Anna Bowers · January 23, 2019
Twenty-nine Southern Virginia University students gathered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on January 14 to attend “Integrity & Trust: Lessons from Watergate and Today,” a panel discussion hosted by The Deseret News.
The event featured renowned journalist and author Bob Woodward, the president of the Pew Research Center Mike Dimock and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Prior to participating in the panel discussion, Elder Christofferson spent the weekend at Southern Virginia for a special university convocation, leadership meetings and stake conference.
Kyle James, a senior from Snowflake, Ariz., and one of the many politics majors that attended Monday’s event, shared his experience learning from all three of the guest speakers who to him were “larger than life.”
“To see all three of them coming together on one event from three different perspectives of research, of religion and of firsthand account painted an interesting picture of how we as Americans should treat integrity and truth in our everyday lives,” James explained.
Each of the panel guests shared their thoughts according to their field. Mike Dimock related facts from data collected by the Pew Research Center on how public confidence in government declined steeply from 1974 to 1976, affected by Watergate. He then compared it with data from 2008 to 2018, showing that the last 10 years has been one of the longest sustained periods of American distrust in government with regards to the fairness and motivations of public officers.
Bob Woodward, whose reporting alongside Carl Bernstein brought to light the Watergate scandal in the 1970s and earned him a Pulitzer prize, recounted key events from his experience during Watergate. Woodward said it was the sense of entitlement and lust for political power that drove Nixon to adopt the illegal means, and he pointed out an integral lesson Nixon learned from it.
“In his farewell address…he said, ‘always remember, others may hate you, but those that hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.’ Think of the wisdom at that moment Nixon had,” said Woodward. “In that moment, you see a kind of self-understanding that we don’t necessarily associate with Nixon. But also, not just a political lesson, but a wonderful lesson for all of us.”
Elder Christofferson, who clerked for District Court Judge Sirica during Watergate and was one of the first people to hear the Nixon White House tapes, spoke about how this period influenced him and his gratitude for receiving training on integrity at an early age.
“The Watergate experience taught me the importance of integrity and trust like nothing else,” Elder Christofferson said. “[It was] a defining experience that came to me fresh out of law school.”
“People aren’t born bad,” Elder Christofferson continued. “But they can, even with many positives, still turn to dishonesty and abandon integrity. I’ve been anxious since that time to do what I could to promote those values that I was blessed with and the traits of integrity as broadly as I can, especially among the rising generation.”
After attending Monday’s event, Charles Ferry, a senior and politics major from Corrine, Utah, said that the greatest insight he gained from the event was to avoid painting people with broad strokes.
“It’s easy to think reporters have an agenda, but after listening to Bob Woodward and hearing his thoughts about Watergate, I believe he wasn’t just trying to bring down a president because he wanted to,” Ferry said. “He was trying to genuinely pursue integrity and trust in the political system.”
While a student at Southern Virginia, Ferry has interned in Washington, D.C., for Representative Mia Love in 2017, and most recently interned for Representative Ben Cline’s Lexington office when he was running for Congress in 2018.
Ferry also shared his thoughts on Elder Christofferson. “It was incredible to hear Elder Christofferson’s take on what are the most important values that we should pay attention to,” he said. “I think his absolute adherence and unapologetic commitment to morals and principles of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness with no exceptions is incredible.”
Cassandra Johnson, a senior from Gainesville, Fla., shared her enthusiasm for the trip. “I came to Southern Virginia planning to be an English major, but now I am also doing the international affairs concentration and it has exploded my horizons,” she said. “For example, I come to things like this and I think ‘wow the world is so much bigger and there’s so much more to learn.’”
While pursuing a concentration in international relations, Johnson was able to meet a recruiter for the foreign service who visited Southern Virginia’s campus in 2018. Through that connection, she had the opportunity to be the only undergrad to intern at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, last summer.
James, who transferred to Southern Virginia after receiving his associate degree from a local college said, “I think attending Southern Virginia is a once in a lifetime opportunity because of the connections they have to go to D.C.; Southern Virginia is a front row seat to issues in America for Latter-day Saint students.”
Watch a video of the event here.