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[Washington Babylon]

Bob Woodward’s Moonlighting

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I closed my item earlier today regarding David Broder’s speaking gigs with a 1995 quote from Ben Bradlee about journalists making big bucks for public speaking:

I wish it would go away. I don’t like it. I think it’s corrupting. If the Insurance Institute of America, if there is such a thing, pays you $10,000 to make a speech, don’t tell me you haven’t been corrupted. You can say you haven’t and you can say you will attack insurance issues in the same way, but you won’t. You can’t. I would like to limit speeches to nonprofit institutions. But even that is a little phony because they’ve corrupted the nonprofit institutions out of shape. If you talk to a college, a school, a university, a charity, that’s OK.

Well, it turns out that the Post’s Bob Woodward, like Broder, has had a rewarding career speaking to corporate groups. For example, the American Council of Life Insurers, “a unified voice on issues from retirement security to taxes to international trade. We advocate the shared interests of our member companies and their policyholders before federal and state legislators, regulators, and courts.”

In October of 2005, the group met in Washington at the Omni Shoreham Hotel for ACLI’s 30th annual conference “to discuss retirement security, taxes and regulatory reform. The meeting—attended annually by more than 500 life insurance executives—is the premier conference for an industry offering financial protection and retirement security products to millions of Americans.” According to one industry account, “One of the highlights of the ACLI Annual Meeting was a presentation by famed journalist Bob Woodward. He gave a fascinating report of his 500-question interviewing sessions with President Bush.”

Woodward has given countless other speeches in recent years and has certainly received lucrative fees. He has spoken to the Group Underwriters Association of America, the American Bankruptcy Institute, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (at the Boca Raton Resort and Club), the American Frozen Food Institute, and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (at the Breakers Hotel Resort in Palm Beach, where one account relates, he cited “the need to adjust the Medicare program ‘to the realities of the 21st century,’” called for “an independent commission to study various forms of Medicare prescription drug coverage,” and said, in what was surely a crowd-pleaser, “’pharmacy is always the easiest target’”). He also delivered speeches to the Mortgage Bankers Association (in a 2006 talk sponsored by Citibank at a conference whose other sponsors included Countrywide Financial) and the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts.

What does he do with the money? He and his wife have a foundation (The Woodward Walsh Foundation), so maybe the money is going there—in which case he’s still getting a tax break. A review of the foundation’s records shows that a good chunk of its donations go to Sidwell Friends, a well-funded elite private school in Washington, D.C., that his children have attended.

I left a message with Woodward at the Post a short while back and will update this story if he replies.

Readers who know of other speeches by Broder or Woodward may email me at ken@harpers.org.

I’ll write more on this matter soon.

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