“A Good Faith Effort”: A Conversation About the Future of Journalism with Bob Woodward

By Isis Amusa

As a speakers bureau dedicated to bringing politically relevant leaders to the AU community, the Kennedy Political Union had the great honor of hosting one of the most distinguished figures known to hold these very leaders accountable. On Nov. 12, the Kennedy Political Union and the School of Communication invited Pulitzer Prize-Winning Investigative Journalist, Bob Woodward, to speak at a virtual event on the election results, Donald Trump’s presidency, and his own renowned journalism career.

President Donald Trump has bragged that he has revived journalism, investigative journalism in particular. To a certain extent, Mr. Woodward says he believes this is true. But Mr. Woodward noted the stark contrast between the pressures placed on journalists today, versus when he broke the Watergate story over several months in 1972. As Mr. Woodward met with “Deep Throat” in that dark parking garage, he feared for his life and paranoia set in. Regardless, his commitment to revealing the truth persevered and he has since kept that commitment.

Mr. Woodward has gone on to write more number-one books than any other contemporary author, mainly focusing on presidents. Moderator and SOC Professor Lenny Steinhorn was spot on when he said Mr. Woodward has “written and reported the first draft of our nation’s history.”

Most recently, Mr. Woodward revealed that President Trump was well aware of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic as early as January and downplayed its significance so as to not cause a panic. As the pair discussed Mr. Woodward’s book, “Rage,” he described his private phone calls with the president. From mocking Mr. Woodward for his efforts to understand what fuels the Black Lives Matter movement, to denying his moral responsibility to protect the nation from the pandemic with concrete plans, Mr. Woodward says Trump continued to support all notions that he was not the right man for the presidency.

Later, students asked Mr. Woodward how he perceives the future of journalism now that Trump is projected to be replaced by former Vice President Joe Biden. When asked specifically about how journalism may play a role in the “reunification” of parties Biden promoted in his victory speech, Mr. Woodward believes, for now, the media will play it safe. He highlighted the polarizing effect of the Trump administration not only on the public but also on the media. During this transition, he believes the media will give Biden “every break possible,” but he hopes to see journalism continue to commit to its same standard of promoting nonpartisan accountability.

As journalism continues to evolve, Mr. Woodward shared some advice from former Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham to the SOC students in attendance. “Beware of the demon pomposity,” she once wrote to Mr. Woodward and Carl Bernstein on a yellow legal pad. Further, he encouraged students to stick to the basics even in our digital era. Calling someone directly, showing up at their house, and even remembering small details about them can be significantly more helpful for attaining the truth than attacking them. He encourages all aspiring journalists to move with care and pursue the craft if they really love it.

Throughout the event, Mr. Woodward’s humble demeanor was refreshing in the wake of the recent election. He “moved with care” even when speaking to our very own student journalists, taking a keen interest in AU’s student publications at interviews conducted prior to the event. The Kennedy Political Union is fiercely proud to have brought one of the most distinguished journalists of our time and someone who has never wavered in his commitment to telling the truth. As a journalism major and an aspiring investigative journalist myself, I’m excited to see journalism continue to evolve and how we work to maintain our commitment to hold political leaders accountable. We may not always get it right along the way, but as Mr. Woodward said, “it’s a good-faith effort.”

The Kennedy Political Union (KPU) is the non-partisan, student-run, student-funded speakers bureau at American University.