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[Washington Babylon]

Bob Woodward, Sponsored by Citibank


I reported yesterday on the public speaking arrangements of David Broder and Bob Woodward, neither of whom has thus far replied to requests for comment. Here’s more on Woodward.

As with Broder, let’s start with Woodward’s past statements on the topic of journalists doing speaking gigs. In a 1996 Frontline show called “Why America Hates the Press”, Woodward said of the practice of journalism “buckraking”:

A lot of these people have never reported a story. I’m not going to name some of my colleagues who are very well-known for their television presentation–but they wouldn’t know new information or how to report a story if it came up and bit them. They’ve never done it. But they have created personas that go around and, you know, now and then will say something clever. Maybe make an analytical point that even is good to profound. But journalism is information, I think, and they don’t provide it.

Asked about journalists hitting the lecture circuit, like Sam Donaldson, George Will and Cokie Roberts, Woodward said: “I don’t think it helps their reputation.” (Even harsher words on “buckraking” came from the Post’s Ben Bradlee in American Journalism Review, which I cited yesterday).

But based on what I’ve found, Woodward has given dozens of speeches over the past five years (often at cushy resorts) including three to insurance trade groups: in 2002, the Group Underwriters Association of America and the Casualty and Property Insurance Underwriters, and in 2005 the American Council of Life Insurance. Woodward charges — at least his listed fee at the All American speakers’ bureau — between $30,000 and $50,000 for a single speech.

Woodward has given numerous speeches to banking and financial groups, including the American Bankruptcy Institute, the New York Bankers Association, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the Mortgage Bankers Association. That latter’s 2006 event–which featured Bill Clinton as the headliner and also had talks by Greta Van Susteren, Dee Dee Myers, and Andy Card–was sponsored by a smorgasbord of names from the recent sub-prime meltdown, including Countrywide Financial. Woodward’s own speech was sponsored by Citibank. (Note: Greta Van Susteren emailed to ask that I make clear that she was not paid by the Mortgage Bankers Association, but appeared as a favor to a relative. She said she had not accepted payment for a speech in many years and that “the reason I don’t accept fees for speeches is because I fear conflicts…and I get paid well at my job anyway. I would like all journalists to monthly list on line where they have given speeches and for what amounts of money.”)

Woodward has also spoken to many real estate conventions, including, in 2005, that of the American Resort Development Association, when his friend Richard Armitage followed him on stage. He’s spoken at multiple health care galas, such as the American Society of Consulting Pharmacists (2002), the Federation of American Hospitals (2005), and the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Other Woodward gigs in recent years have been before the Energy Association of Pennsylvania, the American Correctional Association, the American Trucking Association, and the National Confectioners Association, where co-speakers included G.O.P. pollster Frank Luntz (the goal of that event: “Help policy makers see who the American confectionary industry really is”).

And Woodward has more speaking gigs lined up for this year, including an event late this month for the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. On its website, the group says that its lobbying interests include efforts to cut financial sector regulation.

In his 1996 Frontline interview, Woodward said he gave all of his lecture money to charity, the charity in question being a foundation run by him and his wife, the Woodward Walsh Foundation. Woodward seems to have greatly increased his speaking appearances in recent years, which probably helps explain why his foundation’s assets have soared, from assets of $347,602 in 2000 to about $1.8 million last year.

Yet the foundation doesn’t seem to do much genuine charitable work. Last year it doled out a meager $17,555 in grants. Over recent years more than half of the foundation’s money went to Sidwell Friends, one of the richest private schools in Washington (with a reported endowment of over $30 million) that caters primarily to the children of the local elite (like Woodward’s children). Meanwhile, the foundation has also supported needy causes like “Citizens for Georgetown Trees,” which prettifies Woodward’s neighborhood, the “Little Folks Nursery School” (“For the 2007-2008 school year, the tuition is: For morning only–$12,150. For the full day–$14,900”), and In Town Playgroup, a private daycare outfit.

It makes one wonder what Ben Bradlee thinks of all this. You’re corrupted if you take money from corporate groups, but not if you give the money to charity? Even if it’s your own personal charity, and you get a tax break, and most of the contributions go to elite causes of direct interest to the donor? This looks to be the same sort of double-dealing and hypocrisy that Bob Woodward–at least the old Bob Woodward–would have been all over as a reporter, if a political figure were involved.

This article was reported with help from Sebastian Jones.

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