Jonathan Lin and Ryan Bingham Duff
At the age of 76, renowned Watergate reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize contributor, Bob Woodward recounted the experiences as a reporter with The Washington Post to an auditorium filled with students, faculty, alumni and other guests at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) on Sept. 19. Titled “The State of the American Presidency,” the event was part of the Maverick Lecture Series presented by UTA.
Woodward opened with comments about the Watergate scandal, when he and fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein chased leads on the corruption within the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CREEP) and its actions to re-elect then President Richard M. Nix
“We need to address the question, if we learned the lesson[s] from Watergate because they are vivid. And the first real lesson of Watergate is the centrality of truth in this country,” he said.
Woodward asked the audience, “How can we have a useful political dialogue with citizen understanding? And even in journalism, we have destroyed the common agreement of what is fact.”
“The second lesson is that presidents have to hold a political and moral authority, he said.
Quoting the words of the late former president Nixon on the day he resigned from office (Aug. 9, 1974), “Always remember, others hate you. But those that hate you don’t win unless you hate them and then destroy yourself.” Woodward said that sentiment does not just apply to politics but to “all of our lives.”
According to Woodward, in journalism as in politics, timing is an important factor in establishing the truth. In the early 2000s, while researching one of the books he referred to as the “Bush books” (on the presidency of George W. Bush), Woodward mentioned a four-star general who was repeatedly dodging his interviews.
“It turns out the best time to go knock on their door without an appointment is 8:17 p.m. on a Tuesday,” Woodward said. The general’s
greeting was, “Are you still doing this [expletive deleted]?” To the audience’s amusement, Woodward stated that “He [the general] spoke from the heart.”
Once a reporter manages to get through the door, Woodward stressed the importance of listening. “It’s really important to learn to let the silence suck out the truth,” Woodward said as he demonstrated his technique to remind himself to “shut the [expletive deleted] up” by inducing pain by pinching his little finger with his thumb. The technique, according to him, served him well in part interviews, such as those conducted while researching “Shadow,” one of his books on the legacy of Watergate.
In pursuit of the truth surrounding Watergate, Woodward attempted to interview former President Gerald Ford. In the last of seven interviews conducted, Woodward once again asked, “Why did you pardon Nixon? I don’t think you ever answered.”
To his surprise, Ford replied, “You’re right. I never have told the story about what really happened. I haven’t even told [his wife] Betty.”
Ford then proceeded in an “explosion of monologue” to explain to Woodward that, “A week before Nixon resigned, Al Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff, came to me and said, “If you agree to pardon Nixon, he will resign and you will get the presidency.” Woodward then exclaimed, as he did on that day, “Holy [expletive deleted]! There was a deal!”
At the end of the lecture, Woodward stayed to sign copies of his latest book, “Fear: Trump in the White House” (2018) and the classic that he co-authored with Bernstein, “All the President’s Men” (1974).
The efforts of Woodward and Bernstein led to the 1973 Pulitzer Prize in public Service, awarded to The Washington Post for uncovering and investigating the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Nixon.