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Watergate reporters Woodward, Bernstein warn of AI hindrance

Technology 2023-05-19, 11:52am


Robert Woodward (left) Carl Bernstein (right) with BBC newsman Amal Rajon.

US reporter Carl Bernstein has warned that artificial intelligence (AI) is a "huge force" which poses challenges for the future of journalism.

Bernstein and his colleague Bob Woodward were the reporters at the heart of the Watergate scandal and the fall of President Nixon in 1972.

AI's rapid take-up has sparked fears of job losses, privacy and the potential to circulate misleading information.

Bernstein said "truth is the bottom line for anything in your life."

In an interview with the BBC's Amol Rajan, Bernstein and Woodward also reflected on the fall of Nixon, the former presidency of Donald Trump and the state of the US and the world today.

Bernstein said: "We need to know what's real as opposed to what's false. The press is the essential element in a community of being able to attain that."

Asked why anyone should become a reporter today, he said to find "the best obtainable version of the truth".

The Chat GPT programme, which uses AI, has become widely used in the past year and Rajan read them an excerpt that the tool had produced about the two veteran US journalists.

It briefly summarised who they were and said their work "had inspired a new generation of journalists and established a new standard for investigative reporting".

Bernstein said he wasn't enamoured by the extract and described it as "an amalgam of things that have been written about us".

He recognised part of it from a brochure used for the conference they had attended. Despite it being the early stages of artificial intelligence, he said: "AI is a huge force we're going to have to grapple with in this world."

Discussing the limitations of AI, Woodward said: "I can call the Pentagon and say, 'I'd like to talk to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the top military man', and he's either going to talk or maybe not. AI can't do that."

Their Watergate story began with the two reporters carrying out traditional journalism, knocking on doors following a burglary, and ended by exposing the wrongdoing of President Nixon.

The pair are revered in US journalism for their award-winning reporting, and their book about Watergate was adapted for the big screen in All the President's Men.

The movie came out in 1976 and starred Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein.

Bernstein drew a parallel between the dramatic events surrounding the resignation of President Nixon and those around the end of President Trump's time in office.

"We never thought we would see it with another president. It happened even more so and even more dangerously with Trump," he said.

This year, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News paid out nearly $800m (£643m) over its reporting of the 2020 presidential election.

Murdoch owns many media outlets, including the Times, the Sun and the Wall Street Journal, as well as Fox News.

Asked whether Rupert Murdoch has been a force for good, Bernstein said: "Instead of being remembered for his imagination in terms of what he did with the movie business, with changing television shows like South Park, all of this has been overwhelmed by promoting, encouraging and accepting a culture of untruth that has been the hallmark of his journalism".

"I think in terms of his legacy, it is going to be evil because he has taken untruth and made it his imprimatur."

Woodward has written many books including ones on Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and the CIA. Carl Bernstein, himself an author of five best-selling books, is a regular voice on US news programmes. – BBC News