The Watchdog Who Demands Transparency: Bob Woodward at the Hinckley Institute

Bob Woodward was less than a year into his writing position with the Washington Post when he was asked to look into a burglary that happened one Saturday morning in June of 1972.

Woodward said he was borderline obsessed with his job at the Post. He was the worker who was there early, stayed late, and was “dumb enough to come to work this morning” when his superiors needed a Saturday story covered.

The respected journalist we know today originally wanted to be a lawyer. He told Sam Rich, a U alum who conducted the interview at Hinckley’s event, he planned on following his father’s footsteps, and worked as a janitor for his father’s law firm. One day, he came upon papers concerning his classmates. It was his curiosity in reading about the dirt on his classmates lives that fed his interests in becoming a journalist.

He said he had uncovered his peers’ because at first they were “pure and righteous… and then I’d go to the attic.”

After earning his undergraduate degree from Yale, and being accepted into Harvard Law, Woodward decided to apply to the Washington Post. This first go-around didn’t go so well. They gave him a two-week probation period to see if he knew what he was doing – he didn’t. He says he thanked his employer anyway, because those two weeks taught him this – journalism – was what he wanted to do with his life.

Finally, he reapplied years later and was put on the police beat. The morning of the burglary brought him to the courthouse, where he saw men in business suits.

“Burglars didn’t have business suits,” said Woodward. The judge asked the lead burglar where he worked several times, the man so quietly responded, and he finally admitted he was head of security of the CIA and of the Nixon election committee. “He was a walking disposed file,” said Woodward.

While Woodward was “just doing the work,” his partner, Carl Bernstein, was more excitable. To Bernstein’s “Let’s go for the big picture,” was Woodward’s “here’s what we know,” meaning to just start with what you know and see what happens. He was never interested in fabrications.

Thus, the morning that Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, Woodward knew exactly what his partner meant when Bernstein called and said “Have you heard? The son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch.” Woodward said, “Even in my sleepiness, I got it.”

Woodward said “The human source is going to be the savior of journalism.” He said the best sources are interviewed in person. He said to research your source beforehand because “people take themselves seriously. Tap into that. I want to know the full story.”

Among pieces of advice for journalists today was this list given to Woodward by a previous employer. According to him, the employer said they always look for the following four things in a future employee:

  1. An employee who has been right a lot.
  2. An employee who is a good listener.
  3. And employee who is willing to change their mind.
  4. People who have failed and are still standing.

In this current political climate, Rich asked Woodward what he thinks of our current president, Donald Trump, and the reactions of America’s prominent political parties. Woodward emphasized resistance. He said “resistance always works.” He continued saying both sides of the political spectrum are at fault for “emotional reporting” and “it’s not good for the reporting business.”

Woodward said of this emotional reporting, hate seems to be the motivator. He quoted President Nixon during his impeachment, “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.” Woodward said it was unique how Nixon was able to be introspective regarding his wrongdoings.

Woodward pointed out how Obama said “Real power is not having to use violence” in contrast to Trump saying “Real power is fear.” Woodward believes both of these statements have a nugget of truth in them but they are both extremes.

“This really is the final exam for democracy” said Woodward.

We want to thank the Hinckley Institute of Politics for their many opportunities they provide for students; from their exceptional internships to the respected speakers. Thank you, Bob Woodward! You are a true legend of honest journalism.  

Photo sources: 1, 2.