Think like a detective

Good advice from Bob Woodward of Watergate fame: Reporters should remember that investigative journalism is a lot like “what TV’s Columbo does.” Two stories from a new biography of Woodward and Carl Bernstein make the point. When the five burglars were arrested at the Watergate, Woodward asks,

What do you do? Do you go over and have lunch at the San Souci restaurant with some FBI official to find out what’s going on? No. You study the five burglars and find out where they’re from, where they live, where they work, who they talk to, who they socialize with, what they background is, how old they are, what their children do, where they go to church, where they bank, who their neighbors are.

Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate by Alicia Shepard also tells the story of Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel, who was involved in a car wreck and told reporters he’d been meeting with Democratic leaders. But none of those leaders could confirm the meeting. Turned out Mandel, who was married, had been off with his girlfriend. “What did Woodward do?” Shepard writes. “He sought the gasoline records for the governor’s car to find out how far it had been driven for the rendezvous.”

These gems and others are in Steve Weinberg’s book review in the March/April 2007 IRE Journal.

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