UNIVERSITY PARK—Bob Woodward, American investigative journalist and associate editor of the Washington Post, spoke with students Thursday, Feb. 27 as a part of Penn State’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
Woodward has been with the Washington Post since 1971, and is known most famously for the role he played alongside Carl Bernstein in breaking the Watergate scandal. The lecture took place in Eisenhower Auditorium, a room filled with aspiring student journalists and ethics professors.
The Student Programming Association sponsored the hour-and-a-half long presentation. The main subject of the lecture was politics in the United States, a topic that goes hand-in-hand with Woodward’s new non-fiction novel, “The Price of Politics.”
Part of his lecture included his insight into the Obama administration and their handling of the current economy and debt crisis. He attributed many of the problems in Washington not only to bi-partisanship in the House and polarization in the Senate, but also to President Obama’s inability to take leadership and “start the conversation.”
“Former Presidents Reagan and Clinton found a way to work their will while being open to criticism,” Woodward said. “Obama still doesn’t know how to do that…it is true that there is a civil war of high magnitude going on [not only] in the Republican Party, but also in the Democratic Party.”
Woodward touched upon what he believes to be two gripping issues that should be at the forefront of the news media today: the state of the economy and the state of the world.
“Who remembers their first employer? Everyone does,” said Woodward. “Employment is the biggest gift you can give someone…If the government could fix the spending plan and taxing laws, we could be on the brink of a new era of business and economy. You can work it out on the back of an envelope if there’s a will. If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
When an audience member asked Woodward what he thought about the apathy of the current generation to hard news over the entertainment sector, Woodward expressed his concerns for a “hidden government.”
“I worry that we don’t know what’s going on. We also don’t know what it means,” Woodward said. “The world is a dangerous place. North Korea has at least four nuclear devices and leadership that is unpredictable and whacky. No one knows what’s going on in China or Russia. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the disputes in India have not been resolved. Syria and Iraq are falling apart and Egypt and Libya are not settled. From North Korea to North Africa…the fuse of instability is lit in each of those countries. When I say that the working title of my new book should be ‘Meltdown,’ would it make you feel good?”
Before ending his lecture, Woodward related his experience in January 1973 to the Sandusky scandal at Penn State. He remembers when Katharine Graham, who was the publisher and owner of the Washington Post at the time, invited him to lunch and asked Woodward a “killer CEO question” about when the truth about Watergate was going to come out. Woodward told her that he and Carl knew the truth was never going to come out because people were not willing to talk.
“She had this pained, wounded look on her face,” Woodward remembered. “ [It was] the kind of look you don’t want to see. ‘Never? Don’t tell me never,’ she said. It was not statement of threat but of purpose. She said, ‘Never means keep working on this story. Don’t drop it. Why? Because that’s the business we are in. If we have to take risks to find out what we believe to be the truth, so be it.”
Woodward told the audience that he wasn’t worried about risk-taking, but rather the fundamental obligation of people in positions of power to seek and report the truth. He went on to say that he remembers leaving the meeting thinking that Graham understood “at her core” the business that journalists are in.
“I find this applies to the Sandusky affair in an interesting way…as a university you have to ask yourself, ‘what is the business that we’re in?’ The business that we’re in is not winning football games, even if it’s nice and important to people. The core job [of the university] is to educate and take care of the students. In the end, you can educate, take care of your students, win football games—but also be much wiser about the list of responsibilities a university manages.”
-Spring 2014/Internship at The Daily Herald