Woodward and Bernstein Make 'Statesman' Editor Squirm

Legendary reporters who broke Watergate story question Oppel's role at Statesman, opinion on confidential sources

Rich Oppel, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, came under criticism Friday from none other than Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, arguably the most important journalists alive today.

As part of a public opening for the Harry Ransom Center's files about FBI Assistant Director Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, which UT bought along with other Watergate papers in 2003 for $5 million, the three were part of a Statesman-sponsored panel discussion at UT's McCullough Theatre. The discussion – Watergate and the Media: Did the System Work? – was supposed to be about the impact of Watergate on journalism, but it soon became increasingly uncomfortable for Oppel as the respected journalists questioned his role at the Statesman and his approach to news-gathering.

Bernstein was shocked when he discovered that Oppel runs the two most important sections of his paper: the news and editorial pages. He was amazed that Oppel did not see this as a dangerous conflict of interest. "You run the news desk and the editorial desk, and you don't think that's a problem?" Bernstein asked. "Did you know about this?" he asked Woodward.

Oppel tried to defend his position by comparing himself to legendary Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham. He said that she was ultimately in charge of both desks, but Bernstein was having none of it. "Now, you know there's a big difference between a publisher and an editor," he replied.

Oppel was then challenged by both Bernstein and Woodward when he said he thought confidential sources damaged journalism. The giants of the printed word, who, as reporters for The Washington Post, helped legitimize the practice by using leaks from Felt, said they were essential for good journalism. Recalling his 2002 Post story about early plans to invade Iraq, Woodward told Oppel, "I had six people who, if they had gone on the record, would have been fired or gone to prison. If you think they'd have gone on the record, you're wrong."


The Watergate papers are on public display in the Harry Ransom Center until Sunday, April 8.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Rich Oppel
New Leaders at KUT and <i>Texas Monthly</i>
New Leaders at KUT and Texas Monthly
Legacy media powers move past scandal with outside hires

Mike Clark-Madison, Jan. 11, 2019

Media Watch: 'Statesman' Off the Market
Media Watch: 'Statesman' Off the Market
After entering final negotiations to sell the paper, Cox Newspapers walks away from the table

Kevin Brass, Aug. 14, 2009

More Watergate
From the Watergate Break-in to a Broken News Media
From the Watergate Break-in to a Broken News Media
Key players in 'All the President's Men' reflect on what 35 years have wrought

Marc Savlov, April 15, 2011

Naked City
Naked City
Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

Lee Nichols, Feb. 4, 2005

More by Richard Whittaker
SXSW Adds Jason Isbell, Michael Dell and More to Speaker List
SXSW Adds Jason Isbell, Michael Dell and More to Speaker List
Tech scene and politics get speaker slots, plus WTF is Web3?

Jan. 18, 2022

The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Joy-filled animated family SF comedy is an explosion of fun

Jan. 14, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Rich Oppel, Austin American-Statesman, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Watergate, Washington Post, Katharine Graham, Deep Throat

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle