Arts & Entertainment, Business

Learning From Mistakes

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 11:37 min

Bob shares the valuable lessons he has learned from mistakes he’s made during his long career as a journalist.

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

Topics include: Publish Facts Not Logic: Watergate Case Study • Be a Human Being First: Janet Cooke Case Study • Verifying Information: Weapons of Mass Destruction Case Study


Mistakes are the best learning experience we know with children. And we know when we were children, when we blew it, made a mistake, and got caught or had to own up to it, or maybe didn't get caught, didn't have to own up to it, that that's part of learning. We made mistakes in Watergate. The mistake about Bob Haldeman controlling the secret fund. We said it was according to his grand jury testimony to-- the grand jury testimony of Hugh Sloan. We were wrong. The facts were right. Haldeman went to jail because of these secret funds. His control of them. And it turned out he had a $350,000 stash that he was controlling in cash for undercover operations. There was a secret fund. Five people controlled it. Hugh Sloan, the treasurer, said that Haldeman was one of those people, as Nixon's chief of staff, who controlled it. He had testified before the grand jury. We logically said, well, he said Haldeman controlled the fund. He testified before the grand jury. So therefore, he told the grand jury the same thing. What turned out is that no one in the grand jury-- the prosecutors or grand jury-- asked him that question. And it really showed the weakness of the investigation. But we made a mistake that we shouldn't have made. And it was one of the really bad days of my life. Bradley understood that, forgave it. But you know, oh, Jesus, how did this happen? What have you done? This was two weeks before the presidential re-election. It was a day-- another day, I thought and Karl thought, we both thought of resigning. And Ben's attitude was, let's stand by the boys, as he called us. And he issued a one-sentence statement. We stand by our story. The Janet Cooke story is something I think about a lot because it was a giant mistake, particularly on my part. Janet Cooke was a young reporter that we had hired, incredible writing skills. She did a lot of very good stories. This one was when I was metropolitan editor, 1980. She had a story about a young eight-year-old boy who she called Jimmy, who had been turned into a heroin addict by his mother and the mother's boyfriend. She obviously could not name the mother or the address, but she told such a convincing story. That she'd talked to the mother and the boyfriend and Jimmy. She wrote a 42-paragraph story called Jimmy's World. There was a whole question that some people raised that never really got to me about whether this was all true. We submitted it for a Pulitzer Prize. It won the Pulitzer Prize. And the day they announced the Pulitzer Prize, people started calling about her background, where she said, in her application, that she had graduated from Vassar College. Turned out she had not. There were other things in her resume that did not hold together. And we realized the high probability that she had fabricated the Jimmy story. And we ...

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

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

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