While a young reporter for The Washington Post in 1972, Bernstein was teamed up with Bob Woodward; the two did much of the original news reporting on the Watergate scandal. These scandals led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. The work of Woodward and Bernstein was called "maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time" by longtime journalism figure Gene Roberts.
Bernstein's career since Watergate has continued to focus on the theme of the use and abuse of power via books and magazine articles. He has also done reporting for television and opinion commentary. He is the author or co-author of six books: All the President's Men, The Final Days, and The Secret Man, with Bob Woodward; His Holiness: John Paul II and the History of Our Time, with Marco Politi; Loyalties; and A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Additionally, he is a regular political commentator on CNN.
Bernstein was born to a Jewish family in Washington, D.C., the son of Sylvia (Walker) and Alfred Bernstein. He attended Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he worked as circulation and exchange manager for the school's newspaper Silver Chips. He began his journalism career at the age of 16 when he became a copyboy for The Washington Star and moved "quickly through the ranks." The Star, however, unofficially required a college degree to write for the paper. Because he had dropped out from the University of Maryland (where he was a reporter for the school's independent daily, The Diamondback) and did not intend to finish, Bernstein left in 1965 to become a full-time reporter for the Elizabeth Daily Journal in New Jersey. While there, he won first prize in New Jersey's press association for investigative reporting, feature writing, and news on a deadline. In 1966, Bernstein left New Jersey and began reporting for The Washington Post, where he covered every aspect of local news and became known as one of the paper's best writing stylists.
On a Saturday in June 1972, Bernstein was assigned, along with Bob Woodward, to cover a break-in at the Watergate office complex that had occurred earlier the same morning. Five burglars had been caught red-handed in the complex, where the Democratic National Committee had its headquarters; one of them turned out to be an ex-CIA agent who did security work for the Republicans. In the series of stories that followed, Bernstein and Woodward eventually connected the burglars to a massive slush fund and a corrupt attorney general. Bernstein was the first to suspect that President Nixon was involved, and he found a laundered check that linked Nixon to the burglary. Bernstein and Woodward's discoveries led to further investigations of Nixon, and on August 9, 1974, amid hearings by the House Judiciary Committee, Nixon resigned in order to avoid facing impeachment.
In 1974, two years after the Watergate burglary and two months before Nixon resigned, Bernstein and Woodward released the book All the President's Men. The book drew upon the notes and research accumulated while writing articles about the scandal for the Post and "remained on best-seller lists for six months." In 1975 it was turned into a movie starring Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Robert Redford as Woodward. A second book, The Final Days, was published by Bernstein and Woodward in 1976 as a follow-up chronicling Nixon's last days in office.
Bernstein left The Washington Post in 1977 and began investigating a secret relationship between the CIA and American media during the Cold War. He spent a year researching the article, which was published as a 25,000-word piece in Rolling Stone magazine.
He then began working for ABC News. Between 1980 and 1984, Bernstein was the network's Washington Bureau Chief and then a senior correspondent. In 1982, for ABC's Nightline, Bernstein was the first to report during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that Ariel Sharon had "deceived the cabinet about the real intention of the operation—to drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon, not (as he had claimed) to merely establish a 25-kilometer security zone north from the border."
Two years after leaving ABC News, Bernstein released the book Loyalties: A Son's Memoir, in which he revealed that his parents had been members of the Communist Party of America. The assertion shocked some because even J. Edgar Hoover had tried and been unable to prove that Bernstein's parents had been party members.
In 1992, also for Time, Bernstein wrote a cover story publicizing the alliance between Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan. Later, along with Vatican expert Marco Politi, he published a papal biography entitled His Holiness. Bernstein wrote in the 1996 book that the Pope’s role in supporting Solidarity in his native Poland, and his geopolitical dexterity combined with enormous spiritual influence, was a principal factor in the downfall of communism in Europe.
In 1992, Bernstein wrote a cover story for The New Republic magazine indicting modern journalism for its sensationalism and celebration of gossip over real news. The article was entitled "The Idiot Culture".
Bernstein's biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, A Woman In Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, was published by Alfred A. Knopf on June 5, 2007. Knopf had a first printing of 275,000 copies. It appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for three weeks. A CBS News end-of-year survey of publishing "hits and misses" included A Woman in Charge in the "miss" category and implied that its total sales were somewhere in the range of perhaps 55,000-65,000 copies.
Bernstein is a frequent guest and analyst on television news programs, and most recently wrote articles for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, comparing Rupert Murdoch's News of the World phone-hacking scandal to Watergate.
In 2012, Carl Bernstein spoke at a rally of People's Mujahedin of Iran, an opposition Iranian organization that had previously been listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, reportedly receiving a payment for his speech. 
Bernstein has been married three times, first to a fellow reporter at The Washington Post, Carol Honsa; then to writer and director Nora Ephron from 1976 to 1980; and since 2003 to the former model Christine Kuehbeck.
During his marriage to Ephron, Bernstein met Margaret Jay, daughter of British Prime Minister James Callaghan and wife of Peter Jay, then UK ambassador to the United States. They had a much-publicized extramarital relationship in 1979. Margaret later became a government minister in her own right. Bernstein and second wife Ephron already had an infant son, Jacob, and she was pregnant with their second son, Max, in 1979 when she learned of her husband's affair with Jay. Ephron delivered Max prematurely after finding out. Ephron was inspired by the events to write the 1983 novel Heartburn, which was made into a 1986 film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.
Bernstein currently resides in New York with his wife Christine.
Bernstein was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film version of All the President's Men, and by Bruce McCulloch in the 1999 comedy film Dick. In the 1986 film Heartburn, based on the novel, Jack Nicholson's role was a thinly veiled portrayal of Bernstein.
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