executive editor

Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post from 1991 to 2008, speaks about The Watergate Scandal and the state of journalism in Studio 6A following a screening of “All the President’s Men.” With Downie as executive editor, The Washington Post won 25 Pulitzer Prizes, including one for exposing the negligent conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Despite technologies that have been recently introduced to journalism, basic reporting techniques have remained the same, and any one reporter can make a difference, said Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post.

Downie discussed his experience working at The Washington Post during the Watergate scandal after a Tuesday screening of the film “All the President’s Men,” hosted by the School of Journalism. The film, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, is based on the novel by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward which recounts their journalistic endeavors during their investigation of the Watergate scandal.

Downie worked for the Washington Post for 44 years and served as executive editor for 17 of those years. While he was executive editor, the Post won 25 Pulitzer Prizes. Downie now serves as vice president at large for The Washington Post.

Downie said the reporting techniques used in the film are the same techniques some of the best reporters use now, which includes working sources from the bottom up, making cold phone calls to see what information can be found and knocking unexpectedly on doors of possible sources.

“The film is about how journalists do journalism,” said Glenn Frankel, director of the School of Journalism. “It is the best American film ever made about the process of journalism, how reporters make progress, make mistakes, fight and work with each other and struggle with their editor.”

The Watergate political scandal began June 17, 1972, with the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters and the attempted cover-up by the Nixon Administration, Downie said.

Frankel said the film is a prime example of what occurs when politicians abuse power and try to cover it up. He said the public must never assume people in power can be totally trusted because they can become liable to commit abuses with their influence.

Downie said if people are blinded by what’s happening during a scandal, it’s oftentimes hard to find a way out.

“History is a big river. It keeps on going and it’s hard to capture what really happens, but the film does it well,” said photojournalism professor Eli Reed. “It’s a good indication of what can happen if people in the press do something really right.”

The media always needs to be vigilant, independent, evenhanded and energetic in order to find and expose abuses of power, Frankel said.

Printed on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 as: Good reporting still works, former Post editor explains

A considerable number of inmates sentenced to death or life in prison could be innocent, the executive editor of the Texas Observer said in a lecture Thursday. Dave Mann spoke at MonkeyWrench Books about the death penalty in Texas. Mann focused on specific cases in which he thought the evidence was insufficient to sentence a person to death, including that of convicted arsonist Alfredo Guardiola. Guardiola, a heroin addict, was on the scene of a house fire in Houston that killed four people, Mann said. Houston police brought Guardiola in for questioning as a witness, but he soon became a suspect, he said. “People often want someone to blame when there is a tragedy,” he said. Mann asked the audience of 20 people to be the jury in the case. The audience seemed convinced that Guardiola was guilty, agreeing with the jury that sentenced him to 40 years in prison. Mann then revealed that Guardiola gave a written confession after police interrogated him for 13 hours and showed him pictures of the children killed in the fire. A few days later, Guardiola retracted his confession claiming the interrogators coerced him to confess. Guardiola currently has 20 years remaining on his sentence. Mann said the case is like many others in which either because of police coercion or botched forensic science, innocent people end up in jail or on death row. Dallas has re-examined approximately 200 cases, and more than 20 convicts have been exonerated, Mann said. Some areas of forensics, such as blood spatter and ballistics, are currently not sound enough to sentence a person to death, Mann said. “We can’t have the death penalty until we are close to 100-percent sure that [a suspect] is guilty,” he said. “Judges could be much more discerning when interpreting forensic evidence.” Scott Cobb, president of the anti-death penalty group Texas Moratorium Network, said capital punishment is an inefficient policy. “We don’t have a need for it in the U.S.,” Cobb said. “The rest of the world has turned their back on it.” Of the 20 audience members, the majority agreed the death penalty has flaws. Mann said a moratorium would be a viable solution to the death penalty. “It’s a mystery why these cases don’t catch on,” said Mann. “We could use more scrutiny from the media.” Republican Party of Texas spokesman Chris Elam said the party stands by the death penalty as an option available to juries. “The appropriate legal authorities have declared it as a viable punishment,” Elam said.