From Nixon to Trump: Bob Woodward, chronicler of US presidents
Sep 11, 2020 - 10:27 AM
WASHINGTON — Nearly 50 years after Watergate, Bob Woodward is still breaking front page news and rattling US presidents.
His reporting about the Watergate scandal as a journalist for The Washington Post brought down Richard Nixon.
Now a best-selling author, the 77-year-old Woodward’s latest book, “Rage,” is shaking the White House of President Donald Trump less than two months ahead of the November 3 election.
In one of the 17 on-the-record interviews Woodward conducted with Trump for the book, the president admits to minimizing the threat from the coronavirus at the outset of a pandemic which has gone on to take nearly 200,000 lives in the United States.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in one conversation with Woodward. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Trump also told Woodward that he understood early on that the virus was “deadly stuff” and far more dangerous than the common flu. At the same time, he was reassuring the American public the virus would just “disappear.”
Trump’s Democratic challenger Joe Biden attacked the president’s decision to downplay the health crisis as a “life and death betrayal of the American people.”
“He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months,” Biden said.
Woodward, in an interview with the CBS show “60 Minutes,” described as a “tragedy” the president’s failure to inform the public early on about how deadly the virus was.
“The president of the United States has a duty to warn,” he said. “The public will understand that but if they get the feeling that they’re not getting the truth, then you’re going down the path of deceit and cover up.”
It was the unraveling of a cover-up — Watergate — that made the reputation of Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein.
Woodward studied at Yale University and did a five-year tour in the US Navy, before turning to journalism.
After a stint at a local paper in the Washington suburbs, he got his shot at the Post in 1971.
Woodward had barely a year of reporting experience when he and Bernstein stumbled into the story of a lifetime — the 1972 break-in by Republican operatives of the Democratic Party offices in Washington’s Watergate compound.
Their classic gumshoe investigation prompted congressional hearings and led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
Woodward and Bernstein wrote a best-selling book, “All the President’s Men,” about the scandal which was turned into a hit 1976 film starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein.
“Rage” is already topping the Amazon bestseller list even before it goes on sale on September 15.
Since leaving daily journalism, Woodward has put out 20 books, including authoritative tomes on Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
His in-depth reporting about Washington’s corridors of power is unmatched, and his ability to back up whatever insider tales he hears has earned him grudging respect in the US capital.
Why Trump agreed to conduct 17 on-the-record interviews with Woodward — 16 of which were recorded — is something of a mystery, particularly after his previous book portrayed the president in an unflattering light.
Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House” published in 2018 painted a portrait of an angry, paranoid leader and a White House which Trump’s own chief of staff described as “Crazytown.”
“Bob Woodward is somebody that I respect just from hearing the name for many, many years,” Trump said on Thursday in explaining his decision to be interviewed.
“I thought it would be interesting to talk to him,” he said. “I did it out of curiosity.”
Woodward, who retains an honorific title of associate editor at the Post but no longer writes for the newspaper, has come in for some criticism for withholding the details of his interviews with Trump — which were conducted between December 2019 and July 2020 — for his book.
“If Bob Woodward thought what I said was bad then he should have immediately, right after I said it, gone out to the authorities so they could prepare,” Trump said.
Woodward, in an interview with the Post, defended his decision to hold back the material for his book.
Woodward said he wanted to deliver “the best obtainable version of the truth” in book form and with proper context and fact-checking.
In addition, he said, in dealing with the president’s revelations, “the biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true.”