After four decades of being one of the nation’s best known and widely respected journalists, you’d think Bob Woodward has seen it all.
“But I wake up every morning haunted by what we don’t know,” he said Thursday to a capacity crowd at Stambaugh Auditorium as part of the Skeggs Lecture series of Youngstown State University.
The legendary Washington Post journalist and author or co-author of 17 books — best known for his reporting, with Carl Bernstein, of the Water- gate scandal that eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as president of the United States — said, “We should worry the most” about government keeping secrets from its citizens.
There is “too much unnecessary secrecy” in government, he said.
Woodward told stories about various presidents, particularly Barack Obama, Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, for about 35 minutes, then answered questions from the audience for 30 minutes.
He also told an unflattering, but amusing story about sitting next to former Vice President Al Gore at a dinner, saying being with him was “taxing,” and added, “To be really honest, it’s unpleasant.”
Woodward said Gore pressed him on why the journalist didn’t go after Bush, who beat Gore in the 2000 presidential election, over the war in Iraq.
Gore was a former reporter before becoming a politician, and “he thinks he invented [reporting] also,” Woodward joked in reference to an often misquoted statement that the ex-vice president claimed he invented the Internet.
He also mentioned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who once told Obama that he’s not a detail person, then left if up to his chief of staff to explain a situation to the president.
“Truer words were never spoken,” Woodward quipped.
Woodward called Obama a “complex political figure” who “understands the truth in the notion that he who desires peace must be prepared for war. The inner Obama does not like war and wants to get out” of it.
As for Nixon, Woodward said he self-destructed because “hate was the piston in his presidency,” and he used that power for “personal revenge.”
Yet Woodward said Nixon learned something from the scandal that ended his presidency, quoting Nixon’s Aug. 9, 1974, speech on his final day in office: “Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them and then you destroy yourself.”
Woodward said his position on Ford’s full pardon of Nixon on Sept. 8, 1974, changed. He initially condemned the action, but years later Ford explained that he came to that decision to avoid a lengthy criminal investigation and trial of Nixon when the country’s focus needed to be on the Cold War and improving the economy.
“What Ford did was very, very gutsy,” said Woodward, adding that it was “one of the truly brave acts by a political figure.”
The legendary journalist said partisanship runs Washington, D.C., and is largely responsible for the nation’s economic woes.
“This isn’t just a battle between the Democrats and the Republicans,” he said. “It’s a civil war in the Democratic Party as it is in the Republican Party.”
There is “no communication,” and “people aren’t working together as they should,” he said.
In response to an English major college student who asked about the difficulty of finding employment, Woodward said, “I think there will be all kinds of jobs and opportunities, but the political class needs to get their act together.”
Woodward said partisanship would lessen if people spent more time together and realized the person on the other side of the table is a friend rather than an enemy because he is the person who can give you what you want.
Sometimes, Woodward said, he wants to “scream ‘Work together!’” to politicians.
Woodward said the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision that prohibits the government from restricting significant financial donations by corporations and employee unions based on the First Amendment is “a troubling decision in many ways.”
But then he quickly defended it saying, “It’s hard to tell people they can’t exercise their First Amendment rights,” and “I don’t think it’s that big of a problem.”
Another person asked how a third political party could compete with large amounts of money poured into Democratic and Republican campaigns.
“The answer is get someone with a lot of money” like wealthy businessman “Warren Buffett to join” your cause, Woodward said.