Before being a journalist, before meeting “Deep Throat” or helping to expose the Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon, Bob Woodward was a naval officer, stationed for two years in San Diego .
Now a celebrated investigative journalist and prolific author with more than 20 books, an extensive collection of journalism awards, and 50 years of experience reporting on Capitol Hill and the White House, Woodward plans to return to San Diego later this month. here to give a talk about his experience spanning 10 consecutive U.S. presidencies.
Matthew T. Hall, editorial and opinion director for The San Diego Union-Tribune, will host the discussion with Woodward on August 14 at the Balboa Theater, titled “Bob Woodward: An Evening With a Legend.”
Woodward’s most recent book, “Peril,” describes the transition from the administration of former President Donald Trump to the administration of President Joe Biden and the riot in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as Congress was voting to certify Biden as the president-elect.
Woodward said in a recent interview that he thinks the nation is on a dangerous political trajectory. And while a better future is never guaranteed on any trajectory, the events of January 6 suggest that the country’s path could lead to a dark place.
“I think we live in a kind of political gray area, if you will, that obviously in politics there’s not just division but friction, harassment, bullying, over-advocacy, exaggeration,” Woodward said. “And then it leads or bleeds into misrepresentation and in some cases, like January 6, led to violence.”
It’s not a time of “a lot of love between (political) parties”, so the question – the choice – becomes “if you can have this friction and keep it quiet, or if we’re just going to live in the world misrepresentation and possibly violence.
Woodward said he doesn’t think there will be a civil war in the United States, “but who knows? It is a truly perilous time.
While the Civil War has only happened once in US history – long before Woodward began reporting for The Washington Post – he saw how over-advocacy and exaggeration have led to misperceptions, misrepresentations and violence in the recent past.
“I’ve written four books about (former President George W. Bush) and those wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and I think one of the big lessons, certainly for me, is that everybody can say and believe that in Iraq there are weapons of mass destruction there, and it turns out that there are not. And people were wrong, including myself.
Woodward recalled a story he wrote for the Washington Post before the 2003 invasion of Iraq in which he quoted someone from the CIA saying that we have no absolute proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
“Well, if you don’t have smoldering intelligence, what do you have?” said Woodward. “That means you’re not sure, and I should have understood what I wrote, actually, and I strongly blame myself for not seeing that – and actually having it in the story – that there was no irrefutable intelligence.
“Well, we’re going to war against what, our best guess?” said Woodward. “That’s kind of what happened.”
As for what he sees when he steps back and looks at the big picture of the 10 presidential administrations he’s covered, Woodward said, “If there’s a theme, it’s an increase in concentration of power in the presidency. Nixon to Biden, I think it’s growing.
And as this concentration of power means that more and more decisions are being made in the White House, Woodward has focused more of his efforts on gaining access to decision makers there.
‘You have to be patient’
Woodward got his first close look inside the presidency as a young reporter for the Washington Post in 1972. He had worked for the Post for about nine months when he and his reporting partner at the time, Carl Bernstein, began to uncover a criminal abuse of power by the Nixon administration.
The scandal – which the two journalists began to unravel after a robbery of Nixon’s political rival’s campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC – landed 40 people in jail and led to Nixon’s resignation.
In the decades since Watergate — the coverage of which won the Post Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973 — Woodward has proven time and time again his ability to get people in power to tell him things they know they don’t. they’re not supposed to disclose.
He said he didn’t think he had any superpowers when it came to getting into the highest seats of power – just genuine curiosity and a willingness to be slow, careful and thorough.
For example, the first time he sent a 25-page list of probing and thoughtful questions to the White House in hopes of securing an interview with President George W. Bush, he got a response the same day. offering him the interview. .
“I’m not going to reveal the job here, but once even someone who’s the president sees ‘Oh my God, someone parachuted in and takes me so seriously, they have so many questions and did so much research and take me as seriously as I take myself…”” is likely to be interested, Woodward said.
“You have to be patient, you have to be informed, you have to be in no rush,” Woodward said of his approach to accessing powerful sources. “I’m really interested in what anyone involved in this decision-making process says, especially about the war.”
Journalists learn that accuracy is everything. The more those in power are willing to intentionally distort the truth, the harder journalists have to work to verify facts and triangulate information.
Woodward said he was lucky in that he was able to write books, which gave him (and sometimes the co-writers) enough time to do the work necessary to tell the story well.
He said the process was particularly helpful when reporting on the Trump administration for “Peril,” which Woodward wrote with co-writer Robert Costa.
“We kept coming back to people, we kept looking for documentation, looking for notes, dealing with witnesses, first-hand participants in discussions, debates and decisions, and we had the time “Woodward said. “And the method is (to) try to do it right and spend the necessary time.”
‘Bob Woodward: An Evening with a Legend. How We Got Here – Lessons From Ten Presidents
When: 5 p.m. Sunday, August 14
Where: Balboa Theater, 868 Fourth Avenue, San Diego
On line: ticketmaster.com
Woodward’s conversation with Matthew T. Hall will include a Q&A with the audience.