Business, Politics & Society

Students Critique Woodward's Interview With Obama

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 18:31 min

Bob and a group of students from his Yale journalism seminar analyze his interview with President Barack Obama about his decisions in war.

Bob Woodward
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We're now going to discuss an interview I did with President Obama about his decisions in war for the book I did of Obama's Wars, and we've got clips galore. Yes. Chris, go ahead. I was talking to Axelrod about linchpin moments, and I've identified, unfortunately, 72, OK. And I have-- I'm worried about the ones .. This will be like Jeopardy. That's right. Quick answers. But there's, you know, it's such a serious matter, and clearly what emerges from the record is you've given it serious attention, to say the least. Correct. Two days after you're elected, McConnell, who's then DNI, comes with the CIA man, Mike Morell, and they brief you in Chicago, give you, kind of, the first real look at the deep intelligence secrets. What was your reaction after that briefing? They-- I'm just going to-- I know that you and Robert talked about this-- Yes. --but I'm just going to preface this answer, with, sir, a general view of how I'm going to approach this interview, Robert. Yes, sir. And that is that the-- you have commentary, or reporting on specific conversations, specific dates, et cetera. My job as President is not going to be to corroborate or dispute particular comments. We didn't get to 72, and it was an hour and 15 minutes. But he says, I'm not going to corroborate, and then-- if you've gone through the transcript-- he does. He actually can't help himself. But now, put yourself in my shoes. You send in all these questions, which he's read, his staff has gone-- pored over in detail, and he says, oh, you have better sources than I do. And then he even goes so far as saying, have you ever thought of becoming CIA director? It was not a job offer. But I left the interview thinking, he's corroborated all of these-- all 72. There was one he kind of half-disputed, so I got what I needed. And this is the nice system of talking to people and getting documents. And those 72 linchpin moments come from those documents. He insists so many times throughout this interview, my job is to provide you mindset, details, you know-- that's not a question for me. What was the purpose, then, of sending him such a technical set of questions? It doesn't feel, to me, as though it's an emotional, what were you feeling, interview. It's much more of a like, this happened, I'm going to, you know? OK, but I did ask him, what did you feel? And what was your reaction when you first had to decide to send troops into harm's way? And he said, you know, that's the hardest thing he does. But that was one of 72. Very good question, and the answer is, I know how the White House works. And I learned because I got to spend 18 months working the Obama White House. And how it works is, somebody sends questions in like this, and the President has agreed to do the interview, and they have lots of staff people going through the top-secret ...

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Understanding the art of news reporting. Recognizing there are three sides to a story: 1. Event 2. Research 3. Reporting. Requirements for news reporting: clarity of purpose; accuracy in vision (of the event); translating the event into biased-free verbiage for the reader, and knowing a service in good faith had been rendered.

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I took this course in order to understand and realize what is needed and how to go about being a good investigative journalist. I hope to use write a few fictional stories about an Investigative Journalist. Who else to get the technique from than the master himself, Mr. Woodward. I feel he has done an excellent job explaining this course and I thank him very much. Thanks, Joe Conroy J

Mr. Woodward gives a compelling summary of key issues that come up in the inner workings of the press. While I am not an aspiring journalist, I think the course gives you the language and background to think about current press issues with intelligence.


Will S.

I did not find the interview to be awkward at all...I don't know why the student actors here are saying this, or where they're getting this idea from..

A fellow student

I've kept personal diaries since 1981. Wrote about Presidents, diplomats from Croatia, Germany, Austria, Chile and Norway, but I never dreamed anyone would actually STEAL them from my bedroom in a million years??? And I'm still not sure exactly which relative is behind this and might even be the whole bunch of them because a man at the I HOP pancake house whispered to me in a tip, "You have a very GREEDY family." Later learned a lot of my personal stories were used in a South Park episode, and several well known movies with a major Irish star who I will not mention since I have to have proof first. I feel so betrayed that I want to leave LA and move far far away to a distant land like Crystal City Virginia where I stayed before in the 80's at the Hilton Hotel. They even have a bus which takes you to that beautiful gleaming white Crystal City Mall which I just loved. I also want to check out Fredricksberg Virgnia as well. I guess I just like to be where all the action is and I do have a habit of bumping into famous people (diplomats and Presidents of countries) in the strangest places, but mainly airports. But sadly, I decided to stop keeping journals for awhile or else look for a good storage place aroun d here and good a safety lock to put on it. I'm just worried ti could be in danger for the personal romances I also wrote about. Hey! 20 and 30 yr olds do keep romance journals folks. Anyway in case i offended like half the nation, my apologies and next time when keeping my diaries I will make sure to exclude the subject's real name and use a fake name to disguise his I.D. I'm even resorting to changing my name on Monday at the DMV and no one gets my last name right anyway. It's RUBINSON but they always called me ROBINSON?????

Pamela K.

I am a journalist/author and I didn't find the Obama/Woodward conversation "awkward" or "uncomfortable" at all. Both men are professionals -- Obama knows Woodward is coming in to interview him (the Watergate Guy!), and is a seasoned public figure (he's the President, for gosh sake!) I wonder if maybe the younger generation isn't used to having a back and forth conversation? A lot of time is spent text/emailing? Maybe they're uncomfortable speaking face to face with another person? (Not sure.) I didn't find Woodward pushy at all... esp when you watch the cable stations with people screaming at one another.

Kimberly S.

Discretion or deception? You be the judge.

Karan S.

"If you want to be friends, go find another job" Lines to live by in this profession.

Ross P.

The cool thing about this class is the elements and values are replicable in other areas. "If you want to be friends, go find another job." Same "pushy" attitude could be used for directing which is what I do.


I conclude that the students became overly concerned about what they believe was awkwardness during this interview. President Obama telling the reporter that he will not answer a particular question is a response; maybe not the one that was wanted but it still is a response. I agree with Bob's methods relevant to the 72 lynch pins being submitted before the interview. Getting something "on the record," is the goal. Allowing someone to prepare in advance helps achieve this goal. It also helps the interview stay focused as I'm sure that included in the agreement prior to the interview probably was a time constraint for the interview. Lastly, by providing the questions, Bob takes away the opportunity for an assertion that something was "taken out of context." Every person I've ever known who doesn't like what is written about them makes that assertion. I was a PIO for 12 years. Not one time was I ever misquoted or taken out of context.

Sunny N.

Very effective lesson. It is not often that a journalist--an interviewer--becomes the interviewee. The students asking the questions and pressing for answers and reasons for certain approaches prompted some defensiveness, a normal reaction in the hot seat. In addition to its value as an instructional tool, this exercise of switching seats is a healthy learning tool for a journalist, prompting reflection, and reflection is always good. It helps journalists review their performance by changing places with an interviewee. How does a question phrased in that way make me feel? Would I be inclined to answer that question fully or at all? Would this style make me answer? And so on... Switching seats prepares the mind for future encounters and interviews; and grants the journalist a taste of what she/he dishes out on a daily basis for a living.

John S.

Whether it’s a president, CEO or city council member, there should always be time and effort to do your homework in preparation for the interview. In this case, Woodward’s obvious history, credibility and knowledge allowed him to preface the interview with a detailed sketch of the facts prior to the interview. My sense was Obama did not want to share anything which created tension and a competitiveness of two great minds. Listening to the interview in its entirety is a great lesson in and of itself on the art of interviewing, not only in preparation but also how to manage a subject who may resist or decline to answer specific questions. There are lessons to be learned in how to phrase questions,, when to ask, what to ask and the importance of listening and counter responses. This was an excellent round table.


It is pretty interesting to learn about Bob's emphasis on not just confirming the facts but also trying to understand their intent of doing certain things or taking some decisions that they are not aligned with. A lot of psychological play in fact.