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Washington Post executive to discuss politics, media

October 15, 2008

Press coverage of one of the most riveting presidential campaigns in modern history will be a provocative starting point for journalist Leonard Downie Jr. in a free public lecture at Arizona State University on Oct. 16, “Focusing on the Future: Politics, Conflict and the Media.”

Downie has covered his share of politics, having served as executive editor of The Washington Post for 17 years and as a Post reporter and editor for the 27 years prior.

He will speak at 7:30 p.m. in the Galvin Playhouse of the Nelson Fine Arts Center on ASU’s Tempe campus, 51 E. 10th St. As the 2008 Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecturer, Downie also will spend several days meeting with ASU students and speaking in their classes.

This is one of Downie’s first appearances after stepping into a new role as vice president at large of The Washington Post Company on Sept. 8. His visit is hosted by Barrett, the Honors College.

He also will appear in a public forum at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The event will be in the First Amendment Forum on the second floor of the Cronkite building, 555 N. Central, Phoenix.

Downie has called the 2008 election a seminal campaign, with the first African-American candidate, a voter divide by age and a shifting demographical situation that seems to have the states realigning themselves. The media landscape also has changed, with candidates contacting voters through Web casts, Facebook and YouTube.

The longtime journalist is known for being so objective that he doesn’t vote. He said in a June interview that he’s not sure he’ll register for this election, since for years he has avoided forming personal opinions about politicians or issues so that he can have an open mind in supervising news coverage.

After joining The Post as a summer intern in 1964, Downie became a well-known local investigative reporter in Washington, specializing in crime, courts, housing and urban affairs. This reporting won him two Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Front Page awards, The American Bar Association Gavel Award for legal reporting, and the John Hancock Award for business and financial writing.

As deputy metropolitan editor in the early 1970s, Downie supervised The Post’s Watergate coverage. Bob Woodward, in his 2005 book “The Secret Man,” claimed that Downie was one of few people to know the true identity of Watergate informant “Deep Throat.”

He was named London correspondent in 1979 and returned to Washington in 1982 as national editor, becoming managing editor two years later. He took over as executive editor from long-serving editor Ben Bradlee in 1991. During his tenure in that job, the Washington Post won 25 Pulitzer Prizes.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Downie received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in journalism from Ohio State University, where he also received an honorary doctorate in 1993.

He wrote three books in the 1970s: “Justice Denied,” “Mortgage on America” and “The New Muckrakers,” a study of investigative reporting. In 2002 he wrote (with Robert G. Kaiser) “The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril,” which won the Goldsmith Award from the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

His first novel, and fifth book, “The Rules of the Game,” will be published by Knopf in January. The book is described by as “an electrifying fiction debut, a novel of corruption and cover-ups at the highest levels of Washington politics.”

Free tickets for Downie’s lecture will be available at the door or may be picked up in advance at the Barrett office at the Tempe or Downtown Phoenix campuses, and at the Cronkite School. Parking for the Tempe event is available in ASU’s Lot 16 at 10th Street and Mill Avenue, north of the ASU Art Museum. For more information, contact Lexi Noice, (480) 965-0161.

ASU’s annual Centennial Lecture, funded by an endowment from the Flinn Foundation, has brought some of the world’s most influential writers to campus including Anna Quindlen, Jules Feiffer, Edward Albee, Charles Johnson, David Halberstam, Jonathan Weiner, Stephen Gould and Annie Dillard.