Bob Wood­ward in­ter­view

The Guardian - - NEWS - David Smith

It was, Bob Wood­ward re­calls, “an al­most Shake­spearean mo­ment”. He and a Wash­ing­ton Post col­league were in­ter­view­ing Don­ald Trump in March 2016. They asked how Trump de­fines power. The then pres­i­den­tial can­di­date replied: “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.”

Two and a half years, and hun­dreds of hours of in­ter­views later, Trump’s telling choice of the word fear was the nat­u­ral choice of ti­tle for Wood­ward’s lat­est book, a sin­gu­larly au­thor­i­ta­tive por­trait of a White House tee­ter­ing on the edge. While other ac­counts have of­fered soap opera, this is the pres­i­dency as Shake­spearean tragedy.

Wood­ward, 75, has writ­ten about nine US pres­i­dents, most fa­mously Richard Nixon. His dogged re­port­ing with his Post col­league Carl Bern­stein on Water­gate played a cen­tral part in forc­ing Nixon to re­sign and was im­mor­talised in All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, star­ring Robert Red­ford and Dustin Hoffman.

He came of age in an era of type­writ­ers, cig­a­rette smoke, hot metal, thun­der­ing presses and covert calls from pay­phones. He still cham­pi­ons shoe-leather jour­nal­ism, and is not likely to be found tweet­ing snarky com­ments.

In an era when the line be­tween news and opin­ion is in­creas­ingly blurred, Wood­ward is not in his nat­u­ral habi­tat tour­ing the TV, ra­dio and pod­cast­ing stu­dios be­ing asked to serve up polem­i­cal sound­bites with vi­ral po­ten­tial.

In­stead, in Fear, he metic­u­lously builds a case against Trump’s fit­ness for of­fice. His body of ev­i­dence, chart­ing how de­ci­sions get made or don’t in a jaw-drop­pingly dys­func­tional White House, is a wel­come an­ti­dote to the daily bliz­zard of on­line ag­it­prop, ru­mours and con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

Nearly all his in­ter­views were taped; one ran to 820 pages of tran­script; he in­ter­viewed one sub­ject nine times. As this pres­i­dency al­ready be­comes the stuff of his­tory books, his con­tri­bu­tion car­ries more weight than the gos­sipy Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff or the score-set­tling of Omarosa Mani­gault New­man’s Un­hinged.

Trump has dis­missed Fear as “fic­tion”, and its au­thor as “a liar”. Wood­ward re­flected: “I look at my job as: let’s present the rock-solid ev­i­dence of what hap­pens. There’s doc­u­ments, notes, there’s not just the phrase but there’s they sat and they met and this is what hap­pened. Let the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem re­spond.”

He added: “I just think too many peo­ple have lost their per­spec­tive and be­come emo­tion­ally un­hinged about Trump. I can un­der­stand that but that’s not the way the me­dia should re­spond. The me­dia should re­spond with what re­ally hap­pened.”

Wood­ward is full of praise for the “high en­ergy” of news­pa­pers and TV net­works but says their record has been mixed. “Did we do enough to un­der­stand Trump be­fore the elec­tion? No. Did I do enough? No. Did we get his tax re­turns? No. Have we got his tax re­turns? No. Should we have? Yes. Hard yes. The score­card cov­er­age is some real high points and good points by the me­dia and some in­com­plete.”

Wood­ward chooses his words care­fully. The lack of hy­per­bole tends to lend him more cre­dence.

He says of the book: “It’s a pic­ture of a White House ad­min­is­tra­tion go­ing through a ner­vous break­down and, as we know in hu­man terms, ner­vous break­downs are not good things. And so it’s a very chal­leng­ing mo­ment … I would think the most ar­dent Trump sup­porter who might read it could not feel com­forted.”

How wor­ried should we be that Trump has the nu­clear codes? Would he push the but­ton? “We don’t know … there’s a memo which I quote from that the chief of staff – the cur­rent one, Gen [John] Kelly – puts out say­ing no more spur-ofthe-mo­ment, seat-of-the-pants de­ci­sions; they don’t count. There has to be a for­mal process and a for­mal sig­noff. That’s the ef­fort to con­tain some of these im­pulses.”

He prefers to talk about Trump’s trade war. “I get to talk to the eco­nomic gu­rus in the world … and this is a real worry: the global or­der of trade is in jeop­ardy and things are be­ing done to it that make no sense.”

Some prom­i­nent voices in the book scorn the the­ory that the Trump cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sia. Did Wood­ward him­self find any ex­pla­na­tion for the very strange re­la­tion­ship be­tween Trump and Vladimir Putin? “No, not re­ally. I’ve ob­vi­ously looked. But here’s the re­port­ing les­son from do­ing this for 47 years. You’ve got to go to the scene. You’ve got to show up and, if you’re re­ally go­ing to do the Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I’d move to Moscow. I’d prob­a­bly be shot or ar­rested. But the an­swer is in Rus­sia.”

Even if spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds de­fin­i­tive proof of col­lu­sion, it is un­cer­tain if his find­ings will be ac­cepted as the last word. Wood­ward con­tin­ues: “It de­pends on the qual­ity of the re­port. In Water­gate, one of the great lessons for me per­son­ally was you need a sto­ry­telling wit­ness; you can’t just say ‘I over­heard’ or ‘I spec­u­lated.’

“John Dean, Nixon’s coun­sel, tes­ti­fied on live na­tional tele­vi­sion: it was on ev­ery net­work, gavel to gavel cov­er­age for four days … then you had the sec­ond punch which was the tapes which val­i­dated it, made Nixon his own nar­ra­tor. So I’m not sure if that’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Wood­ward will for­ever be as­so­ci­ated with Water­gate and, like Paul McCart­ney, seems to be at peace when asked to re­play his great­est hits. The par­al­lels with that drama have been in­escapable. But for now there is at least one dif­fer­ence. “Nixon was a crim­i­nal and a well-doc­u­mented crim­i­nal. In the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we don’t know whether Trump was or is, and that’s a big dif­fer­ence.”

In the 1970s there also was no Twitter and no Fox News work­ing over­time to dis­credit Trump’s crit­ics. But Wood­ward ul­ti­mately re­tains faith in the sys­tem.

Nixon and Trump would be two ex­traor­di­nary book­ends to any jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer but Wood­ward shows no sign of let­ting up. He finds the en­ergy in Wash­ing­ton rem­i­nis­cent of the 70s. He is still knock­ing on doors, still seek­ing the next Deep Throat – his Water­gate source later re­vealed to be Mark Felt, sec­ond in com­mand of the FBI.

Are there Deep Throats in the Trump era? “Many,” he says. “We’re look­ing for more. Never enough.”

‘Nixon was a crim­i­nal … In the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we don’t know if Trump was or is…’ Bob Wood­ward

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.