Things are so bad right now for the White House, the Congress, both parties, and the press that we are facing “the final exam for democracy.”
This was the message of legendary journalist Bob Woodward, who spoke Thursday night to a packed house at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall. Woodward rocketed to international journalism stardom in the 1970s when he and Carl Bernstein broke the Nixon White House’s Watergate scandal. They won the Pulitzer Prize, wrote a book (All the President’s Men), and inspired legions of future reporters.
Woodward discussed his experience as a reporter, current affairs, and of course Watergate itself.
His philosophy as a journalist is that “restraint always works.” During the entire Watergate scandal, particularly when Nixon himself resigned, Woodward’s editors told them “no gloating.” He and Bernstein agreed to never use the word “impeached” because “people would think we’re on a crusade.”
But restraint is absent in modern journalism.
“Unhinged, emotional reporting on both sides is bad for the business,” he lamented. “The Internet creates impatience and sound bites rule the world
He shared the humbling experience of realizing, 25 years after the fact, that Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon was the right thing to do, and not a corrupt act.
When the subject of President Trump came up, Woodward exercised some of that restraint in discussing him. Despite commenting on some negative things about Trump – his temperament, the Russia scandal – he did acknowledge the importance of a strong leader in the White House in a world of “Putins and Assads.”
“No one was ever afraid of Obama,” he said.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, both historic and modern, Woodward cracked jokes throughout the evening.
He also quipped that the FBI’s Robert Mueller (the tip of the spear for the current Russia/election investigation) is so aggressive he’d prosecute you “if you ripped the tags off your mattress.”
Longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover didn’t object to Nixon’s wiretapping because it was illegal, Woodward said, he objected because wiretapping was his job!
While investigating the scandal, he and Bernstein found a note that said “W. House,” which they knew could only be the White House or a whore house. “Bernstein told me to call the White House,” he joked.
About the quality of The Washington Post’s refreshments in the 1970s, he joked “You got get coffee for a dime – but they should have only charged a nickel!”
The conversation was part of the Hinckley Institute of Politics’ 2017 Sam Rich Series Lecture, hosted by KUER’s Doug Fabrizio.