From Bob Woodward's MasterClass

Navigating Interview Challenges

Many challenges can arise when you are interviewing someone to uncover the truth. Bob provides insight into how to push through interview obstacles, from withstanding hostility to addressing deception.

Topics include: Be Civil and Hold Your Ground • Address Lies Respectfully • Be Aware of Charm: Bill Clinton Case Study

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Many challenges can arise when you are interviewing someone to uncover the truth. Bob provides insight into how to push through interview obstacles, from withstanding hostility to addressing deception.

Topics include: Be Civil and Hold Your Ground • Address Lies Respectfully • Be Aware of Charm: Bill Clinton Case Study

Bob Woodward

Teaches Investigative Journalism

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You don't want to get in arguments with sources, if you can avoid it. Sometimes, you have to. And sometimes, you have information that's contrary to what they're saying, so there are going to be arguments. But I try to avoid them. You don't want them to feel like they're in control, because they're not. But they're being helpful. I just think, on a human level, you want them-- you don't want it to be angry, contentious. I recall being in the Oval Office, interviewing President George W Bush about what was going on in the Iraq War. And the third book I had done on Bush was called State of Denial, which said he was not telling the truth about how poorly things were going in the Iraq War. In the fourth book, he agreed to be interviewed. I was really surprised. My colleagues at The Post said, you're going over to the White House to interview President Bush. And I said, yes. And they said, you better wear a life preserver because they're going to put a bag over your head and throw you in the Potomac River, because you said he did not tell the truth. And at one point, I'm asking him something and he said, it's not as if I'm in a state of denial, clearly sticking it to me about the third book. In a situation like that, you don't want to take the bait. I don't want to have an argument with him, when I'm working on the fourth book, about the third book's title, or what happened. So, I just let it go, moved on. And Bush was the sort of person who could kind of, OK, I'm not-- he's not going to dwell on it, but he wanted to get the knife out and stick it in just a quarter of an inch. And if you're in a situation like this, as a reporter, buckle in, and hold your ground, be civil, don't take it personally, necessarily, if you can, and continue on. Particularly at this time now, when people are pretty angry and distrustful of the press, you are dealing, in journalism, with contested ground. The more contested the ground is, the more the emotions are going to run high and the stakes are going to be high. And that's fine. It's part of that process. First of all, no one ever gives you the full story. They may not know it themselves. You don't know, and that's why you have to spend time against the problem, go to other people, other documentation, and then go back to that person, if you can. So, it's evolutionary. There's not a light that goes off of, oh, this person is not a truth teller. Often, it's a mix of truth and untruth. And the job, obviously, is to go try to verify. Now, there are two kinds of lies. There is a lie, or an assertion like that, which turns out to be untrue, that I think is unintentional. And then, there is the lie where it's intentional. Somebody wants to conceal, or cover up, or deny. If something seems to be untrue, then I think you can say, well, there's contradictory information, and present that. ...

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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.

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

Woodward emphasizes how the discipline of traditional journalism must be used to validate and add credibility to electronic media in ultra-short news cycles.

Very infomative about how reporters think and work.

I have to say this is one of the most enlightening classes I've taken. Bob, I appreciate your direct teaching method and I thank you for your years of dedication bring the important stories to the world.

Love! Amazing! Elegant! So much knowlege and insight. I thrive on unearthing those ah ha moments and had one like every... few minutes :)

Comments

A fellow student

Yes I agree. In fact I learned that "non blinking" technique from Bill Clinton and the help of (Ritalin). Kidding. It does help you focus by not blinking during an interview. It's true Try it sometime. And yes he's very charming and makes you feel like you are the only one in the universe he's interested in talking to. Even his late cat SOCKS told me so. Meow.

Kenna & Jeff P.

I found this lesson very useful -- as a reporter, while interviewing professionals/people of power, I often fall prey to their charm or letting them basically run the show. It's difficult to avoid sometimes, especially being a younger reporter, and when your interviewee is so knowledgeable and experienced on the topic and you feel pretty inexperienced in comparison. Bob mentioned some good tools to help with this, such as holding your ground while also being civil, watching out for an interviewee's charm taking over genuine conversation, and researching up beforehand on the subject to make sure the interviewee isn't getting away from telling you 'untruths.'

Val M.

Fascinating information comparing Reagan and Clinton, and their communication skills. I never would have realized that detail about Clinton's skill and focus and the result it produces even in someone as experienced as Bob Woodward.

Michael O.

I've come this far in Bob's class, and want to share the following cover story that appeared in the Isthmus, a weekly newspaper in Madison WI. https://isthmus.com/news/cover-story/art-cullen-the-muckraking-small-town-journalist-who-nabbed-a-pulitzer/. Editor of the bi-weekly 3000 circulation "Storm Lake Times" in Storm Lake Iowa won the Pulitzer for editorial writing in 2017 [recently announced]... "Courageous small town paper stands up the the giants, including the Farm Bureau and Monsanto... Art Cullen' hometown... is an epicenter for nearly every hot-button issue of the past two decades." This, I think, is an extraordinary affirmation for aspiring 'true' reporters (and we need thousands in these dark times); the story lets you know anything is possible in the media world with perseverance, integrity and a bit old fashioned luck. This story gave me heart, and I think it might provide that to you as well. I'm not a reporter per se, I however do a tremendous amount of research for playwriting and screenwriting. This class helps me focus that research and shows me potential leads I did not think of before. The amount of material, the quality of material Bob has provided for analysis and assignment - meditations really - is so generous, and frankly a life changing call to become a better informed and engaged citizen. And perhaps a better screenwriter. Anyway, read this article. A book deal followed Mr Cullen's Pulitzer: "Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper."

Mia S.

"Some people will say, 'I don't want to talk about that.' I think then you say, 'You understand why I have to ask.' Clinton is a memorable interview - going into the Oval Oval it was 5 o'clock, getting dark - he drills you with his eye contact, this is almost a gravitational force. He focuses, does not blink. He slows time down just a little bit, creates that sense of intimacy, like this is the most important thing in the world to answer these questions. You ask questions, as I did, and he gives long paragraph answers and - no blinking - total focus on you. Not often in your life do you get that kind of personal, 'I'm talking to you, I'm answering your question.' It creates an environment of, 'Wow, this is really interesting.' I was astounded at this no blinking and thought, 'He ever since he was five wanted to be president, and trained himself - used everything, every organ in his body, to that purpose, including his eyes. We go through this and I think, 'This is a really important interview, wonderful interview.' Take it back, have it transcribed, and read the transcript of what he said - without the eye contact. It was mush. Things he'd said before, basically useless - but it sure felt good. This is the power of Clinton's communication skill. When he would speak to Congress, when he would give speeches, there was a focus and intensity and intimacy about it that just was astonishing. But after he would speak, people wouldn't go back and look at the transcript. They would have that emotional moment, listening to him, and he knew how to make it emotional - there was nothing mechanical about it. I concluded, in the end, Clinton's communication skills make Regaan, the supposedly 'Great Communicator,' look like an amateur."

Mia S.

"First of all, no one ever gives you the full story; they may not know it themselves. You don't know, and that's why you have to spend time against the problem - go to other people, documentation, and then go back to that person, if you can. It's evolutionary, there's not a light that goes off of, 'Oh, this person is not a truth-teller.' Often it's a mix of truth and untruth and the job, obviously, is to try go try and verify. Now, there are two kinds of lies. There is a lie or an assertion like that which turns out to be untrue, that I think is unintentional. And then there is the lie where it's intentional - somebody wants to conceal or cover up or deny. If something seems to be untrue, then I think you can say, 'There's contradictory information,' and present that. I would not say, 'Oh, you're lying,' or 'That's untrue.' You want to keep the avenue open, you don't want to close it down. I think there are some reporters who mistakenly think it's important to demonstrate toughness - I think you can do that without kind of shouting and calling things untrue. You can see on television many times these kind of angry, butting-heads interviews. Somebody will say, 'You haven't answered my question, what about my question?' and so forth. I've never seen anybody successfully get an answer then. Just say - kind of raise your hand, 'But what about this?' My inclination would not be to say, 'You're not answering the question! My question is...' You can redirect it in a gentle way. Say, 'The key unanswered question is this, and is there a way you can give me some clues or answers?' Again, it's tone."

Mia S.

"You don't want to get in arguments with sources, if you can avoid it - sometimes you have to, and sometimes you have information that's contrary to what they're saying, so there are going to be arguments. But I try to avoid them. You don't want them to feel like they're in control, because they're not - but they're being helpful. I just think, on a human level, you don't want it to be angry, contentious. I recall being in the Oval Office, interviewing George W. Bush about what was going on in the Iraq War, and the third book I had done on Bush was called 'State of Denial,' he was not telling the truth about how poorly things were going in the Iraq. In the fourth book, he agreed to be interviewed. I was really surprised, my colleagues at the Post said, 'You're going over to the White House, you better wear a life preserver because they're going to put a bag over your head and throw you in the Potomac River, because you said he did not tell the truth. At one point, I'm asking him something and he said, 'It's not as if I'm in a state of denial' - clearly sticking it to me about the third book. In a situation like that, you don't want to take the bait. I don't want to have an argument with him, when I'm working on the fourth book, about the third book's title, or what happened. So I just let it go, moved on. Bush was the sort of person who could kind of, he's not going to dwell on it, but he wanted to get the knife out and stick it in just a quarter of an inch. If you're in a situation like this as a reporter, buckle in and hold your ground, be civil, don't take it personally necessarily, if you can - and continue on. Particularly at this time now, when people are pretty angry and distrustful of the press, you are dealing in journalism with contested ground: the more contested the ground is, the more the emotions are going to run high and the stakes are going to be high, and that's fine, it's part of that process."

book E.

When, or do, you play the Devil's Advocate to generate/stimulate an interview?

Sunny N.

Charm earns more ground than hostility--facial expressions, gestures, body language, words.

Maria V.

I have a question. Would you ever pay for an interview? An example would be an interview with a doctor, a consultation fee?