November 4, 2013

‘Golden Boy of Government Shutdown,’ Robert Costa, Shares Reporting Tips at Cornell

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Every morning at 6:30 a.m., Robert Costa, National Review’s Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst, heads to Pete’s Diner. The breakfast at Pete’s isn’t the attraction — rather, it’s the fact that Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Speaker of the House of Representatives, can be found eating there alone by the counter.

Speaking at Cornell Monday, Costa said becoming a regular at the diner gave him the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Boehner.

“That’s the way to do things in Washington, especially in the Republican Party. They’re so wary of the press, so wary of foreign relationships, that you really have to go out of your way,” Costa said. “You can’t go through the press secretary. You have to form the personal bond.”

Costa, who New York Magazine recently dubbed the “golden boy of the government shutdown,” has gained notoriety for his vicarious use of Twitter in reporting from the Republican cloakroom — rooms located next to the Congressional chambers where politicians meet to discuss strategy and other important topics.

Costa and his team have received so many inside tips about the Republican’s agenda that congressional leaders have warned their colleagues about leaking information to the National Review, according to Prof. Barry Strauss, history, who introduced Costa.

Costa shared his tactics for acquiring sensitive information and thoughts about the institutional collapse of the Republican Party with an audience of 35 students and faculty members.

Costa accredited his successes in covering Republican politics to his ability to form personal bonds with leaders in the Republican Party, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Costa said he has gained an edge over other reporters in covering the government shutdown because he receives text messages and emails directly from members of the House of Representatives and the Senate about new developments, even as they develop behind closed doors. Costa then uses social media to spread these informational tidbits.

“Is this perfect journalism all the time? No. But you always try to be right, have great sources and it’s worked out so far,” Costa said.

In addition to writing lengthy stories on congressmen and the Republican leadership for the National Review, Costa has changed his personal Twitter feed into a news source in and of itself.

The moment he receives a scoop from a personal source, Costa blasts it out to his 54,047 Twitter followers with minute-to-minute 140-character messages.

“The way that journalism is moving, especially political journalism, everyone used to hold things back in their notebook. But Twitter is a notebook I can share with readers. You have to live and work in your time and adapt to how people consume info — which is usually on their phone,” Costa said.

To Costa, each tweet is another sentence in a larger story that can be used to build up personalities. This approach has transformed his Twitter feed from a simple stream of live updates to a “novel in real-time,” he said.

“You have to live and work in your time,” Costa said.

While he has adopted untraditional methods to better represent the constantly changing developments in news, Costa said he adheres to the fundamental ethics of reporting.

A commitment to “shoe-leather journalism” and potential to remain neutral, he says, is still the only way to get the story and “win in this business.”