cover image All About the Story: News, Power, Politics and the Washington Post

All About the Story: News, Power, Politics and the Washington Post

Leonard Downie, Jr. Public Affairs, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5417-4228-4

Triumphs of old-school investigative journalism are revisited in this elegiac memoir. Downie, executive editor of the Washington Post from 1991 to 2008, reviews his long career at the paper, from undertaking innovative investigative pieces as a young reporter to editing the Watergate reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, to overseeing coverage of 9/11 and the Iraq War, which often contradicted the Bush Administration’s line. It’s a colorful account full of behind-the-scenes office politics and sharply eyed character sketches, but Downie’s overriding theme is the contrast between his tenure during journalism’s golden age and a present-day mediascape where news reporting often degenerates into shallow clickbait and vitriolic opining. “Post journalists got it right,” he asserts, through tenacious investigations, strict objectivity—Downie stopped voting when he became managing editor to ensure his own preferences wouldn’t influence coverage of electoral campaigns—and a journalistic statesmanship that saw him conferring with presidents on the national security impact of stories. Downie’s justifications of journalism past aren’t always convincing—he defends, for instance, the media uproar over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a milestone on the way to today’s salaciously politicized news cycles—but he delivers a penetrating and thought-provoking take on the press at the peak of its influence. At a time when the news media itself is increasingly becoming part of the story, this insider take on newsroom culture resonates. (Sept.)