Posted 9:30pm November 13
by Jane Black
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Reporter Bob Woodward says he was always prepared to sit outside the “big shot’s” office as long as it took for him to get his answers. He remembers long before the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, when a notepad was a reporter’s Bible and a typewriter his speakerphone.
Although 30 years have passed since the Watergate era, we find ourselves in a similar historical context: A war brimming with uncertainty, skepticism of government, and distrust of the news media.
Former broadcast reporter Marvin Kalb was the one asking the questions Tuesday night at The National Press Club in Washington D.C. Tension characterized the live one-hour Kalb Report on investigative journalism, as he called into question Woodward’s interviewing techniques, his role at the Washington Post, and his reactions to the War in Iraq.
Kalb quickly brought up the reason why the American public is still largely preoccupied with the Watergate scandal: The mystery identity of Woodward’s background source during the Watergate investigation. He questioned why, 30 years later, was it still important to keep the identity of Deep Throat a secret.
“We live in a culture where people don’t keep their word,” said Woodward. “My colleague Carl [Bernstein] and I decided 30 years ago that we would, that we would uphold that relationship of trust.”
Woodward reverted to speaking about the contemporary state of journalism reporting several times. He pointed out that although today’s reporters have the advantage of instantaneous story gathering, this speed can have a deleterious effect on the end product.
“Now people are so fascinated with getting the latest that stories are becoming a snapshot with no depth,” said Woodward. “Now, when a reporter has even a beginning of a story, its ‘can we get it up on the Web at 8 a.m.?'”
Although Woodward’s prime reporting days were decades ago, he is no stranger to the newsroom. currently serves as the assistant managing editor at the Washington Post. While Kalb acknowledged Woodward’s role at the paper he made famous with his Watergate reporting, he joked that Woodward was a “stay at home editor” and questioned his ability to serve as mentors to the young journalists who are in the newsroom.
“I have a relationship of trust at the Post,” said Woodward. “And that’s what you need if you are really trying to do your job.” Kalb continued by questioning Woodward’s technique of sending out memos to interview subjects ahead of time, which contain the questions he plans to ask in the interview. Kalb specifically mentioned the 20-page memo that Woodward sent President George W. Bush with questions he asked in an interview for his book, “Bush at War,” a book about how the president and his cabinet prosecuted the war on terror in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. “An interview isn’t a ‘gotcha’,” said Woodward. After Kalb tried with little success to get Woodward to speak about his latest project, a book on how the United States got into the war in Iraq, Kalb questioned his views on the war.
“In an interview last December you predicted that Bush would go the U.N. route,” said Kalb. “You were wrong,” Woodward defended himself, saying that Bush was in negotiations with the United Nations for six months.
While Woodward made clear the effects that modernization has had on journalism, his remedy was simple. “The best thing we can do in our business is to get back to the basics … figuring out what happened, going to sources, making the calls, and just laying out the facts.”