Chapter 19 of 24 from Bob Woodward

Developing the Theory of the Case

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

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

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

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

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism

In 24 lessons, learn how to uncover the truth from the greatest journalist of our time.

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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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Bob teaches investigative journalism in his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Bob will also answer select student questions.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Just really great videos, presentation and information that I wouldnt have access to any other way! Thanks

Facts are important. Getting a story out first may be a goal, but getting the story correct is most important.

Excellent. Bob gave a very well rounded view of journalism past and present. Very interesting .

Thank you. I wish he had started with "be a human being first, and a reporter second". I think that is the most important thing he said amidst many.

Comments

A fellow student

Amazing lesson and reflection. Should we examine our preconceived theories before we write the story? Is the theory the story or are the facts the story?

Geri S.

It's important we don't decide what the issue should then go out and try to find a theory that agrees with what we think happened? Again, common sense should help but we shouldn't let that dictate the story.

Bryan I.

I wonder how Mr. Woodward can be so sure that Ford was telling the truth about his motivations for the pardon versus a story that he had had 25 years to rehearse and prepare for the moment when he needed it to plant with a journalist who would lend it credibility. I don't know either way but it seems like the kind of thing that a journalist would research rather than taking at face value. Perhaps Mr. Woodward did that -- but I don't know as he doesn't mention having done so in this lesson.

book E.

Arn't journalist the puppet at the end of the politicians string? You say journalists are "used." Today I feel "played." Watching news programs, news hosts report stories as absolute when in fact we have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. The deals made. Concessions. Are we not told exactly what the politician wants us to report to their end? And anxious reporters hasten to the camera eye confident their "take" is it, when in effect, their "take" is only the merchandising of the politician.

book E.

I think this is where I am with the article/book I've been researching. The story has centered on one individual when this past week I realize all my research points to another personage with the original focus being only a consequence of the actions of the true main character. Other's have attempted to write on this subject with the secondary person as the primary focus and nothing has ever been published: book or article. Perhaps this is why. The focus has always been on the father, not the son.

Sunny N.

We should never be so sure that we think we do not have to check ourselves.

Ulf J.

I think this lesson was extra good and interesting. Sometime ago I read the book " 31 days" by Barry Werth, Anchor ISBN;978-4000-7868-4, 2006. These 31 days were the beginning of the Ford presidency and talk a lot about The Nixon Pardon. It was Carl that told Bob about the pardon, and Carl used the worlds no classic.” That son of a bitch pardoned the son of a beach”. Bob told us here that he was very upset about what President Ford had done. It took him around 25 years before he understood the greatness in Fords pardon. Fords decision was for the country, and he knew quite well that he would not be reelected. Ford's action meant that the country could start leaving Watergate behind it. Unless Ford had denied Nixon, the United States would probably have had several difficult years ahead, years of trial and prosecution. I like much when Bob acknowledges his own shortcomings, he can and dare to acknowledge his mistakes - and that will always be respected.

Mia S.

"As a reporter, you rejoice in these moments, because it is somebody saying, 'I am going to let you into the story I've never told anyone, that I have not come clean on this.' Humbling, humiliating, because I had to look back on what I was so sure of in 1974, and I was totally wrong. Under examination, neutrally, through history 25 years later, the corruption actually is courage. You can be so sure you're right, so sure you've got the evidence, know that this is the way it is, and what it means... when we may be wrong. The notion, the theory of the case, is - 'This is where we're going with this story or book.' Those practicing journalism - hold back the judgment. Don't be sweeping, don't be quick on the trigger to say, 'This is what 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. There were all these witnesses; some said the king was there in his bare feet for two days, somebody said three days, and so I took the six witnesses and kind of averaged them. 'What have you forgotten? You forgot common sense. Every time you examine evidence, you have to bring common sense.' The idea of Follow the money, we have all this evidence, and it points in this direction, but it's not true."

Mia S.

"Brilliant in saying what occurred in the fewest words, with the most drama, Carl said: 'The son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch.' I remember thinking, It's perfect, the final corruption of Watergate. 40 people go to jail, Nixon's not held accountable, he goes scot-free. There was an aroma of a deal between he and Ford because Nixon had picked Ford to be his vice president. 'If you pardon Nixon, he will resign; but he needs a guarantee that the pardon's coming.' Ford said to me, 'I rejected that deal. It was corrupt, I could not do that. I couldn't blow the whistle on Al Haig because he would deny it, and it would raise the specter again of, There's some sort of deal, and you got the presidency and Nixon got pardoned.' Ford said, 'Let me take you to the reality I was living: In the middle of the Cold War, very tense time; the economy was shaky. In this very shaky time, we're going to have a Nixon investigation, certain indictment given the tapes and the nature of the criminality that Nixon was engaged in, we are going to have a trial of a former president, possible jailing. We were gonna have two or three more years of Watergate - the country couldn't stand it. I had to look out for the country's interest; what was that national interest here? To get Nixon off the front page, to get Watergate into the history books. I knew I was going to pay an awful price.' Of course there was a furor about it, but I realized that what Ford had done was not corrupt; it was quite gutsy."

A fellow student

So we know that DNC and Clinton campaign money was used to pay Christopher Steele -- but few "real" reporteres seem interested in following that money. As an outsider it makes me curious as to why?

Transcript

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....