On Reporting and Politics—Robert Costa, The Washington Post and Washington Week

Robert Costa hosting Washington Week
Photo credit: PBS

Episode Notes

For this, our season 3 finale, we’re turning the virtual interview chair around on Notre Dame alum Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post and the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS.

While Robert’s work is the news, he and host Ted Fox talked more about the craft of journalism generally—and political journalism specifically—than everything going on in our country and our world in 2020. We figure you have much better outlets for content like that, such as Robert’s own reporting and that of the journalists from diverse organizations and backgrounds he talks to on Washington Week.

That said, the health disparities magnified by the coronavirus and the recent examples of police brutality are just the latest reminders of how much we need the work and perspectives of African-American journalists in particular. So while it’s not directly related to this episode, we wanted to use this spot to recommend you follow Richard Jones and Victoria St. Martin, formerly of The New York Times and The Washington Post, respectively, and currently shaping the next generation of journalists through their work with students at Notre Dame. We’ve put links to both of their Twitters in the notes below.

And speaking of episode notes, there’s also a video of the late Tim Russert there that you’re going to hear Robert talk about. It’s one of many great stories he shared on pursuing a career as a reporter in the nation’s capital during a time of rapid change in the news industry, a journey that for him has included succeeding the legendary Gwen Ifill at PBS. He also used the provost office at Notre Dame to illustrate how anonymous sourcing works. You know, in case we ever really need to get anything off our chests.

Take good care, and we’ll be talking to you again soon. Because sources close to the podcast tell us there might be some bonus episodes on the way this summer.


Episode Transcript

*Note: We do our best to make these transcripts as accurate as we can. That said, if you want to quote from one of our episodes, particularly the words of our guests, please listen to the audio whenever possible. Thanks.

Ted Fox  0:02  
From the University of Notre Dame, this is With a Side of Knowledge, the show that invites scholars, makers and professionals out to brunch for an informal conversation about their work. I'm your host, Ted Fox. And if you'd like to keep up with the show in between episodes, you can find us on Twitter. And now Instagram, too. In both spots we are @withasideofpod.

For this, our season three finale, we're turning the virtual interview chair around on a Notre Dame alum, Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post and the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS. While Robert's work is the news, we talked more about the craft of journalism generally, and political journalism specifically, than everything going on in our country and our world in 2020. I figure you have much better outlets for content like that--outlets like Robert's own reporting and that of the journalists from diverse organizations and backgrounds he talks to on Washington Week.

That said, the health disparities magnified by the coronavirus and the recent examples of police brutality are just the latest reminders of how much we need the work and perspectives of African-American journalists in particular. So while it's not directly related to this episode, I wanted to take a moment here to recommend you follow Richard Jones and Victoria St. Martin, formerly of the New York Times in the Washington Post, respectively, and currently shaping the next generation of journalists through their work with students at Notre Dame. We're putting links to both of their Twitter's in the notes for this episode.

And speaking of episode notes, there's also a video of the late Tim Russert there that you're going to hear Robert talk about. It's one of many great stories he shared on pursuing a career as a reporter in the nation's capital during a time of rapid change in the news industry, a journey that for him has included succeeding the legendary Gwen Eiffel at PBS. He also used the provost office at Notre Dame to illustrate how anonymous sourcing works--you know, in case I ever really need to get anything off my chest. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. Take good care. And I'll be talking to you again soon. Because sources close to the podcast tell me there might be some bonus episodes on the way this summer.

Robert Costa, welcome to With a Side of knowledge.

Robert Costa  2:30  
Great to be with you.

Ted Fox  2:32  
So you're not only a national political reporter for The Washington Post, you're the moderator and managing editor of PBS's Washington Week. And most people are probably familiar with the role of the former, of a moderator, but have less of a sense of the latter. So for Bob Costa, moderator, to go live Friday nights at eight o'clock, what is Bob Costa, managing editor, doing, say, today? We're recording this on a Thursday, the day before the show goes on the air.

Robert Costa  3:03  
It's a good question. I've actually never gotten that question before. There is a difference because moderator, you're the man who or the woman who asks the questions, and you're moderating the conversation. And it's a wonderful job to moderate a conversation, and you're a moderator yourself with these conversations for Notre Dame, and there's a beauty to the conversation. But managing editor is a position that in addition to being moderator, you have to make decisions. And after three years of being moderator, I had effectively become the managing editor of this program on Friday night on PBS. And what that means is, day to day, you're, one, helping to select the guests. But we have a great booking producer who helps me with that. But you're really trying to think through the questions and themes of the week, and to take editorial control. So if things go right, you have a little bit more responsibility. If things go wrong, you have more responsibility. But it's about ownership of the product. And as a reporter who hosts a show about reporting, I wanted to make sure I was keeping the show in that reporting direction. And it was important for me to become managing editor, especially in these times, when reporting sometimes seems to be put on a shelf in the media, as the right has its position, the left has its position, and it's all red and blue, pundit versus pundit. There's something that's special to me, even if it's not necessarily always at the fore of American journalism right now, reporting, and PBS, thankfully, along with The Post, but PBS in terms of television, has enabled me to pursue that interest, that mission, without any kind of burden or caveat, and I appreciate that. And I also realize that that integrity of the program has to be protected and sometimes you have to put it on yourself, the managing editor to protect it.

Ted Fox  5:04  
I'm really glad that that you brought that up about this idea of reporting getting put on the shelf and almost being replaced with punditry at times. I think a lot of people on the outside kind of conflating the two and saying, Oh, well, they're the same thing. So, in addition to your role at Washington Week, you talked about being a national political reporter at The Post. And I think, people--they tend to make assumptions about journalists, based on where they work a lot of the time. So for some, they see The Washington Post, they assume you're liberal. For others, they see that before The Post, you were the Washington editor at National Review, and they say, Okay, he's conservative. And you confirmed to me what I thought your response there would be is that, Well, no, I'm neither. I'm a journalist, which means that unlike a pundit, your job is to report and present the news in as objective of a way as possible. But you are, at the same time, you are a human being, so of course, you're going to have your own opinions, and politics in particular is an area that gives rise to those. So how do you separate your own opinions as a private citizen from how you go about doing your your job every day?

Robert Costa  6:12  
When you evaluate a reporter, I would urge you to not evaluate a journalist, or especially a reporter, on your assumptions of them based on their biography or something you've heard about them or something you suspect about them. Judge them on their work. For journalists, the work is everything. What you say, what you do, what you write, that is the collective way of understanding who you are, your values, and where you may stand in terms of whether you're an editorial columnist, a provocative editorialist, or more of a straight-laced reporter. And my whole career I've chosen--it's a choice, and there's not a right or wrong here, let's be clear--I've chosen to be a reporter. There are some of my favorite journalists--still journalists--are columnists, are polemicists, on both sides. I can appreciate the power of a well-written article, a column, scathing, complimentary, whatever it is. But there is a choice you have to make sometimes to be a reporter, and to be someone who focuses on the story and delving into it. And when you ask about my own values, it's a fair question. I would actually trace it back to Notre Dame and my mentor. Some people may know this at Notre Dame, others may not. My mentor in journalism is Bob Schmuhl, who I believe has been a guest on this program.

Ted Fox  7:45  
He has. One of our most popular episodes of all time actually was with him.

Robert Costa  7:50  
Well, and Schmuhl, of course, he was able to actually have brunch with you, I believe, at the Morris Inn. I just got a podcast with you on digital connection. Schmuhl wins again.

Ted Fox  8:04  
(laughs) You definitely got the short end of the stick there.

Robert Costa  8:06  
(laughs) I'm so glad I came to Notre Dame, but I'm really glad I came to Notre Dame to meet Bob Schmuhl. And Matt Storin is another person in the Notre Dame world who I have a lot of respect for, the former Boston Globe editor. In fact, when I first visited Notre Dame, as a high school student, the admissions office told me I should sit in on a class. And the class I decided to sit in on was taught by Matt Storin. It was a journalism class. And they were sitting outside in that area by DeBartolo that's now kind of between DeBartolo and the Law School, and Storin was going on and on about The New York Times and The Washington Post and different war stories from his own experience. And I was wowed by this, that this working journalist was teaching a course at Notre Dame. And it stuck with me even though Notre Dame doesn't have a journalism program as a major, it has a rich journalism vein to it. And so I came to Notre Dame, and I got to know Storin, and then eventually got to know Schmuhl.

And when you look at Storin and Schmuhl, most people would probably say at first blush, they're old-school reporters. But they're also people who have such perspective in bringing history, morality, their own values and integrity to their job as a journalist, and to really appreciate different views, to appreciate history, and all these different parts of journalism. And so that approach, the Storin-Schmuhl way you could call it, has guided me. Because I've been in places that have been seen as left, like MSNBC; I've been at places that have been seen as right, like National Review, but my approach has been the same exact thing every time. So look, in life, you can't erase your biography. And I have no regrets about what I've done. And it was things that I thought at first were not great career moves, like going to National Review, turned out to be terrific experiences. Because National Review, I joined them during the height of the last recession in [2009]. And it was very hard to get a job anywhere in journalism. And to get a job there, I thought, I'm gonna make the best of this. And I said to Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, Can I just be a reporter here? And he said, That's strange--no one ever really says that to me here at National Review. Most people want to be the next George Will. I said, Well, that's fine, but I would just like to report on the right. So almost like someone who was covering Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune, or someone covering Ford and Chevy for Car and Driver, I decided to cover conservatives as a beat, and that experience, long story short, helped me to have insights I carry to this day about the Republican Party, about American politics. 

I became someone who covered and knew Donald Trump in 2010 and 2011. I knew Steve Bannon when he was a fringe documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought he would become the chief strategist and nationalist of our time for the president of the United States. I mean, Steve Bannon, I still think back to when I first met him in 2011, in Pella, Iowa, he was doing a Sarah Palin documentary. My first impression of him was that he was homeless. Because he had this long beard, raggedy clothes. And he said, I'm Steve Bannon. I said, Good to meet you, Mr. Bannon. Anyway, these figures it's ... I've known Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, for years. And what politics has really taught me about life and journalism, but especially covering politics, is that things move in long cycles. And I'm only 34 years old, but I've seen so much change in the last 10, 12 years I've been a reporter that I have a motto of: assume nothing. Because people you think are fringe--Steve Bannon, Bernie Sanders, right or left--they can somehow find their way to the center of American political life. And I take that seriously, the idea that ideas change, nations change, people change.

Ted Fox  12:32  
Right. I wanted to go back there. You talked a little bit at the start of that answer there about the folks at Notre Dame and mentors that you had. And it's really striking when you look at a program like Washington Week, it's the longest-running primetime news and public affairs program on television, which means you're following in the footsteps of some pretty iconic journalists to be the moderator and now the managing editor. And I know one was including your mentor and friend Gwen Ifill, whom you succeeded following her death from cancer several years ago. And I would imagine that given those circumstances, finding out you are going to be the next moderator of the show was kind of a bittersweet kind of thing. What do you remember about that? Because on the one hand, it's this--I'm sure it's this huge career milestone, but it's happening for a reason that clearly is a very sad reason.

Robert Costa  13:28  
Well, it was such an honor to get the opportunity in early 2017 to just be a guest host on Washington Week. I had started at The Post in 2014, six years ago. And when I was at The Post, Gwen Ifill started to have me on her show, and it was a thrill to me to go over to Shirlington, Virginia, which is in Arlington area, on Friday nights and to go on PBS with Gwen Ifill. And when I first went on that show, it was sitting there with the likes of Dan Balz and great reporters from The New York Times and The Associated Press and the TV networks. And they took reporting so seriously, it was ... I had been on Sunday shows, I love being on Sunday shows, but Washington Week to me was something very special and different because it didn't have newsmakers; it was reporters only. Gwen Ifill was always a class act, and she tried to have a conversation that was involving. She had this tendency at times to let guests ask questions of other guests. And you just never really saw that from a moderator. So I learned a lot just knowing her and watching her, and I never expected I would be the host. It's the last thing that--I mean she was only in her early 60s when she died in late 2016. And so no one expected Gwen Ifill, one, to die, and two, when she passed away, there was no natural person there to be the successor. So they had a lot of guest hosts. Around early 2017, I had been a guest on some of these Washington Weeks where they had guest hosts, and I was talking to the producers. They said, Would you be willing to be a guest host? And I said, Sure. And I said, let's do it next week or something like that. And it kind of came together very informally. I don't have an agent, which is interesting to some people. I just naturally said, Sure, let's try it one week. And that week went well. I was just myself. And I never stopped guest hosting from then on, and then I became the host in April. So it really was an interesting--it was something that felt very natural because I thought I was going to guest host for one week, and I haven't stopped hosting three years on.

Ted Fox  15:48  
Just kept coming back.

Robert Costa  15:49  
It just kept--it just worked. But it's something I actually again would trace back to Notre Dame because when I became the host of ... This is almost strange to say, but it's true. When I became the host of Washington Week, I had not been a host of a program before. I'd been on TV a lot. I mean,  I'd been an NBC News commentator for years, at least three or four years, CNBC before that. So I'd had TV commentary, analysis experience, no doubt. But the last show I had hosted was a show called Office Hours on NDTV out of Washington Hall. 

Ted Fox  16:26  

Robert Costa  16:27  
And one of my main guests on that program was Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., who came on a couple times. And he always enjoyed it, I think, because it wasn't a soft interview. But he appreciated that I was asking tough questions, but in a way that he found he could engage with that wasn't hostile. He wanted to actually--he told me once he enjoyed coming on because he wanted to have the tough questions, but he wanted to be able to say his side and engage in a conversation rather than having kind of a fight. And sometimes he found with student journalists, it would just be combative for the sake of being combative. And we had 45 minutes, hour-long interviews. And one time Father John, when I was at Notre Dame as an undergrad, he pulled me aside and he said, he knew both of my parents went to Notre Dame Law School. And he said, Are you thinking about becoming a lawyer? And I said, Well, I haven't really made up my mind, I had thought about business. What he was trying to tell me was, don't just go to law school to go to law school, and that's something my parents had told me as well, even as lawyers. But he said, Go pursue journalism. And I just didn't think journalism was--as much as I was close to Schmuhl and Storin, journalism to me still seemed--to someone who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and had a nice upbringing and good parents and a lot of luck--it still seemed like something that was a little bit out of reach or strange to do as a career. It felt like it's a club in New York and DC, and not that I couldn't be part of the club--I don't want to sound like some populist--but you do have a sense that it's a tight group. And that if you're going to be in that group, you've got to be pretty good or have some kind of connection. And I, I didn't know if I was pretty good, and I didn't really have a connection. But I just kept enjoying it. And so I kind of thought I wouldn't do it as a career necessarily, but I kept drifting in that direction.

My hero beyond Gwen Ifill was Tim Russert, who ... Schmuhl would know this story well. In 2008, Schmuhl invites Russert to give a speech at Notre Dame. And he gives a speech at Washington Hall. And I'm there, and I'll always remember seeing Tim Russert--I think he had flown in on Notre Dame's plane--he comes out of Washington Hall, and he just almost has a glow about him being on Notre Dame's campus, and Schmuhl's sitting there in this car to bring them back to South Bend airport. And to see Tim Russert and Bob Schmuhl get into the back of a black car at Washington Hall, it was a: Wow, that's, that's the Major Leagues right there. And because I was an NDTV guy, I had a camera in Washington Hall. It turns out I was the only person filming Tim Russert's speech. There was a local reporter there, but they were just jotting notes. I filmed the entire talk. And that turned out to be the last public address Tim Russert ever gave. It was at Notre Dame in 2008. And if any of you have 40 minutes, I'd encourage you--it's on YouTube, most of it, or it's on Notre Dame's website--to go watch that, Tim Russert at Notre Dame in 2008. It's a wonderful speech. And after he died, Bob Schmuhl called me up, and he said we've got to get that video--typical Schmuhl always doing the right thing--he said we've got to get that video to the Russert family. And we did that, we gave it to Mrs. Russert and to Luke.

Ted Fox  19:58  
That's great. He was actually--I graduated from Notre Dame I think six years before you--he was actually our commencement speaker for the class of 2002, as well. So, yeah. Something you said there that I think is really interesting that in 2008, you were the only person recording this. And so you've been working as a professional journalist for a little over a decade, which in technology and new media terms feels like maybe 5000 years, like how much things have changed. So, case in point, I just discovered yesterday that I could be listening to Washington Week as a podcast. I didn't know that and I promptly subscribed, so it fits with my schedule very well. But how much in that span of 10, 11, 12 years, how much has the landscape changed just in terms of, in the way as a reporter, you go about doing your job, the things that you have to consider, the way you're trying to get information out? I imagine it's it's very different than it was even five years ago, probably.

Robert Costa  20:59  
Oh, it's so different. The podcast point is a good one. Sometimes I'll meet people who quote "watch" Washington Week. But it turns out we have a huge audience that is far more interested in having a few drinks and relaxing with friends on a Friday night than watching PBS, which I understand. But they'll listen to the show as a podcast on Saturday morning. They're the kind of person who'd rather have wine and not have the TV on on Friday, but will wake up on Saturday at 6 a.m. to take a walk or work out, and they will listen to Washington Week then. So I appreciate that part of the audience. So I've been reporting professionally since 2009 when I joined National Review. I was there for five years, been at The Post now for six, been with NBC for about five years, been with Washington Week for three. But actually I would go back even further. I began as a reporter at age 16 for the Bucks County Courier Times, 75,000 readers at least at that time, 2002, in the Philadelphia Metro region. I always remember that 75,000 readers because whenever I would have to defend my youth and my work as a freelancer for the Courier Times, I would recite that: Well, remember, sir, we have 75,000 readers in the Philadelphia metro area.

But I got into journalism, one, because I enjoyed kind of just the idea of reading the paper, I used to love reading the newspaper as a kid. And there was a section that was written by teenagers for the paper, for a real paper, called Reality. I said, Gosh, I gotta be part of that. And so I applied, and I barely got into the Reality section. But that was the entry into the world. I mean, I'm 34, so you really think about it, I started at 16, and I was doing a lot of writing back then, publishing in a paper concert reviews, interviews with musicians, 16, 17 years-old. So it's really been almost two decades. And when people say, Oh, how have you done this and that, but if you understand it in the context of a 18-to-20-year experience, rather than just even the last 10 years, you can understand the scope of how you get to be where I am at PBS and The Post and NBC, that when you start at 16, even if you didn't think it was going to be your career, I've been in the reporting world, understanding. And you just learn constantly--you learn by reading, thinking, getting burned, getting great experiences, you just keep learning and learning, and after 17, 18 years, you learn what works in a story, how to pop sentences, how to work as a team, how to handle feedback, how to work with editors.

And what's changed, to your question: time. I think this is the thing that's going to create some burnout in my industry. When I started at 16, I would go to the Bucks County Courier Times, and some of my friends to this day--JD Mullane, a terrific columnist for the Courier, and Jo Ciavaglia, a local reporter--they would work hard. But journalism was a job where you came in around 9:00 or 10:00, called some sources, you went to cover a story from 11 a.m. to 2:00 or 3:00, you typed up that story from 2:00 to 4:00, 4:00 to 5:00. It was edited, you were out of there, it was in the paper. And if you worked an evening beat, you wouldn't come in until four o'clock in the afternoon, you'd file your story around 7:00 or 8:00, it'd get in the paper that night or come up the next morning. It was a newspaper mentality. Radio, you had a slot, you filled the slot and then your day was done. You had a lot more time to prepare, a lot more time to read other things, to talk to people, to have a social network. What's changed so much, and it's hard to process sometimes, is how it's become 24-7 in digital, and that's not a negative thing. It's created more access to information. It enables people like you and me to have these kinds of podcast conversations that just weren't part of the equation 15, 20 years ago. But it has a cost because you're doing a lot, especially when you're working for a place like The Post, PBS and MSNBC, all at the same time. It's kind of a machine. It's an enterprise. And there's a thrill to it. But there's also an enormous time commitment to make sure it's being done right. And so you're sometimes losing ... I often tell myself, make sure I'm reading the full paper every day, a couple papers, make sure I'm still reading some fiction, reading some nonfiction, these are the things I tell myself all the time, because I don't want to just become totally in thrall to email, Twitter, text.

Ted Fox  25:44  
Right. You mentioned the thing there about, this has always been true, I think, you know, for reporting generally but for columnists in particular, the sentences that pop when you're trying to hook people in or kind of spit them back out at the end. Do you find that with the way social media works, now that that skill is even more important that you're trying to ... all of us have been in that piece where we're sharing this piece of content, and it's like, Alright, what's this hook that I'm going to put with it that I'm hoping is going to get people to click on it and drive traffic? Is that more important now than it was in the past do you think?

Robert Costa  26:21  
It is for many people. For me, I just realize news drives my social media work. So if I have news or interesting insights, I share them on Twitter. And I've been lucky to build up a following of more than half a million people. But they're not coming because they love my personality. Some may--a select few, my mother maybe. But they're coming because they trust Robert Costa is going to provide on his Twitter feed legitimate news information and reporting tidbits and anecdotes. And you would follow me on Twitter, I would suspect, because as much as I write in The Post, and I'm on TV, Twitter's my notebook. It's a way for me to share additional information about what I'm seeing, what I'm hearing, and links that I think are important for others to know. And so Twitter I found has been very helpful. But I understand that a lot of people have problems with it because it creates this pressure to have a following. And I'm lucky to have these major brands helping to amplify my reporting, in addition to my own social media, but it's not a fair fight. If you're at a small publication, and you're covering a beat that's not Donald Trump, good luck getting more than 10 retweets on something. But there should be no shame in that. And the things that go viral for people are often things that aren't necessarily recommended as smart career moves or even helpful to the public discourse. So it's a tricky thing. News value is great. But the pressure to kind of be clever on social media, it leads to people making mistakes. You think about a lot of people in the reporting business who get in trouble, it's because they're trying to be too showy on social media or engage in things that are not really their battleground

Ted Fox  28:09  
So just as we're kind of wrapping up here, I had two kind of in-the-weeds process, reporter kind of questions for you, and feel free to take them in either order. One thing that I was just, you know, thinking about sitting there watching Washington Week, when you're talking about you have four journalists on your panel. And clearly these are also people--they're working journalists, they're very skilled at, for the most part, at conversation, at conveying information. And I'm wondering what you do when you're in those moments, if you ever feel like you have an interview or a session getting away from you. And I don't mean in a, Oh-my-gosh-cut-to-commercial sort of way, but just, This is really wandering and going off topic, and I have to keep things, you know, at least some kind of focus there. So that's one. And the other that I think comes up a lot when we talk about journalism these days, phrases like "sources close to so and so are telling me"--it's almost like they've become part of the reporting vernacular. And I'm wondering if you think they should be, how you make your own decisions on whether to offer sources anonymity, when it's justified, when maybe it's not justified.

Robert Costa  29:19  
So to your first question, one thing I've always found as a television viewer of political journalism is, I can't stand as a viewer constant interruption of guests. So if you watch Washington Week, I'm very reluctant to ever interrupt. I mean, some people even when they go--I think a good answer can be between 20 and 30 seconds because it leaves room for a follow-up. Sometimes answers need to be a little longer if you're telling a story, but a good answer is 20 to 30 seconds, 40 max. But when people start going to a minute, maybe especially when we're doing these remote interviews now because of the pandemic, I will gently say, That's right. Or, Mm hmm. And hopefully they maybe get the idea of wrapping up. But I just don't like to jump in because people are watching these shows for the insights of the panel. For my insights, too, I'm not trying to pretend that's not the case, as well. But sometimes, what's the point of having a guest if you're not going to let the guests reveal some new information? So I think a soft touch is best. But I would also advise guests to remember, it's not about you, it's about what's best for the audience. The audience should have a collaborative conversation on these kinds of shows and be able to learn from you and others there. So if you hog too much time ... if you ever watch me on Morning, Joe, I'm probably--or Brian Williams--I'm probably one of the most concise, I would hope, reporters because I believe it's better to be concise because it makes the host jump in maybe a little bit more to prod you again, or to use your comment to jump to something else. And so I always just try to say my piece and then stop. One of the real things you need to learn to do as a TV reporter is not learn when to speak, but to learn when to stop speaking. And that's an art. And that's that ability to just pause.

To your other question: It is regretful that so much reporting these days is done on a background basis. And what that means is if you're not familiar with the terms, "on the record" means we know your name, we cite your name, we quote you. "Background" is we know your information and everything you're telling us, we can quote you, but we're not going to use your name. And we're not going to use your name because you've requested anonymity, usually out of fear of retribution or because you're not authorized to speak publicly. So for example, if I asked you a question about the provost office, and I said, Who's going to be the next provost, who dislikes the provost inside the provost office? You may say to me, I can't put my name on that, I would lose my job. And I would say, Come on, put your name on it. No, I would lose my job, you'd say. And then you would perhaps say, On background, x, y, and z is really happening inside the provost office. That would be the way we go on background. And it's not, it's not preferable. I think people should put their names on things, but we live in a highly charged political time where stepping out there on sourcing is just not easy for many sources. So it's not good. I wish it was more on the record, but I understand why we have to do a lot on background. And I think it's good when reporters cite their reporting, even if it's a background conversation. Some of words I don't like on television are, "I think." The less we could use those words, the better. Because what people really want to know is what you know. "I know." Based on what? "I know that this has happened in the provost office based on my conversation with a highly ranked official in the provost office," instead of saying "I think this has happened in the provost office." So reporting is about knowledge, in expanding our knowledge of the truth, rather than speculation. And so, it's good for reporters to talk about, with clarity, how they're coming to the analysis and conclusions they're making.

Ted Fox  33:45  
Bob Costa, thank you so much for making time to do this. I can only imagine how busy you are, so I really appreciate you taking some time to talk to me today.

Robert Costa  33:52  
Thank you, appreciate it.

Ted Fox  33:55  
With a Side of Knowledge is a production of the Office of the Provost at the University of Notre Dame. Our website is withasideofpod.nd.edu