Arts & Entertainment, Business, Writing

Developing the Theory of the Case

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 13:18 min

Using examples from his own reporting, Bob discusses some common pitfalls reporters run into when developing their theory of the case.

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Topics include: Don’t Be Wedded to Your Theory of the Case • Don't Forget Common Sense: Watergate Case Study


The notion, the phrase, the theory of the case is this is where we're going with this story or this book. Those practicing journalism, starting journalism, hold back the judgment. Don't be sweeping, don't be quick on the trigger to say this is the way it is. This is what it means. Because you may have it dead wrong. What you don't want to do is become wedded to the theory of the case, if the evidence does not support it, which is often the case. One of the more interesting days was in September 1974, a month after Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford was president. And Ford went on television on a Sunday morning and announced he was giving Nixon a full pardon. Now therefore, I Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution have granted, and by these presence do grant, a full, free, and absolute pardon onto Richard Nixon. This was a real surprise. I was asleep. And my colleague, Carl Bernstein, called me and woke me up and said, have you heard? And I said, I haven't heard a thing. Carl, brilliant in saying what occurred in the fewest words with the most drama, said, the son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch. And I remembered thinking. It's perfect. It's the final corruption of Watergate. Nixon, who was behind everything, gets a pardon. 40 people go to jail. He's not held accountable. He goes scott free. And there was an aroma of a deal between him and Ford, because Nixon had picked Ford to be his vice president. Then, 25 years later, I undertook one of my book projects, a book called Shadow, about the legacy of Watergate and the presidencies of Ford through Clinton. And I called Gerald Ford up. I had never met him, never interviewed him, and said, I want to talk to you about the pardon. And I thought he would say, well, I've-- I got a golf tournament. I can't do it. He turned out to be one of the most open, direct people I've ever met in politics. Get all of the legal memos, read all the contemporaneous coverage of the pardon, the memoirs, the books, which always have nuggets and part of the story. And we'd do a draft. And then, I'd go see Gerald Ford and go through it with him, saying I understand this happened, the legal memos said this, and interviewed Ford at his home in Colorado. He also had his main home in Rancho Mirage, California. And just doing as much as you can ever do to tell the full story. And the last interview with Ford was quite remarkable. I got to know him pretty well at this point and asked, well, why did you pardon Nixon. He said, you keep asking that. And I said, well, I don't think you've told me the whole story, to be honest. And he said, yeah. You're right. I haven't. Let me tell you what happened. I haven't even told Betty, his wife, this. This is what occurred and....

About the Instructor

Bob Woodward was just 29 when he changed a nation. His Watergate reporting with Carl Bernstein helped expose the corruption of the Nixon presidency. Two Pulitzer Prizes and nineteen best-selling books later, the legendary journalist is teaching his first-ever online class for anyone who wants to find the truth. Learn to investigate a story, interview sources, and understand how the news is written. The next history-making story might be yours.

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Bob Woodward

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