Carl Bernstein Patiently Explains Journalism 101 to Rachel Maddow

One of the few saving graces from watching "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC? Its unintended amusement value.

Such was the case Friday night when journalist and author Carl Bernstein reined in Maddow during a segment aptly titled, "Talk Me Down."

Before interviewing Bernstein, Maddow enthused about MSNBC colleague Keith Olbermann's "extraordinary" interviews with a former National Security Agency analyst turned whistleblower. Follow this link to see the seven-minute segment in its entirety; Maddow makes this assertion at 2:14 into the clip --

Here's the shocking bottom line -- the US government has been taping all of our calls and recording all of our emails, and an analyst involved in the program at the NSA says they specifically targeted journalists (pause) Nixon's enemies list initially had about 20 names on it. This administration's list includes the entire American press corps.

Wow, imagine the logistics involved, and handled by an administration allegedly incompetent at everything else. Maddow proceeds to introduce Bernstein, who wears the look of a man whose initial misgivings about appearing on the show were just confirmed --

MADDOW: Joining us now is Carl Bernstein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author who of course is best known for his expose with Bob Woodward of the Watergate scandal, which ended the presidency of Richard Nixon. Mr. Bernstein, thank you for coming on the show tonight.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be here.

MADDOW: What is your reaction to these new allegations that we've heard on Keith's show this week?

Ah, now they are "allegations." 

BERNSTEIN: That we don't know what they mean and what they are. I wouldn't go as far as you did ...

... but Tokyo Rose might have ...

BERNSTEIN: ... I think that there is an overwhelming problem with the Bush presidency about secret government and these allegations go to that. But more than that, there was a systemic failure because the Congress of the United States failed in its oversight function, in terms of the war and national security considerations and torture and the role of the NSA and the other intelligence agencies, they didn't know what the hell this presidency was doing.
However, from what we know about the NSA, it is the largest of the intelligence agencies and gets the largest part of the intelligence budget and it's like a giant vacuum cleaner that vacuums up all our incoming phone data, email data, and that's its function. The question is, how is that data examined? Now if ...

MADDOW (interrupting): Well, wait. Is it their function to collect all of that information or did they decide that was their function? I'm not sure, it was never the remit of the agency that they should collect all of the communications into and out of the country.

BERNSTEIN: The question about, there's a great book about the NSA called "The Puzzle Palace" ...

... and you really should read up on this before grasping at moonbeams ...

BERNSTEIN: ... that was written a number of years ago that explains its function very well. It is subject to great abuse because it has such a wide charter and because so much of intelligence collecting is electronic. And when you start digitalizing this information and looking for a needle in a haystack, if something was done such as taking journalistic institutions, say a newspaper, this network, or whatever, and systematically targeting, as you said, it is an absolute, total outrage, unconstitutional, the kind of thing that somebody ought to be prosecuted for. But we don't know that's what's happened.

What we do know is that we need to know what happened in the Bush presidency in all of these areas. President Obama has said, look, he wants to look forward, he doesn't want to look backward. At the same time, I'm sure that he wants to find out what is going on in the intelligence agencies, put a stop to the excesses, such as he has with Guantanamo, for instance, and in the process, I would hope, we'd find out what the hell has been going on.

MADDOW: Well, these latest allegations are from a man who, it seems to be unquestioned ...

... seeing how it was Olbermann who interviewed him ...

MADDOW: ... is in a position to know what the information that he is alleging. Certainly it is allegations at this point ...

... although clearly this wasn't the case two minutes ago when I introduced you ...

MADDOW: ... but we also know from the other allegations that have been proven about the NSA that they have the capacity for doing this ...

.... much like Saddam Hussein and the WMD he was waiting to rekindle ...

MADDOW: ... The only thing we need to find out is, whether or not we're willing to believe they'd do it and whether or not we're willing to follow the trail to find out in fact they did it.

... and it's obvious I'm willing to believe, even to the point of parading allegation as fact. Why the suspicious hesitation, Carl?

BERNSTEIN: Well, the latter part is the important thing. Let's find out what is going on. I think that you, that we really need to, I read the transcripts of Keith's broadcast with Mr. Tice (former NSA analyst) about four times ...

.... And I remain skeptical, as actual journalists are wont to be ...

BERNSTEIN: ... It's very difficult in places to see exactly what he is saying about reporters, about what is coming from the FBI, about what is coming from the NSA. If you look at it very closely ...

.... and I know you are capable of this, Rachel ...

BERNSTEIN: ... he says, it's compartmentalized, he doesn't know how this was used, he saw something that was collected. We ought to find out what that was. But I wouldn't make the leap to an enemies list, for instance, and say that Karl Rove was runnin' around with all this information ...

MADDOW (interrupting, sensing need to save face): Using it to take people down!

BERNSTEIN: Exactly. Or ...

MADDOW (interrupting again, spurred by growing awareness that saving face in dwindling time remaining probably futile): Right. But the idea that they would choose journalists as a group, as targets, is ...

BERNSTEIN: They, they, wait a minute (pause, initial hesitancy about coming on show further strengthened) You're right. If they chose journalists as a group, as targets, it would be an outrage.

MADDOW (uncharacteristically tentative): Yeah.

BERNSTEIN: The question is, did they choose journalists as a group, as targets, I'm not sure that's what the gentleman said on your air. It's a little ambiguous. We ought to find out.

... and then make assertions like those you were just emphatically stating.

 MADDOW: Well, he said, from his perspective, as I understand it, the way I heard it ...

... and allow me couch this even further ...

BERNSTEIN: Right.

MADDOW: ... is that they picked journalists as targets ...

Ergo, it must be true!

MADDOW: ... and what we need now, we need a government (crosstalk, inaudible) ...

BERNSTEIN: Well I hope that's not the case, because if it is, there ought to be hell to pay.

MADDOW: Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more on that. Carl Bernstein, it's so nice to see you. Thank you for coming in. Carl Bernstein, of course, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist.

What the clip at Maddow's MSNBC website doesn't show is what happened right after her awkward interview with Bernstein -- Maddow introducing a new feature she calls "Scrub, Rinse, Repeat."

You know, kinda like Bernstein did with Maddow.

While the Maddow-Bernstein meeting of minds was entertaining, it wasn't the best part of Friday's show, at least not for me. This came less than a minute into the segment when Maddow quoted Jefferson -- "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it."

Back to Maddow --

No freedom without freedom of the press. Limitations on freedom of the press mean losing our freedoms. So says Jefferson, so says me, ...

... so say the rest of us here on Rushmore.

Jack Coleman
Liberated ex-liberal from the People's Republic of Massachusetts