Arts & Entertainment, Business, Writing

The Reporting Challenges of Watergate

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 17:23 min

Watergate was a pivotal moment in Bob's career. In this chapter, he shares the lessons he learned from reporting on this groundbreaking historical event.

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Topics include: How It All Began • Journalists Don’t Take Down Presidents • The Lust for Power • Get Used to Criticism • Good Reporting Can Protect You • Don’t Tell Me Never • You’re Never Done Assessing History


Saturday morning, June 17, 1972, I'm asleep in my apartment. And the phone rings and it's the city editor, can you come in? There's been a burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters. And I'd worked at The Post for nine months, I was covering night police. I would work during the day on other stories to follow up things, had been trapped in the Navy for five years. I felt really liberated and loved the work. And so, it was a beautiful Saturday morning and the editors sat around and said, who would be dumb enough to come in today and work? And my name was at the top of the list. So they called me, went into the paper, and they said, go to the courthouse where the five burglars were going to be arraigned, charged formally. So I went to the courtroom, sat in the front row, and the five burglars came in and they were all in business suits. And I'd been covering police for many months, never heard of or seen burglars in business suits. And they stood there and the judge asked the man James McCord, who was clearly the leader, where have you worked? And McCord went CIA and the judge said, speak up, where did you work? McCord went CIA. Judge said, no, where? Speak so we can hear. And McCord said CIA. And I thought, holy shit. Burglars, business suits, they had very elaborate photographic and electronic surveillance equipment. There was a lawyer there who clearly had been called to represent the burglars and I kept asking him, why are you here? And he said, I'm not here. And so there were all these alarm bells of this is a really fascinating story. Went back, about eight of us were working on this story, including Carl Bernstein. And the next day, Sunday, we were the only two who came in. And so we started working together and discovered, through the work of another reporter, that James McCord, the lead burglar, had been head of security at the CIA, Central Intelligence Agency, but also been head of security at the Nixon Reelection Committee. So you don't need a hunch or imagination, just these facts as presented at this point more than suggest, they tell you, that's a good story. People have written that Carl Bernstein, myself, the Washington Post took down the President. That's really not what happened. We did the reporting. Probably the most important person outside the news organization was Senator Ervin, who called me up in January, 1973 and said we're going to investigate Watergate. Will you give us your sources? And I said, we really can't do that. There needs to be that separation. He understood but he launched his investigation that got testimony from everyone. So it was journalism, congressional investigation, special prosecutor, and, in the end, it was the Supreme Court that ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes. So it was a process that was begun with the reporting, but it didn't cause the outcome. ...

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

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