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Watergate, On the Record: Woodward and Bernstein papers at Ransom Center document landmark event in investigative journalism

Woodward's notes from the preliminary hearing for the five men arrested at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate office complex
Woodward’s notes from the preliminary hearing for the five men arrested at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate office complex, June 17, 1972.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center opens the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers, thousands of pages of interview notes, memos and other materials, available to researchers and the public. The papers become available at 9 a.m., Friday, Feb. 4.

According to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the materials show that even President Richard M. Nixon’s closest aides and senior Republicans on Capitol Hill shared their doubts, worries and suspicions about the President—about both his involvement in the criminal Watergate cover-up and his psychological frailty toward the end of his presidency.

The materials reveal the work of Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein as they investigated the Watergate scandal. Key information was obtained by the journalists from members of Nixon’s administration, including Nixon’s chief lawyers, principal aides, a Cabinet member and even his barber.

“We ought to be held accountable to history about what happened, how we did this, how we proceeded. We think it will show care, but people might find mistakes,” Woodward said.

More than 75 document boxes of materials will be opened, revealing for the first time the identities of nearly 100 now-deceased sources and the information they disclosed.

An online exhibition of the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers highlights a selection of the materials found in the papers.

The materials consist of interviews, memos of phone conversations, story drafts, notes, research documents, correspondence and marginalia created by the reporters while covering Watergate for the Washington Post and researching for the book and movie versions of “All the President’s Men.”

There are also far lengthier interviews with sources who had been reserved and defensive before Nixon left office, but later opened up to the reporters for the their book “The Final Days.”

Under the terms of Woodward and Bernstein’s agreement with the university, the identity of unnamed sources used in stories for the Washington Post and their two books about the Nixon presidency will be revealed only after the death of each source.

“One of the remarkable things about this partnership has been Drs. [Larry R.] Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin, and [Ransom Center Director Thomas F.] Staley’s understanding of the principles of journalism, the sacrosanct nature of the relationship of a journalist with a source,” Bernstein said. “The university has been wonderful since the beginning of the discussion. It has been fabulous that this material is made available for scholars but in such a way to honor journalistic principles.”

Read the Background to learn more details about the Woodward and Bernstein papers and Watergate.

To preserve the integrity of the files as much as possible, and due in part to the chronological nature of the reporting by Bernstein and Woodward, files including material relating to multiple sources, some of whom are alive, will be released only after all sources identified in these notes and documents are deceased.

Among those living sources is the figure identified as “Deep Throat” in the reporters’ first book, “All the President’s Men,” which was published in spring 1974. The book describes him as someone in a sensitive position of the executive branch during Watergate, and his identity is not being disclosed at this time.

Stay notified with eUpdates as more sources are revealed and other files are opened. Also, receive information about future events relating to the papers.

The University of Texas at Austin acquired the Watergate papers of Woodward and Bernstein for $5 million, an acquisition entirely financed by donors.

As part of the agreement, Woodward and Bernstein are to contribute $500,000 to establish an endowment to support research and academic programs on the collection.

“This was one of the great moments in history. We’ve told the story as best as we could. Others ought to have a chance to study it. It ought to be there, especially when we are gone,” Bernstein said.

To celebrate the opening of the papers, the university is hosting the symposium “The Legacy of Watergate: Opening the Woodward and Bernstein Papers” on Friday, Feb. 4.

The Watergate Jury, Dec. 4, 1974
The Watergate Jury, Dec. 4, 1974.
Sketch by Betty Wells. Courtesy of Stanley Kaplan.

Symposium panelists include Bernstein; Woodward; Richard Ben-Veniste, former chief of the Watergate Task Force of the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s Office; David Greenberg, historian and author of “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image”; Joan Hoff, historian and author of “Nixon Reconsidered”; Stanley Kutler, author of “The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon”; Anthony Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered Watergate; Richard Reeves, syndicated columnist and author of “President Nixon: Alone in the White House”; Bob Schieffer, CBS News correspondent; and John Taylor, executive director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation.

The Ransom Center will display a selection of items from the papers in the Center’s lobby through Sunday, March 6. Also on view through Sunday, Feb. 13 are sketches by Betty Wells, an artist who documented the courtroom scenes of the Watergate trials for NBC in 1974.

The University of Texas at Austin is indebted to the following donors who made it possible to bring the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers to the Ransom Center: The Cain Foundation, Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP, Guaranty Bank, Christopher M. Harte, Hobby Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph D. Jamail, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, Audre and Bernard Rapoport, RGK Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Judy S. and Charles W. Tate, University Co-Op and Martha Ann Walls.

An online finding aid provides a description of the papers.

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center is one of the world’s finest cultural institutions, housing 36 million manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, film and performing arts collections and more than 100,000 works of art and design.

Materials housed at the Ransom Center may be viewed by researchers and the public in the Center’s reading room or in exhibitions in the Ransom Center Galleries. Visitor information about accessing the Center’s collections is available online.

Jennifer Tisdale
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

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  Updated 2008 March 7
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