.
Cokie Roberts, a political commentator for NPR’s “Morning Edition” and ABC News, delivered the 2017 Benjamin Bradlee Distinguished Lecture in Journalism: “Resilience and Resistance: Coping in Hard Times”. Established by former Washington Post executive editor and College trustee Benjamin Bradlee, this lecture series has brought many notable journalists to St. Mary’s, including Bob Woodward, David Broder, Tom Brokaw, Robin Wright, Richard Cohen, Tony Kornheiser, David Ignatius, Gwen Ifill, Neil Irwin and Carl Bernstein.
Roberts focused on the accomplishments of women in American history in the face of marginalization and oppression. Roberts recounted the story of Margaret Brent, the first woman recorded to have demanded the vote. She noted that what accomplished the passing of the 19th amendment was the result of “not just resilience. It was resistance. Times had changed, sure, but mainly what had changed was tactics.” Roberts added that this critical point in the women’s rights movement shares similarities to the state of activism today, calling it an “inflection point in terms of activism.”
Roberts spoke on another notable female historical figure, Katharine Graham, in her lecture. Graham was the former chairwoman and chief executive officer of The Post Company and publisher of The Washington Post. Roberts recounted, ““she had been resilient, and then she resisted the pressure of the entire executive branch attacking her and her paper, and she gave Bradlee and his reporters the support they needed to tell the American public the facts. And that’s where we are right now today. We have to keep doing that. We have to keep telling everyone what the facts are. The American experiment cannot continue without a free press.” On the current political climate of alternative facts and the circulation of fake news, she said, “what we can’t do is say that the basic facts are not facts.”
Roberts advocated for nonprofits that prepare young women for leadership when asked what they can do to prepare for political office. Roberts referred to women as “the last bastion of bipartisanship in the Senate” and recounted that, ““The last time the government shut down, it was the Democratic women and the Republican women in the Senate who got it reopened… that sort of common-sensical [sic] view is what a lot of women… bring to the table, and so we really need you.”
Roberts is best known for her work in over 40 years in broadcasting for which she has won countless awards, including three Emmys. In addition to her reporting, she is also an author who has written six New York Times best sellers. Roberts holds over twenty-five honorary degrees and was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008. Read More
April 28, 2015
Carl Bernstein, a famous Watergate journalist, delivered the Benjamin Bradlee Distinguished Lecture in Journalism on 28 April 2015 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. This endowed lecture series, established by Ben Bradlee, has brought well-known journalists, including Tom Brokow, Richard Cohen and David Ignatius, to St. Mary’s since 2004, notes Dr. Maija Harkonen, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy.
“Benjamin Bradlee, who served as Executive Editor of The Washington Post at the time of Watergate, played an important role in launching the Center for the Study of Democracy,” Harkonen notes. He was on CSD’s Advisory Board from the very beginning until he passed away in 2014. Bradlee also served as a St. Mary’s College of Maryland Trustee.
“We will always be grateful for Ben’s service to the College as a trustee and to his commitment to Historic St. Mary’s City. He has enriched our community and is sorely missed. We are proud to preserve his legacy,” Dr. Jordan, President of St. Mary’s, stated at the reception before the lecture.
Carl Bernstein remembers Ben Bradlee, his boss and friend, as a man “whose fearlessness was his most remarkable trait” and who was dedicated to truth. But not just any kind of truth “Facts by themselves, Bradlee understood, are not the truth. What is needed is context, something that seems to be lacking in most media today.”
Carl Bernstein on Watergate
Carl Bernstein is best known for his role in exposing the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Nixon on August 9, 1974.
Working at The Washington Post with Bob Woodward, he set in motion a chain of events that led to some of the most dramatic moments in 20the century American democracy. It unmasked, what Carl Bernstein calls, “criminal presidency”.
“In Watergate, which may be the best way of looking at how our system can work,” Carl Bernstein said, “we saw democratic principles succeeding in a way that reconfirmed our common belief in the idea of government that serves its citizens under the rule of law.”
The Best Obtainable Version of Truth
“When I went to work in journalism, we learnt an approach to journalism that was simple: to pursue the best obtainable version of truth,” told Carl Bernstein to the audience at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Today people are looking for ideologies and partisan ammunition to reinforce what they already believe in.”
“The mission of the Center is to promote liberty and democracy. A simple thought perhaps and yet, as Ben Bradlee understood so well, liberty and democracy cannot exist where the light of truth is not sought and revered and defended.”
Cultural Warfare — A National Security Threat
“Today our national security is threatened not just by terrorism, but equally or more so internally, by the breakdown—and there’s no other word for it—of our system. Our political and civic fabric in this country has been strained to the breaking point from 30 years of cultural warfare; scorched earth take-no-prisoners politics and the debate that surrounds it, not just in Washington, but all over the country by citizens every bit as uninterested in the best obtainable version of the truth as those they condemn who sit in the House and Senate in Washington. “
Economic Inequality – Bi-partisan topic for debate?
One of the key questions of today, says Carl Bernstein, is “whether we are going to be a nation of the wealthy for the wealthy and connected by the wealthy and privileged at the expense of the great majority of our people”. It is the question of “whether we allow benefits of the ‘recovery from the near depression’ to accrue not just to corporations and the top earners of this country but to the working people and their families”. Both parties, Bernstein notes, seem to be making this an issue they want to debate.