Arts & Entertainment, Business

Publishing Secrets

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 16:07 min

Bob explains his approach to reporting on secrets—particularly information that involves the public's safety, national security, and government intelligence.

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

Topics include: Communicate With Skepticism • Aspire to Objectivity • Do Not Trade Stories • Publish What’s in The Public’s Interest • Matters of National Security Require Extreme Caution: King Hussein Case Study • The Sensitivity of Working With Intelligence Documents


The reality is that reporters are always being used. Because our job is to listen and to communicate, but to communicate with skepticism, with inquiry. If there's things that are said that are not true, or things in the report that can be contradicted, it's our job to unearth them. But particularly for political figures-- we need to say this in the era of Donald Trump-- he is the master of using the media. By saying things, speeches, tweeting, he has got the press running around about six or seven times each news cycle it seems was something new that he has done and said. You have to report it. You have to deal with it. But just like Trump used the New York tabloids about his businesses, and casinos, and love life, it's now moved to Washington. Only he doesn't run casinos, he runs the US government. I think it's very important that the journalists be objective. And so much of that has to do with the presentation of the facts. But it also has so much to do with the tone. And you see this too often in news stories, particularly on television, there is a kind of snide presentation. Somebody will talk about an event, and then say the White House says the following. And then the expression is not just of skepticism, it's an expression of disdain. And I don't think that works. I think it sets off alarm bells with people about hey, what am I getting here? Am I getting facts laundered as politics? You have to look at the reality of true believers. And there are people on the left, people on the right who believe so intensely. And you need to step back and look at it and say, true believers are sometimes those who believe the most passionately, but they're not backing up what they say. And you need to kind of look at it almost as a scientist. How do-- there are these facts, there are those facts. Again, the human source is the savior of journalism. Not too many years ago, I was working on a story involving some sensitive intelligence matters. And I went to the intelligence chiefs and said, I've got this, and they did not want me to publish it. And I said I would consult with lawyers and editors and think about it. And one of the things I was doing as I was leaving the meeting, a key person in the intelligence agency took me aside and said, do you trade? I said, what do you mean? He said, if you agree not to run that story, we will give you another story that's as good or better. I said, absolutely not. I can't do this. I figured there would be secret recording devices in the room. And you can't trade information, particularly sensitive intelligence information. You can't trade anything. You can't say I'm going to suppress this story if you give me that story. I run into this person every now and then, and it's one of those relationships where you don't make eye contact. Because he doesn't want to make eye cont...

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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