I AM WOMAN: Informal and slightly self-effacing, Rachael Ray’s contributions to a Newsweek “Women & Leadership” conference panel earlier this week were flawlessly on-brand: “Part of our success is that we’re an everyman brand, and I just happen to be a woman,” she said, adding, “We’re aiming to please — I’m essentially still a waitress.” To which moderator and ABC anchor Cynthia McFadden responded, “But the tips are better.” (Around $6 million in 2006, according to Forbes).

But the easygoing nature of the Rachael Ray brand, she said, also helps facilitate work-life balance. In what she called “the blessing of being the boss,” she has decreed that “everyone can bring their kids to work, be it a dog, a cat or a human.” Of course, it might help that the Manhattan offices of Every Day with Rachael Ray are far removed from the Pleasantville, N.Y., headquarters of parent Reader’s Digest Association.

The upbeat mood continued through a second panel on women in politics which, despite being made up of top aides for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Fred Thompson, plus Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, was exceptionally agreeable. Liz Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, even cited Nancy Pelosi as a role model — twice. And when Cheney said she was going to agree with the two liberal panelists on a point, moderator Anna Quindlen gasped, “Call the AP!”

There was at least one spark, however, thanks to Noonan. She told of being introduced by a fellow speechwriter in her days in the Reagan White House as “the woman speechwriter,” a story she’d told before, though perhaps without this addendum: “The guy who introduced me in 1984 as the ‘woman speechwriter’ is now a member of Congress,'” she said dryly. “And he’s still an idiot.” Noonan didn’t name him, but there aren’t that many Reagan speechwriters who fit the bill — and California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has probably learned gender sensitivity since then. — Irin Carmon

WATERGATE THEN — AND NOW: “We should have done it faster. We made some celebrated mistakes that have been seared into our heads,” said Bob Woodward, recalling his own efforts and those of his colleague, Carl Bernstein, to report the Watergate saga for The Washington Post. Among those missteps, Woodward said, were “going to the grand jury; concealing the fact we were the ones who spoke to the grand jury.”

This story first appeared in the October 11, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Woodward’s comments came 35 years after the duo broke the June 17, 1972, story about the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at The Watergate Hotel, as he and Bernstein reassessed their efforts before hundreds of journalists and journalism students at the Society of Professional Journalists National Conference in Washington.

“In a way, if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not doing your job,” chimed in Ben Bradlee, former executive editor at the Post, who, like Woodward, was responding to a question posed by CBS newsman Bob Schieffer about the lessons of Watergate.

In a 90-minute exchange moderated by Schieffer, Woodward recounted Jason Robards’ initial decline of a $50,000 offer to play Bradlee in the 1976 movie “All the President’s Men.” The reason? As the film’s director, Alan Pakula, told it to Woodward, Robards had protested: “All he does is march around and say, ‘Where’s the f—ing story?'”

“That’s what executive editors do,” laughed Bernstein.

(The former Post reporting team did credit others for beating them to various parts of the Watergate tale: Bernstein cited Seymour Hersh’s early 1973 New York Times story telling of hush money paid to a Watergate burglar and Woodward noted it was an Associated Press reporter who first reported that James McCord, security director for the Committee for the Re-election of President Nixon, was linked to the break-in.)

What if the Watergate affair had unfolded in 2007? “A big problem today is a dearth of good listeners,” Bernstein said of contemporary reporters. “People increasingly say, ‘Isn’t the story x, y or z?’ The truth is you never know where a good story is going to go,” continued Bernstein, who earlier had given a thumbs-down to “sensationalism, gossip and manufactured events. (He sensed Watergate would go “somewhere, maybe to the C.I.A. or to Maurice Starts.”)

“I’m not sure it would play out as it did then, now,” he added. “But I do think the press would do its job.” — Valerie Seckler

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