Integrity vs. Crazytown

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I’m teaching two non-fiction, critical thinking, research-focused seminars at Old Dominion University. It is a favorite of mine for the convergence of creative non-fiction writing in the vein of Truman Capote or, to a lesser degree, Tom Wolfe without his fabricated presence in events, and journalism in our attempt to establish credibility through in-depth, valid research of indisputable sources.

I asked the students, all roughly nineteen-years-old and more attentive than any students I taught at other local colleges, what drove their interest in the course. The answers varied from “my advisor told me I had to take it” to “my professors in the science courses don’t like my research or writing.” One student asked what inspired me to pursue classes like that when I was in college.

Don’t you love good timing? I absolutely love excellent timing.

I told them I was sixteen-years-old as a junior in high school and required to read some books which intrigued me, including Electric Cool-aid Acid Test, In Cold Blood, and, most notably All the President’s Men about the Watergate debacle which had occurred just a few years earlier. I told them I continued that interest into college where classes like this were standard for journalism majors. And while the world was just starting to fall in love with the works of Stephen King, my writing heroes were two men in particular—Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post writers who brought down Nixon and his henchmen. In fact, most of the communication majors at college admired the integrity and thoroughness of these journalists—other grads like Neil Cavuto and Dan Barry taking the lead of our seasoned professors to insure nothing—absolutely nothing—can be challenged.

All the Presidents Men was published forty-four years ago, and since then not one single aspect of research or information Bob Woodward has published has been shown to be wrong. What he brings to the table in his half a century as a journalist is the indisputable reputation of being right. He doesn’t rely upon editors to check his work for accuracy—though of course they will—he does that work before it reaches their inbox. His meticulous attention to detail through the years has resulted in a trust of the information he provides. That’s what you’re shooting for, I told them. That’s what you want professors to think when they pick up your essays and research projects: “Oh, this was written by Jane Doe, I know this will be accurate and thoroughly researched.” It affects your grade, it affects your letters of recommendation, it affects your job placement.

And that’s why despite the dozen or more books about djt which have been released and scrutinized and argued in the past two years, this is the first one which terrorizes the president, his confidants, and his lawyers. This isn’t Kitty Kelley with her spurious accounts of goings-on in the lives of her subjects. This is Bob Fucking Woodward. This is the voice of everything journalism is supposed to be, and is.

In every generation, it is said, comes a writer who makes everyone pay attention. Woodward is well into his third generation of readers. Never doubt the power of an accurate story or two. 

Watch the news, I told them. Something’s about to happen.

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