The morning of June 17, 1972 was a beautiful one in Washington, D.C.
Bob Woodward, who’d been on staff with the Washington Post for just nine months, was working the newspaper’s nighttime police beat. He’d finish work at 2:30 a.m., go home to sleep for several hours, and then return to the newsroom around 10 or 11 a.m. to find other stories to work on.
But on that day, there’d been an overnight break-in at the Watergate Hotel complex.
“The editors sat around, and they said, ‘Who would be dumb enough to come in and work this morning?’” Woodward recalls in a recent phone interview. “It was thought to be just kind of a local break-in, and they immediately thought of me.”
The editors sent Woodward to the court house that morning and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. The scandal that followed ultimately led to President Richard Nixon’s August 1974 resignation, and the investigative reporting of Woodward and fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein led to the best-selling book and film adaptation, “All the President’s Men.”
Nearly 50 years after Woodward became a household name in journalism circles, the 15-time national bestselling author is coming to Bellingham on November 12, speaking at the historic Mount Baker Theatre.
The event, sponsored by Village Books and titled “How We Got Here — Lessons from Ten Presidents,” will feature a 45-minute conversation with Woodward moderated by Cascadia Daily News Executive Editor Ron Judd. A 45-minute audience Q&A session will follow.
Now 79, Woodward has written books on the last 10 U.S. Presidents. He recently released, in their more than eight-hour entirety, the 20 interviews he conducted with Donald Trump between 2016 and 2020.
The White House, Then and Now
Asked how the presidency has changed during his reporting career, Woodward makes particular distinction of Nixon and Trump.
During Watergate, Nixon eventually came to realize he’d be impeached, and he asked fellow Republican Barry Goldwater how a Senate trial would go.
“Goldwater said he counted votes, and Nixon had only five votes,” says Woodward. “And Goldwater told him, ‘And one of them is not mine.’ Nixon announced his resignation the next night. We now see the Republican Party joined at the hip with Trump. That’s a big change in 48 years.”
Both presidents also share parallels in how they approached re-election.
“Both Nixon and Trump found the soft spot in the system that we have for determining who’s going to be president,” he says. “There [was] an incredible, diabolical assessment of where our democratic system has weaknesses, and they found them.”
While Nixon engaged in a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign of sabotage and espionage towards opponents, Trump focused on January 6, when Congress formally certifies election results.
In the end, neither president ended up with an outcome they wanted.
A Love of Journalism
Most reporters don’t have historic markers where they met their sources, but Woodward does.
The Virginia parking garage where he met “Deep Throat,” the long-unnamed government informant in his Watergate reporting, had one installed in 2011.
Woodward considered attending law school after leaving the Navy in 1970, but instead found himself enamored with journalism after a year of reporting at the Montgomery Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in the Washington D.C. suburbs.
“It’s the best job in the world,” Woodward says of journalism. “You make momentary entries into people’s lives, when they’re interesting, and then get out when they cease to be. By definition, what we do is not supposed to be boring, and it’s what’s relevant in people’s lives.”
Over the years, Woodward was part of two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at the Post: their work on the Watergate investigation, as well as their post-9/11 work regarding the war on terrorism. He no longer works for the paper, but holds an honorary associate editor role and continues to author occasional articles.
Woodward is also partially responsible for the paper’s official slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” The phrase came from a case ruling Woodward once heard a judge issue, and it caught the ear of Amazon founder and Post owner Jeff Bezos.
Although there is significant distrust in mainstream media today, Woodward says journalism remains on solid ground as long as the nation’s First Amendment remains in place and reporters remain committed to careful reporting of facts.
When it comes to how Washington’s current political leaders can solve the nation’s deep partisan divisions, he is less sure.
“They’ve got to figure that out,” he says. “And they obviously haven’t. [Reporters] work on the sidelines, observing, digging; trying to find out, trying to explain. We’re charting that story, and it’s not a happy story. We’re divided. I asked Trump about this. I said, ‘Do you know you’re president of two Americas?’ And he said he knew that.”
Bob Woodward speaks at Mount Baker Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at their website.
Featured photo by Lisa Berg