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Business, Politics & Society

Students Dig Into Woodward's Interview With Trump

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 19:05 min

Bob and a group of students from his Yale journalism seminar take a deep dive into his interview with then–presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Bob Woodward
Teaches Investigative Journalism
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People taking this class, I would urge you to find something-- a hard target. Nothing's off limits. There are no boundaries. You need to-- as representatives of the media-- to ask the questions of people who have power. And we're going to start with the interview Bob Costa-- a political reporter at The Post-- and I did with Trump last year when Trump was right on the edge of becoming the Republican nominee. It was virtually certain at that point. Bob Costa and I, we spent a lot of time thinking about this. How can we get some answers from Trump? How we can try to find out what's inside? What's driving him? And Chris has some clips from the audio clips of this. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] So when did it go to yes? Because that's-- I mean, having made-- you know, we all make minor decisions in our lives. And this is the boy. Big decision. Yeah, these are big decisions. And I say, and sometimes, I'll say it in the speeches, it takes guts to run for president, especially if you're not a Politician My question is, you sort of hesitate at the start, and Trump is going on about takes guts, and he's sort of getting into that speech he does. But you interrupt him three times, four times. It goes on later in the interview, and you ask, when did it become yes. And you really want to get to this point and Trump is not getting it. When do you decide when to interrupt someone you're interviewing? What's the thought process going to your head? Interrupt if they're not answering the question. And this was one of the first questions. And you're trying to set the terms of engagement. And by persisting with the same question, we're saying to him, we really want answers. And in this case, the question is, how did you make this big decision. And having written books about eight other presidents, how they cross that line, and say, hey, I'm running. And the why. And in pursuing the question with Trump, finally, the fourth time, he said, well, it got to yes. And then we followed up, well, what did your family say. And he literally said, that his wife, Melania, said to him, oh, if you run, you will win. And a lot of people, now that he's president, have theorized, maybe at birth, maybe early in his business career, certainly at various stages in New York, he was always saying he's about to run. Trump doesn't like to be interrupted. You know, he likes to give his spiel. And what was sort of the game you were playing when you're trying to build a relationship with him through the interview, but then you interrupted him when he wanted to launch in? I mean, how do you navigate that? We really want the answer to this. And I think-- he didn't say, I'm not going to give it-- he didn't throw up a wall. You could see-- and there's no video of this-- but he's thinking of that question. On the flip side of that question, how do you kno...

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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.


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

Not so much learning new but affirming aspects of behaviour that seem to be what Woodward was talking to. Obviously he is at a much higher level but one can have aspiration. As a working investigative reporter for some time it was good to hear new insight into some techniques and get faith that these methods did land Watergate.

Very infomative about how reporters think and work.

I have learned so much about how to find sources and then how to talk to them from these classes. I have also learned a lot about the Watergate story, which I had not known too much about before. Thank you so much Bob for saying what you say about Trump! Everything he does truly terrifies me.

I feel I have gained a great grasp on the concrete fundamentals of journalism. Bob Woodward spoke clearly and brilliantly. I feel I understand journalism and the media at a new level and I gained exactly what I hoped out of the class.


A fellow student

As a former "interviewer myself, I was so delighted to hear this fantastic discussion...not only all the insights Mr Woodward gave, but the terrific questions the students asked. ...and loved it most when Mr W stated the importance of the interviewer LISTENING !!!!!!

A fellow student

Very useful lesson to get a bit more insight into how Bob's mind works. This Q&A format is great.

Josh F.

There is a salient point that is not discussed in this lesson, though perhaps touched on in the bits left on the editing room floor. In order for the work of journalists to have impact, public confidence in them has to be high enough that overall, the message is being received. The now clicheed Marshall McLuhan phrase "the medium is the message" ( is in full force: Trump's campaign, and in particular his media team under Banon, and the speeches written by Stephen Miller brutalized the public confidence in journalism as a whole with the constant refrain of "fake news", and in particular the quote about the media being "Public Enemy Number 1" while at the same time, pushing the confidence in outlets like Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, etc, whose credibility as sources of fact should be doubted. And yet, because Trump validated these as sources the president listens to, those who already preferred these narratives dug in, and those who doubted the "mainstream media", as the more traditional outlets are referred, put more confidence in these fringe, point-sources of information. This galvanized people against anything from the Post, or the NYT, or any _actual_ journalism. And so, even if journalists did a better job, their best work, there remains the question of whether or not _any_ amount of work would have changed enough people's minds. And this doesn't even take into account the effects of the external efforts to discredit Clinton, to muddy the waters enough, having read the signs, to push people to this outsider candidate. So, I would give the media a solid B (a 1990's B, not the B's I get today for effort: "you're nice and not dumb but this is really not great work"): More could have been done to address the confidence issue, but as Ameila (?) said: What was the assignment? Without clearer understanding, as a society, of exactly what is expected of the media when covering politicians (and anyone with power, as is their purpose enshrined by the Freedom of the Press), then it will not matter how well anyone does their job. It's whether or not people will even make the effort to apply any critical doubt to what they read or see or hear.

Mia S.

"Did we - all journalists, collectively - do enough to tell people who Trump was, what his background was? There was much debate about his taxes, he would not release his taxes. There was a lot of pressure from the journalistic community, maybe not enough. But I'm not sure what grade I would give all journalists, in terms of what was published before election day. What grade would you give journalism on Trump, before the election?" // A: "Barely passing." / A: "You don't know what the assignment is; because you don't know what the outcome is going to be, you don't really know how to tailor your questions." / A: "I would give a B or a B+." / A: "I would say there was quality journalism done, I think the journalism industry as a whole was a little lost, and leading to that now, there's all other types of questions which all kind of came together, and it seems like it was worse than it was. I would say an average - maybe a B-." / A: "There's also a difference between cable television and what the Post was doing, what the Times was doing, what Buzzfeed was doing -" / A: "What Twitter was..." / A: "It's hard to say 'the media' generally because they took very different approaches." // "A really hard question, which is 'What's the assignment?' Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon who owns the Washington Post now - talked to him a couple of years ago at one of these conferences, and he asked the question about Nixon, said, 'Did we do enough in journalism to tell people who Nixon was before he became president?' And I said, 'I don't think we did enough. I think we could have done better.' And he said, 'OK, the Washington Post' - he has the money - 'will have the resources,' and we added, I think, 40 people to the staff to look at and cover the campaign. Did we do enough to tell the public who Trump was? I think the lesson here - you have to be introspective about this, that we should've worked much harder, dug into more things, and interviewed him. We now have a president that is increasingly controversial, and lots of people - not just Democrats, but lots of Republicans, are asking, 'What have we got into?' That's the assignment; and answer? We didn't do enough."

Mia S.

(Recording, Trump: "Nixon failed, I think, to a certain extent because of his personality... that very severe, very exclusive - in other words, people couldn't come in, and people didn't like him.") "I was jumping in my chair when he said that Nixon's failure was because of personality and people didn't like him, and I did say, 'How about the crimes?' 'Oh yeah, those too.'" // Q: "Would you normally let him go?" / A: "No. The question we asked, 'Why did Lincoln succeed?' and he kind of punted that too, 'Oh he did some of the things that needed to be done.' The context of this question is, 'You're running for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump - there are two stand-outs in the party, one succeeded, one failed. Why?' And he gave the answers that he did. Now the other thing he said, which stuck with me - out of the blue, he said, 'I don't think we will be great again unless we are rich again.' So, what's driving him? Money. I think that's important to understand him. So this is a slice, a glimpse - if somebody had told me, 'This guy's going to be president,' I think we might have done something a little different, I think not that much. Like, I would have not left the interview - I would've just stayed and when we asked at the end, 'Can we do this again? Tomorrow?' I would have been a real persistent pest about that to continue the conversation." // Q: "Some people looked at this interview and said, 'Why didn't you hammer him harder? Why didn't you go after the immigration ban? Why don't you talk about the statements that are racist or sexist? Why didn't you go into it?' What do you say to them? / A: "He had, as you know - and we read everything he had said before this - he had his answers. And you don't want, in an interview, for somebody to effectively insert the plug-in cassette or press the answer that they have kind of worked out in their own mind. That's a real waste of time." / Q: "But you have 90 minutes with Trump. I think a lot of people, however they voted, had things that they were burning to know; why didn't you ask about the tax returns?" / A: "We wanted to ask questions that hadn't been asked. And if you do really immerse yourself in this, you see when he's asked about the Muslim ban, he's got his answer and that's it. That's all you're going to get. On cable news - and I think this is one of the problems - the tone of the coverage is so much adoration on one network, and so much condemnation on the other. I don't know what utility that has to inform people, which I think is the function of journalism. To pound at somebody in politics, in my view, is not journalism."

Mia S.

"Now if we were sitting here with all we know now, what should be the lede?" // A: "I think that fear should be the lede, because I think fear is in many ways the reason that he won." / A: "But doesn't this also become a question of form? A spot news piece, you might not lead with fear, but if you're going to a feature or sort of longer digestion of what happened that day... as a law student, my first thought was, 'Lead with the judges.' He said he would release a list of judges that he might select for the Supreme Court if he were to win the presidency. I think that's unprecedented." // "See, that's the narrow - with all due respect to law students and lawyers - that's your bubble. Just like the confidentiality agreement is the bubble of reporters. So you go through this process and you make your decision." // Q: "Do you regret the lede that you chose?" / A: "Regret? No. You want to second guess yourself up to a point that it's practical, but the notion of regret is so emotional, that I'm wringing my hands, 'By god, we blew that.' You move on. This was the genius of Ben Bradley, the editor of the Post. He never worried about the last play. He worried about the next play."

Mia S.

"There are some things we got and some things we missed... he was saying, just flat out, we're headed for a recession. He made it very clear that - and this is what shocked us, and it's in the story - he's saying, 'Don't buy American stocks.' First time I ever heard of any politician, particularly somebody running for president, saying 'Don't buy American stocks' - now he says 'Buy them.'" // Q: "This ended up being the lede to the story, so I'm wondering how you picked this as a lede, and do you have regrets? Do you think that was the right lede?" / A: "I think it was so surprising that effectively, the nominee of one of the parties - particularly the Republican party - saying we're going to have a massive recession and don't buy stocks... Now, as you look back on it, I would go to some of the other things he said that revealed what the drivers are in his personal and political life." // Q: "It seems as though you were shocked in this moment and it's clear from the transcript that there's a moment of - 'hmm'. But I was frustrated reading the story that you ended up writing, because you correct him in the story and you say no one agrees with him, no economists agree with him. But you don't give him the opportunity to correct himself. I mean, he is telling you something - why didn't you call him on it there, instead of catching him later?" / A: "First of all, I'm not an economist, and what the real unemployment number is - there's some people who just say it's much larger than 5%, and there are people who say it's 10%. No one else really would say 20%. Trump is not an economist, and you don't want to waste time having an argument about things that I know the least about, and in fact, I think he knows the least about. But you're right, and in this story we did say, 'No one agrees.'" / Q: "But how do you deal with someone who's spouting inaccuracies in the interview itself?" / A: "The purpose of an interview like this is not, 'Gotcha!' It's not to catch. It is to understand, in my view, and this is the great ritual - the journalistic ritual - of listening; you have to listen. And when he says that, we don't want to waste time on that, quite frankly - it's just a practical decision. I think there are other things that he said that were more revealing. One of the things we did was, we read him some quotes from Obama about power - real power - because the presidency is about power and exercising power. And Obama, of course, said, 'Real power is not having to use violence, real power' - as Obama said in his first inaugural - is humility in restraint.' Now you could just see, you mentioned humility and restraint to Trump and he's about to jump over the table, and then he said the following: 'I think there is a certain truth to that; real power is respect, real power is - I don't even want to use the word fear, but you know our military is very sadly depleted.' But this isn't the military - he slipped that in. 'Real power, I don't want to use the word' - but of course, he did." // Q: "Was there talk of leading with that, or was it pegging it to a more concrete example such as the economy, just make more sense in that case?" / A: "The editor of the Post, Marty Baron, read the transcript, and he thought the lede was Trump's statement that he was going to ask people in the White House to sign confidentiality agreements, nondisclosure agreements, and the decision was, 'Oh, that's kind of a press issue, we always want the White House to be open,' and so that got discarded."

Mia S.

"I would urge you to find something - a hard target; nothing is off limits, there are no boundaries. You need to - as representatives of the media - ask the questions of people who have power... Trump was right on the edge of becoming the Republican nominee; Bob Costa and I, we spent a lot of time thinking about this: 'How can we get some answers from Trump? How we can try to find out what's inside, what's driving him.'" // Q: "You sort of hesitate at the start, and Trump is going on about 'takes guts,' and he's sort of getting into that speech he does, but you interrupt him three times, four times. You ask him later in the interview, 'When did it become yes?' and you really want to get to this point but Trump is not getting it. When do you decide when to interrupt someone you're interviewing, what's the thought process going through your head?" / A: "Interrupt if they're not answering the question. This was one of the first questions, and you're trying to set the terms of engagement, and by persisting with the same question, we're saying to him, 'We really want answers.' In this case, the question is, 'How did you make this big decision?' And having written books about eight other presidents, how they cross that line and say, 'Hey I'm running,' and the why. In pursuing the question with Trump, finally the fourth time, he said, 'Well it got to yes,' and then we followed up, 'What did your family say?' and he literally said that his wife Melania said to him, 'Oh if you run, you will win.' And a lot of people, now that he's president, have theorized, maybe at birth, maybe early in his business career, certainly, at various stages in New York he was always saying he's about to run." // Q: "Trump doesn't like to be interrupted. He likes to give his spiel. What was the game you were playing when you were trying to build a relationship with him through the interview, but then you interrupted him when he wanted to launch in? How do you navigate that?" / A: "We really want the answer to this, and he didn't say, 'I'm not going to give it,' he didn't throw up a wall; you could see - and there's no video of this - but he's thinking of that question." // Q: "On the flip side of that question, how do you know to move on? How do you know you've gotten as far as you're going to get? You posed the question three to four times, and then you finally moved on. How do you know to do that?" / A: "Because he did finally answer it, so we got the answers. Does that change history? No. Is it useful? I think it's part of, 'Hey look, we want to understand you."

Rich C.

I think that listening is a primary necessity of any endeavor. When someone asked game designer and Disney imagineer Jesse Schell (Carnegie Mellon) what the most important skill is to get a job in the game industry, he said the ability to listen. To listen and really, actually understand what the other is saying, which means you have to stop the incessant dialog in your own head and pay attention. Give your time to the other person.

William S.

Kinda tired of the negative anti-Trump talk, most of it is baseless and based on opinion and not facts. It was the Obama and Hillary years that are tied to corruption, take SpyGate for example, paid for by the DNC. And they were all in on it. Justice will come. Bill Barr will serve it. Deep state in America will be cleaned out.