By David Skolnick
Legendary journalist Bob Woodward said he’ll “tell some war stories” during his talk at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Stambaugh Auditorium as part of the Skeggs Lecture series of Youngstown State University.
As the author or co-author of 17 books and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, best known for reporting — along with Carl Bernstein — on the Watergate scandal that eventually led to the historic resignation of Richard Nixon as president of the United States — he has a lot of stories to tell.
Woodward, now an associate editor at the Washington Post, where he’s worked since 1971, said, “People can judge” his opinions of the presidents he’s covered, going back to Nixon, based on his lecture.
Woodward’s lecture is titled “Presidential Leadership and the Price of Politics.”
“I try to address how they lead and why,” he said in an interview with The Vindicator.
During his 42 years in journalism, Woodward said he has seen political bipartisanship that existed during the Watergate investigation disappear in national politics.
On Feb. 7, 1973, the U.S. Senate voted 77-0 to approve a resolution to create a committee to investigate Watergate.
“You’d never get a unanimous vote to investigate the White House today,” Woodward said.
The partisanship creates a “traffic jam” in which “things don’t get solved, the budget in particular,” he said.
“American people are the victims” when Democrats and Republicans don’t work together, Woodward said. Politicians should work nonstop on job creation but aren’t interested in compromising to do that, he said.
Woodward made national news in late February when he wrote a column for The Washington Post stating President Barack Obama and Jack Lew, former White House chief of staff, were responsible for the sequester — $85 billion in what Woodward described as “ugly and largely irrational federal spending cuts” — and not congressional Republicans. Obama and Lew had blamed Congress for it.
Woodward also wrote Obama was “moving the goalposts” by asking for more tax increases.
Before it was published, Woodward informed White House officials it was coming. Gene Sperling, director of the president’s National Economic Council, yelled at Woodward during a telephone conversation.
Sperling then sent an email to Woodward that he “will regret staking that claim,” but apologized “for raising my voice in our conversation.” Woodward responded by email to Sperling that he doesn’t “ever have to apologize to me.”
Before the emails became public, Woodward told CNN: “It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this.”
Reflecting on the incident, Woodward called it a “sideshow,” and “it became a media feeding frenzy.”
The incident was described by some in the media as Woodward contending he was threatened.
But he disagrees: “I never once said, ‘It was threatening.’ I said, ‘It wasn’t the way to operate,’” in reference to “yelling for 30 minutes.”
“Things get distorted,” Woodward added.
When asked about today’s journalism, Woodward said he has concerns about the “impatience and speed” of it.
“Some of it is good,” he says, quickly followed by “all the tweeting is the perfect metaphor of the world we live in.”
Wanting to be first, sometimes without being accurate, “degrades” journalism, Woodward said.
Woodward doesn’t have a Twitter account, and his last post to his Facebook wall, with more than 51,000 followers, was in September 2012.
When asked if an in-depth and time-consuming story such as Watergate could be done properly in the current media climate, Woodward said, “I think so,” but it comes only if there is strong leadership at news organizations that understands the importance of news gathering.
“Those values still live,” he said, but not in enough places.
Despite the challenges facing the mainstream media, Woodward encourages young people to get into the business.
His advice for young journalists is to “keep digging” and “be fair-minded.”
Woodward delivers about 40 speeches a year with about half of them in Washington, D.C.
Woodward, who grew up in Wheaton, Ill., said he loves to come to the Midwest.
During the recent White House incident, Woodward received a call of support from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whom he met when the latter served in Congress, including six years as the House Budget Committee chairman. The governor urged Woodward to maintain his independent voice.
“They have a friendship from [Kasich’s] time in Washington, and they talk from time to time,” said Rob Nichols, the governor’s spokesman.
Free tickets, which are required to attend Woodward’s Thursday lecture, were distributed last week at Youngstown State University.