Where Have you Gone, Bob Woodward?

Posted on September 23, 2010

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As part of a sample quiz on the first day of my New Media Presentation class at Ohio State, I asked a question about Bob Woodward as it related to his new Obama book, “Obama’s Wars.” I could understand them not knowing that reference, but I was more than a bit surprised when they had no idea who Bob Woodward was or what he had contributed to journalism.

Once I got over my shock, I was grateful that we were all that room together, because I remember Bob Woodward (and Carl Bernstein) and their role in political history through Watergate. I remember, I admire, and I am still inspired by their pursuit of truth and that of all journalism pioneers who led our industry through the challenges of time. And I will always seek to instill that same respect in those I teach.

But how far has journalism slipped that Bob Woodward is no longer a respected and recognizable figure in our midst?

I was only 6 years old when Watergate broke, but the stories and legend lingered and drove my desire to go into journalism–from the first newspaper created for the Bicentennial in 1976 with my construction paper, markers and crayons, to my first reporting job at a terrific weekly newspaper outside Philadelphia in 1988. I wanted to be one of “those people”–the ones who stood up to injustice and spoke for the people; the ones who poked and prodded elected officials to ensure they did the right things, or that someone knew when they weren’t; the ones who were watching to keep the public informed.

I never had a Watergate, but I had my share of big stories–stories that readers in my community felt made a difference, made their lives better. I could not have been prouder.

But is anyone still watching?

Today House Republicans took a page from the 1994 playbook by unveiling their “Pledge to America,” which promises to slash taxes, cut government, reverse President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, cure cancer, solve world hunger, teach all kids to read and ensure the Phillies win the World Series (OK, I admit I made those last few up).

I could have sworn I heard of this plan before. Except it was called the “Contract With America,” and Newt Gingrich was its architect. And it helped get us into the mess we enjoy today.

“Our government has failed us,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy of northeastern Los Angeles County, according to CNN. “The land of opportunity has become the land of shrinking prosperity. … People are outraged.”

He’s right, but government has failed–on both sides of the aisle. Grabs for attention and authority and pork money has robbed our government of its integrity. And people better be outraged–what’s the line, “If you are not outraged then you are not paying attention.”  But furious or not, they are still wondering, “Who is going to help us.”

I believe help will come from this new generation of journalists, the students who sit so inspiring in our classes, who may not have known who Bob Woodward was this morning, but they will by tomorrow. And maybe it will drive them toward finding their own place in history–making it and preserving it for the rest of us.

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