Washington Post investigative journalist Tom Hamburger visits UConn

Journalist Tom Hamburger joins students in Konover Auditorium on Monday, April 10, for an open discussion on politics, Donald Trump's presidency, and Russian connections. Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for the Washington Post. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

Washington Post reporter Tom Hamburger lectured students Monday afternoon in the Konover auditorium about investigative journalism in regards to President Trump's advisors and their ties to Russia.

Hamburger is an investigative reporter, covering topics such as money and politics. Through describing his findings and investigative approach, he told students about his experiences along the way, and the things he has learned.

Since the field of journalism is changing with the advancement of technology, Hamburger said, “As the youth you have an advantage through a fluency in social media.”

For older generation reporters, keeping up with social media and the new environment of reporting has been a challenge, Hamburger said, but provides young journalists who are accustomed to social media with advantages.

“You are extraordinarily well-equipped…to dig deep with what is in fact a new environment and how we process information,” he said.

In order to highlight the ability to utilize social media, Hamburger spoke about a colleague at the Washington Post, David Fahrenthold.

Fahrenthold spent much of 2016 investigating Donald Trump's charities, a “narrow topic” as Hamburger described.

He looked at the money and where this money was going. Fahrenthold used social media to ask his Twitter followers for help tracking down details of Trump’s past charity giving.

His efforts reporting the topic were deemed worth it, as he won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting yesterday.

Hamburger’s major interests within journalism concern stories at the intersection of money and politics. He said he has covered every presidential campaign since Jimmy Carter.

During each election season, Hamburger looks at the candidates and asks himself, “Who are these people financially? Who are their campaign contributors?”

In the most recent presidential election, Hamburger said President Donald Trump’s financial history was unlike anything he has ever seen, due to his active role in doing international business.

From a number of events in the headlines beginning to add up, such as Trump’s statements complimenting Russia and a “peculiar compliment exchange between Putin and Trump,” Hamburger had an a-ha moment in which he asked himself, “What is the financial relationship? Is there one between Vladimir Putin and Trump?”

In early March, Trump announced republican Paul Manafort would be joining his campaign. Hamburger said Manafort had done business in the former Soviet Union, and became an ally of Vladimir Putin. This incited Hamburger to look further into Manafort and other possible ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign workers.

The rising of these stories within the last few months all came from investigative journalists, Hamburger said.

“We educate ourselves as reporters, in order to educate the public,” he said.

After the lecture, audience members were encouraged to ask questions.

The first question Hamburger was asked had to do with if he or the other reporters at The Post had encountered resistance from Trump during their coverage.

The reporters that uncovered the watergate story were just recently out of college...The point is while there are a lot of challenges, there are a lot of opportunities. They are the generation that will pick up the baton.
— Journalism Professor Mike Stanton

Hamburger said the newspaper had to hire additional security due to increased hate mail and threats they were receiving.

“Trump’s campaign did not allow the Post to travel with the candidate [Trump himself], but we were not deterred,” he said.  

The event was co-sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s journalism department. Students enrolled in Newswriting 1–an introductory journalism course–attended the lecture and shared their thoughts about hearing from a professional in the field.

“It gives us students inspiration to continue to pursue this career path,” fourth-semester journalism major Brinny Abrye said.  

To conclude the talk, Hamburger was asked one last question about what it is like being at The Washington Post today during Trump’s presidency versus during Watergate.

He quoted Bob Woodward, who was a senior editor at The Post and one of the reporters who originally broke the Watergate scandal.

“That's an excellent question, initially Carl [Bernstein] and I were the only ones working on the case, but now there are dozens maybe hundreds working on this. Both cases require in-depth, well-planned, patient reporting.”

Journalism Professor and instructor to Newswriting 1 Mike Stanton said he wanted his students to learn that, despite challenges to the free press, there are still many opportunities, especially for young journalists, to get their name out there.

“The reporters that uncovered the watergate story were just recently out of college...The point is while there are a lot of challenges, there are a lot of opportunities. They are the generation that will pick up the baton,” Stanton said.


Sharon Sorto is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at sharon.sorto@uconn.edu.