Bob Woodward Report

The Watergate reporter visits IC just weeks before the identity of the infamous Deep Throat is revealed.   by Erika Spaet ’09

In the 1970s United States politics—indeed, the whole society—was rocked by the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal. Now the country is still under the shadows of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and on top of that is engaged in a huge military operation about which neither politicians nor the public can find common ground. Journalists have played important—and sometimes controversial—roles in these significant events, and Bob Woodward is one of the most well known.

Woodward came to campus in April as a guest in the Park Scholar Tenth Anniversary Speaker Series, which was coincidentally just six weeks before one of the longest kept and most debated secrets in journalistic history was broken.

Extensive and intimate interviews with the most powerful people in the world have characterized Woodward’s 37-year reporting career, and his most recent book, State of Denial, is no exception. In his public talk on the book’s topic, Woodward spoke about the hours he spent with current U.S. president George W. Bush and his former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld asking about the decisions they had made on the invasion of Iraq, as well as his covert interviews with anonymous sources on dark nights in the 1970s. (Soon after Woodward’s IC visit, on May 31, former top FBI official Mark Felt was revealed to have been Deep Throat, the code name given by Woodward and his Washington Post investigative partner Carl Bernstein to the secret source who helped the reporters unravel the mysteries of Watergate.)

Woodward is now assistant managing editor of the Washington Post. His access to the decision-makers in Washington has afforded him a view that most reporters don’t get, but he says objective reporting on the part of all journalists is essential to the public, especially during war. “When it comes to political judgments and matters of Republicans and Democrats and who’s right, I keep my hands totally off that,” he says. “It’s important to prove things so they’re not a matter of opinion, they’re a matter of evidence.”

But as the nature and immediacy of journalism changes, investigative reportage is becoming rarer and rarer. During Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein would spend weeks on a single story and be drilled on current events by their editors. Now, he says, “The media [are] defined by two impulses: speed and impatience. Everything is ‘Give it to me now.’ I think journalism is best when you take the time to talk to people and find the story. Information has power in this country, and you need all of that information to make a whole assessment.”

And Woodward should know; his reporting has helped assess the crimes of a 1970s presidency and the international strategies of a modern-day White House that, he says, is “under siege.”

“There is a pattern here of denying reality,” he reflects, “and sometimes it’s almost as if Bush thinks reality is wrong, that the facts are there but that if he denies them hard enough, things will be the way he wishes they were.”

Yet Woodward places part of the blame on journalists for their handling of the prelude to the Iraq invasion. “I think my colleagues and I were not aggressive enough in the lead-up to the war,” he says. “I regret that we weren’t more aggressive, and it was hard, but we should’ve found a way because the war decision is so important.”

He broke one of the biggest scandals of his lifetime, has interviewed the biggest names in Washington, and is in his fourth decade of working in the news business. When asked why he still keeps doing such a difficult and often exhausting job, Woodward replies, “I just love the work.”