Last week, longtime journalist Bob Levey shared a lifetime of expertise with VCU journalism students, urging them to focus on strong journalism and to remember that cries of “fake news” from those in the spotlight are nothing new.
Washington Post journalist, former columnist, and author Bob Levey said that attacks on the press – such as the U.S. president calling the media “the enemy of the people” and accusing them of being “fake and corrupt” – is nothing new.
In a talk to students, faculty, and interested locals at Virginia Commonwealth University last Thursday evening, Levey discussed his background as a Washington Post reporter, where he worked at a desk between the award-winning journalism team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during the early 1970’s Watergate scandal.
Levey compared the current impeachment process to similar events during President Richard Nixon’s term, and again in the 1990s with President Bill Clinton. He explained how his career has taught him the value of courageous journalism, particularly during periods of increased political polarization.
“The story is king,” Levey said. “What I heard every day for years between Bob and Carl during Watergate was never ‘get Nixon.’ What I heard every day was ‘get the story.’ Get the story first, get it all, get it right, and get it in a way that it can never be challenged as far as accuracy is concerned.”
Levey recalled an instance when former President Lyndon Johnson complained about Levey’s coverage of him. He said no president is completely happy with their media coverage.
“It is not just in the cloud of impeachment that presidents find it difficult to accept the journalism that is written about them,” Levey said.
Levey was on campus as a part of the VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture’s Speaker Series. The talk was titled “From Nixon to Trump: Why our democracy needs strong journalism.”
Levey served as the Robertson School’s Virginius Dabney Distinguished Professor in 2016-2017. The Distinguished Dabney Professor is a guest professor brought in roughly every three to four years to teach courses and give public talks in the school.
Levey also pointed out that despite criticism of journalism and the media at large, there is still incredible reporting being done. Levey singled out stories written by Maggie Haberman of The New York Times and David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, and how both reporters have recently been awarded Pulitzer Prizes for their work.
“This is journalism that is going on now in the face of this kind of resistance and these kinds of accusations of fake news, fake news, fake news,” Levey said. “This is journalism that’s worth it.”
After speaking for about 30 minutes, Levey answered questions from the audience.
Kelly Booth, a VCU student majoring in digital journalism who had a chance to meet Levey before the event started, asked Levey if widespread access to internet records has impacted data journalism, where journalists analyze, distill, and report on information gleaned from data.
“I think he wanted to focus more on the fact that it’s the person who analyzes that data that can actually make it into a story, rather than it just being public and anyone can scan it,” Booth said.
Marcus Messner, interim director of the Robertson School, said when he was organizing the Speaker Series for the 2019-2020 year, he jumped at the possibility of including Levey in the lineup. He asked Levey if they could schedule the event in fall 2019, as the presidential race started heating up.
“We planned this over half a year ago,” Messner said, noting that he could not have anticipated the current impeachment inquiry that made Levey’s talk especially relevant.
Levey was also at VCU to promote his novel Larry Felder: Candidate, which was released in September 2018. Levey stayed after the discussion to speak to students and sign copies of his book.
“I hope that I will always be able to inspire students to pursue a career in this industry, because they should, and they can, make a great contribution,” Levey said. “It’s the best business there is.”
Written by Morgan Edwards, Capital News Service. Photos via VCU-CNS