Washington Post Investigations
Tuesday, November 20, 2007; 11:00 AM
At 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 20, Bob Woodward, founder of the Post's award-winning investigative team and Jeff Leen, AME/Investigative, discussed the Post's investigative efforts as well as washingtonpost.com's new online section, Washington Post Investigations.
The transcript follows.
washingtonpost.com: We're having some technical difficulties and will be with you in a few minutes.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Welcome. Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen are here to answer your questions.
Durham, N.C.: First, congratulations on starting this blog. There seems to be such a fertile field of corruption and wrong-headedness in government policy and operations that I'm curious about how you select a particular subject for investigation. Also, is there a way for readers to suggest investigative projects?
washingtonpost.com: Feel free to email your story suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Thank you. We are always looking for specific and detailed information on wrongdoing or any other subject worthy of indepth examination. It is very important that members of the public who have information that would be worthy of investigation contact us directly. High quality information from inside the government or elsewhere is invaluable to the process we have. If somebody has significant information please, please contact us on the tipline.
Washington, D.C.: Congratulations on the new investigations site. You say in your introduction that you will sometimes point us to other newspapers to look at their projects. I'll believe that when I see it. Wouldn't that be a big change from the spirit of ignoring the competition that so many news organizations still maintain?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Don't you remember in the Christmas film the Miracle of 34th Street when a santa at Macy's sent somebody to Gimbel's? We like to think of ourselves as connoisseurs of investigative reporting as well as people who practice it. Yes, this is a change, in the spirit of the Internet and bringing readers to the best investigative work available.
Annapolis, Md.: Bob, what is your assessment of the current state of investigative reporting in America? Is it threatened or helped by the Internet?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: I think there is more and often better investigative reporting in newspapers now than at any time, including the 1970s. However, we still need to do more and better work. The Internet is not a threat, it is an opportunity for reporters, editors and readers.
Washington, D.C.: Why have you decided to create an investigative blog and why now?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: We feel the need to bring our investigative reporting to a wider audience and use the opportunity the Internet has given us. We spend lot of time doing investigations, and we want to give them a longer shelf life, provide more interaction with readers and also do a better job of following up our investigations. We hope it is a measure of our seriousness and our strong desire to expand our audience.
Philadelphia, Pa.: What are the parameters of what this investigative team will have? Sometimes, I am less impressed with the "gotcha" kind of easy investigation where the press exposes someone who forgot to submit an expense voucher or is seen in public with someone other than the person's spouse. I am more impressed with the harder to find story that exposes when large sums of money are being abused. What is the focus of this team?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: We can investigate subjects on a local, national and internationl level. We are only limited by the quality of information and the knowledge of our sources, whether they are willing to be named or request anonymity. We still believe that "follow the money" is central tenet of investigative reporting.
Rockville, Md.: You hear a lot these days about newspapers cutting drastically back on their staffs. Are you seeing a cutback in resources dedicated to investigative reporting, around the country or even at The Post?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Jeff: The leadership at the Post has been very good at protecting and supporting the investigative unit and other investigative efforts through a tough time in the newspaper business. But every day we have to prove our value to our readers.
Northeast Washington, D.C.: When you created the unit, how did you choose the reporters? And what criteria is used to choose reporters for that team today? Number of awards etc.?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: We took reporters from both National and Metro staffs. We wanted people who could dig and write. From Jeff: The same remains true today.
Washington, D.C.: Don't you have a duty to report criminal activity to the appropriate authorities?
How pervasive is "caging"?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: We publish what we can find and document. Many times over the years government authorities have pursued the information we have dug up and launched their own investigations. But we're trying to serve the readers, and we do not act as police or prosecutors. And please send us an e-mail explaing what "caging" is.
Herndon, Va.: Any comments on the latest DC disaster? I guess I am an innocent, but am still shocked such big (to me) amounts of $$$ can be siphoned away, with someone even providing warnings, and nothing happens until a good newspaper gets involved.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: The scandal about the theft of more than $20 million in the local DC tax office shows what happens when people do not closely watch government money. If reporters should "follow the money," government should "watch the money," far more closely than it often does. In this case, a bank alerted authorities, and the FBI began an investigation. Reporters on our Metro staff are now working hard on follow-ups and context.
Minneapolis, Minn.: A couple of years ago Mr. Woodward worried about the effect of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation on the underground railroad of information, including classified information, between reporters and government officials. And indeed, it is well-known that your excellent books on the Bush administration benefit from the massive leaking of classified information from top administration officials. At the same time, the Bush administration itself has fairly aggressively pursued leaks of classified information that they did not like.
Can you speak to the state of this issue and its implications for the very important kinds of investigative journalism the Post and other outlets pursue?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: I think the government still too often is trying to determine sources of information but the Valerie Plame Affair seems to have dissipated. And reporters like myself are still able to do our jobs. I'm at work at Bush At War, Part IV, now. If anyone has anything I should know please contact me at email@example.com.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Woodward, have other news organizations tried to woo you away from the Post over the years? What's kept you there all these years?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: I have had other job offers over the years, but quite frankly I find the owners and editors at the Washington Post the best around. Over 36 years I have received tremendous support, guidance and some tough-love editing--all ingredients that every reporter must have.
New York City: Interesting idea, good luck with this.
There are mnay rumors of misdeeds, large and small, especially now with the Internet, will you attempt to shoot down these sorts of rumors if you find reason to after investigating -- or choose not to investigate?
I imagine a weekly discussion (much like the present one) where ongoing rumors of scandal are floated by readers and the Post responds.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Again, we seek to pursue issues of public significance and concern. For example, we spend more time investigating large government expenditures, whether on contracts or wars, than we might some lesser expenditures by local governments, but we are interested in all follow-the-money stories. We do not like to chase conspiracy theories; too many of them turn out not to be true. But we will check out specific, detailed information and follow wherever it leads. Remember, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
It's Miracle ON 34th Street!: C'mon you guys. Gotta keep you on your toes. We expect great things from this new, six-years late, very tardy, muchneeded undertaking.
Are you really up to the challenge with your rightward leaning, Cheney-Bush-War supporting editorial board?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: It has been stated many times but I would be happy to offer proof that there is a so-called Chinese Wall between the editorial board and the news side of this newspaper. In my books and the vast number of stories in the newspaper by countless reporters, we have perhaps provided more fresh, authoritative information on Bush and Cheney than any other institution. Witness the four-part series on Cheney, titled Angler, that ran earlier this year.
New York, N.Y.: Hi
I am surprised that the Post has not reported on Congress' past actions and the lack of regulation has played in the subprime mortgage crisis.
As a former banker examiner, I see similarities to the S&L fiasco.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: The subprime mortgage crisis was too much of a surprise, in the same way that Enron was. Certain reporters told pieces of the story, but we should have been onto those stories sooner and in more depth. Again, if bank or energy business insiders had provided us with high-quality information we could have done a better job.
Washington, D.C.: When you direct readers to other investigative reporting, will you limit the range of sources to newspapers and news organizations, or will you also highlight investigative reporting from blogs and video-sharing sites?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: We plan to be an equal-opportunity site pointing people to the best in investigative reporting that we see.
Arlington, Va.: Can there be a benefit to an ongoing investigation on earmarks with the result that outlines the arguments of the legislator who introduced the funding request and what possible deals were made to secure the dollars? I won't even try to imagine that the lobbying efforts could be tracked.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: This is definitely one of the areas we should be looking at, following the money. We have investigated several earmarks and published a number of stories on them and will continue to do so.
Fairlington, Va.: To what extent has investigative reporting targeting the executive branch been aided by the Democrats' takeover of Congress, especially the oversight committees? Has more information begun to leak out?
Even as a dyed in the wool Republican, I thought it best that the opposition party control Congress in a time of war in the hope that increased scrutiny of operations would increase their effectiveness. Is this happening?
Thank you for your work.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: The Democratic takeover has definitely provided more opportunities for all reporters. We don't care for the term "leak," and only apply it to other news organizations when they get stories we don't have or wish he had. Good investigative reporting takes an immense amount of time and there are too few people who come forward. Most of the time our reporters have to slowly dig out the information, piece by piece. On most occasions we have to track down the people who will help us.
Memphis, Tenn.: Mr. Woodward - In your book, 'The Commanders", you spell out rather succinctly the overall motives, as you see them, of the prior Bush administration, as well as insight into G.W.'s character - remember the blow-up at the baseball game? Here's the real question - as an outspoken Democrat, I feel I have been targeted in the local media as some sort of "Anti-American" simply because my political beliefs differ with that of the current administration. I'm curious - are they, in your opinion, that threatened by enlightened political debate?
P.S. Thanks for "The Final Days" - it's a masterpiece!
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: Please e-mail be about how you have been targeted as anti-American: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alexandria, Va.: Kudos to you for investing in the press's number one responsibility - investigative reporting.
Can you set up an e-mail list so we get your news when new things are posted?
washingtonpost.com: You can get the RSS feed at the bottom of the Investigations page.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Here is the information on how this can be done.
Washington D.C.: This question is for Bob Woodward: How do you decide what information goes in your books and what should be published in the Post?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: On many occasions, I come across information that should be in the newspaper as soon as possible; at those times I go back to my sources and ask them to release me from earlier ground rules so it can be published in the paper. A story I did this July about CIA Director Hayden's statements to the Iraq study group is an example of that.
From Jeff: After 9/11 Bob worked full-time for the paper for four-months unraveling the plot and the administration's response. Six of his stories were among the 10 that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2002.
Los Angeles, Calif.: The Media has turned to multimedia, so what about the future of investigative units? Is worth it to have an investigative unit or investigative reporters? Thanks.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: We believe in the age of the Internet that investigative reporting is more essential than ever. People want exclusive content and in-depth examination of all of the power centers of modern-day life. That's our job, and we're continuing to work on it. We want to expand our effort and think creatively about how to present information in the newspaper and on the Web.
Silver Spring, Md.: I appreciate the investigations that have appeared in the Post. I am glad someone is going after these stories.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Thank you.
Fairfax, Va.: Your answer to Philadelphia about the "parameters" of your investigative targets was quite vague. Why didn't you say we are going to bust the Blackwater mercenary story wide open and report about the connections between the Bush/Cheney Administration and the anti-democracy right wing company that Blackwater is?
Or at least find out and report to us why we are using mercenaries in the first place. But no, that would go right to the heart of the cabal that runs this country and will continue to do so as long as folks such as yourself are in charge of this new venture. It reminds me of The Post replacing Getler with Howell for Ombudsman so The Post can cay they have an ombudsman while Ms. Howell hasn't shown one tenth the integrity Mr. Getler did.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Steve Fainaru, one of the investigative reporters on our Foreign staff whose work you will be seeing on this site, has been doing an indepth investigation of Blackwater.
Silver Spring, Md.: Do you expect to rival the quality of Talking Points memo or other blogs?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: The Post has another online section, The Trail, that covers politics in depth. This section is meant to highlight original investigative work.
Portland, Ore.: Mr. Leen and Mr. Woodward -
Can you give us an update on the investigation/charges/trial of former congressman Tom DeLay? I have seen precious little on this issue reported lately.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Keep a close eye on this site. We expect to be publishing an update on it today.
New York City: The fact that there is a constant section/effort on Investigations supposes that there is constantly something to investigate. Does this not contribute to the erroneous belief by journalists that the government is always lying and doing something nefarious? Or, do you gentleman really believe that there is ALWAYS something to investigate?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: I've been doing this for 36 years and my to-do list only grows. I cannot think of a day when there was no work and I expect there will never be one. Increasingly, there are concentrations of power, often secret power in government and other institutions that need to be examined in a systematic way.
Alexandria, Va.: I have not heard much about the Katherine Wiley book, "Target". What do you think about the transcript being stolen and the other threats she has had? From whom? Any investigation going on on this topic?
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: From Bob: I plan to look at her book and if there is anything to pursue we will find somebody to do so.
Bethesda, Md.: This isn't a question or anything that requires a reply. I just wanted to commend you on this initiative to keep investigative reporting a priority at the Post.
Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen: Thank you very much. And thank you for joining this discussion. We're going back to work.
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