At an online event on Nov. 12, renowned investigative journalist Bob Woodward discussed Donald Trump’s presidency, his reporting process and the media’s part in shaping the nation’s political landscape.
The Kennedy Political Union and the School of Communication co-sponsored the event, which was moderated by SOC professor Leonard Steinhorn. Much of the conversation centered around Woodward’s most recent book, “Rage,” an account of the Trump presidency published in September.
One of the primary focuses of “Rage” is Trump’s management of the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the process of writing the book, Woodward conducted numerous interviews with Trump, and during one of their discussions on Feb. 7, Trump told Woodward that the coronavirus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
The revelation came as a surprise to many Americans because Trump publicly maintained that the virus was not serious enough to warrant a federally-mandated lockdown period, tweeting more than a month after his interview with Woodward on March 9 that “nothing is shut down” during a typical flu season.
Woodward, who spoke with Trump for 18 on-the-record interviews, asked him what the job of the president is.
“He said, ‘The job is to protect the people.’ He failed in that basic duty with the knowledge he had and the accountability, I think in part, came home to roost in the election earlier this month,” Woodward said. “People realized the extent to which he had ducked and, quite frankly, told untruths about the virus.”
Some Americans criticized Woodward for his hesitancy to come forward with Trump’s comments regarding the severity of COVID-19 in February, prior to the peak of the pandemic in the United States.
In an interview with student media shortly before the event, Woodward was asked about his response to this backlash. He said that he had believed Trump was referring to the virus’s impact on China, as there was “no sense that [the virus] was coming to the United States” at this point in time. It was not until later that he discovered Trump had received a briefing with this information from National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien in January, confirming that America was at risk for exposure.
“You know, as a reporter, sometimes as you do your reporting you learn about things that happened earlier,” Woodward said. “In May, I learned that on January 28, he got this briefing which told him that the virus was coming.”
During his conversation with Steinhorn, Woodward was asked further questions about what he described as the “strategy-free” Trump presidency. He affirmed his belief that, despite suggestions that media consumers will miss the sensationalism perpetuated by Trump and his administration, “people want stability.”
Beyond his analysis of the Trump presidency, Woodward talked about the role that he believes the media will play in the narrative of reunification that President-elect Joe Biden has been promoting in the weeks following his win. In his response, Woodward recounted a letter that he and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein received from Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham soon after they broke the Watergate scandal, in which she cautioned both of them to “beware the demon pomposity” as they advanced in their careers.
At the online event, Woodward offered a similar warning to aspiring journalists watching the event, reminding students that they should never forget to “tag on that footnote, ‘well, by the way, I don’t know everything’” as they move forward with their reporting.
In addition to his advice for student journalists, Woodward offered some guidance for all students in their pursuit of satisfying careers. He encouraged the audience to consider their own happiness in their professional lives, and not to settle for paths that did not hold their interest.
“If you’re getting up in the morning and saying, ‘huh, Jesus, why am I doing this?’ — look elsewhere,” Woodward said.