During his 44 years at the Washington Post, Leonard Downie Jr. researched and directed the coverage of some of the most significant events of the 20th century.
Downie, the Weil family professor of journalism at the Walter Cronkite School, was an editor on The Post’s investigation into the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, covered the Jonestown massacre in 1978, and served as editor-in-chief overseeing the Coverage by The Post of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which eventually led to Clinton’s impeachment.
Downie amassed a wealth of historical documents, notes, manuscripts, and other materials from these stories, as well as other significant events that transpired throughout his journalism career, from his days as a sophomore at Ohio State University to his days at The Post.
And now these items are available to the public.
The Library of Congress has archived and made available to the public Downie’s papers, an extensive collection of notes, correspondence, public records, unpublished writings, and other documents from his distinguished career.
Downie started at the Washington Post in 1964 and progressed from intern to investigative reporter, local and national editor, London correspondent, editor-in-chief and then served as editor-in-chief from 1991 to 2008. Under his leadership, The Post has won 25 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper under a single editor.
The Library of Congress approached Downie for its materials about five years ago, but Downie wanted to finish his memoir, All About History: News, Power, Politics and the Washington Post, before donating any items.
The library maintains a manuscript department containing collections of persons of interest to preserve their work and life stories.
“It was an honor for the Library of Congress to want my material. It’s a privilege,” Downie said. “I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know I had.”
A historian from the library met with Downie and reviewed the materials to see what was most interesting and ended up taking most of his items.
Downie said his collection is already sorted because he used most of the documents to write his memoir.
“They said I was a lot more organized than most people they meet,” he said.
The documents include the original police report on the Watergate scandal and reporter Bob Woodward’s notes from the pretrial hearing for the men arrested in the Watergate complex. Downie also submitted the manifesto written by Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Other documents include a screenplay of The Post, the 2017 film about Post editor Katherine Graham’s decision to release the Pentagon Papers, which details United States involvement in Vietnam, with Downie as the acted as consultant for the film; notes from his coverage of the Jonestown massacre; and documents from meetings and retreats that give an insight into the newspaper and how it works.
There are also transcripts of interviews for his book, The News About the News, with Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, who were once the chief presenters of the Big Three networks.
Downie, who has taught at Cronkite School for 13 years, said he was grateful for the opportunity to bring this significant historical information to a wider audience.
“It’s important to me to do that,” he said.