To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

Business, Politics & Society

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.

Bob Woodward
Teaches Investigative Journalism
In 24 lessons, learn how to uncover the truth from the greatest journalist of our time.
Get Started


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. ...

Find the real story

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.

I learned among other things something that spoke very deep to me “even when you’re right, you’re wrong” (The presidential pardon story) and also the parallels to the art of storytelling and structuring a piece that is engaging and factual. I really love this class! Mr Woodward is an incredible man. A genius!

Brilliant, pragmatic, honest and inspiring !!!

I am not a journalism student, but I greatly admire Bob Woodward. Even though he is not a dynamic speaker, this class was fascinating. He exudes integrity and I found myself riveted to every word.

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


Darya B.

I love that Mayflower coffee shop story of checking your sources, because that is crazy, and I am sure happens more often then not. Yes that small mistake can end a career.

Vickie R.

Ever heard of the famous DC socialiste Esther Coopersmith? Held tons of high ranking parties like KG.

Vickie R.

I heard in Hollywood that writers are the lowest men on the totem pole. True. F Scott Fitzgerald said and he hated Hollywood. Changed all of his material.

Vickie R.

Can phones me tapped without a warrant or permission of the S court? Since 1960s?????

Lisa W.

What’s stunning is the fact currently are living with a political base who seems to have a loose relationship with ethical behavior.

Rowena M.

I think most of the mistakes Nixon made was basically obvious. It does underscore that an investigative reporter should also learn all the local and international politics, laws and become behaviorists. Sounds like a lot, but if you are in the habit of observing people while they fall off a cliff, you know the exact moment they will. It's just human nature to just have to formulate your theory, get facts and wait or the anvil. Truth does always find a spotlight.


Absolutely astonished that Butterfield kept all those documents! Shouldn't they be archived in the Nixon library? They need to be scanned and preserved with copies located in a secure second location in case of fire or water damage. Holy heck! Are those Top Secret documents declassified?

Geri S.

What I always worry about when covering a story is about asking the right questions. I've always said if I don't know what questions to ask, I'm in trouble. Because then I can't discern that what people tell me is the truth. Of course, that means you have to talk to a lot of people. Doing your homework can't be overstated.

Geri S.

It is stunning to think about the depth and thoroughness one much achieve in covering some a huge and important story. What leaps out to me is how very accurate you must be in gathering information. And, how do you know if you have everything? Catherine Grahm was right when she said: "Don't tell me never." It was critical for Bob and Carl to continue to dig deeper and stay persistent. It is intimidating to think about covering such an important and historic event. My concern as a journalist is: When I don't know what questions to ask, how do I know I'm getting the right information.

Berit B.

Yup, just as I thought. I checked my birth certificate and just as I thought, I wasn't born yesterday!