From Nixon to Trump: Bob Woodward, chronicler of US presidents


Washington (AFP)

Nearly 50 years after Watergate, Bob Woodward is still breaking front page news and rattling US presidents.

His reporting about the Watergate scandal as a journalist for The Washington Post brought down Richard Nixon.

Now a best-selling author, the 77-year-old Woodward's latest book, "Rage," is shaking the White House of President Donald Trump -- less than two months ahead of the November 3 election.

In an on-the-record interviews with Woodward for the book, Trump admits to minimizing the threat from the coronavirus at the outset of a pandemic which has gone on to take some 200,000 lives in the United States.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump said in one conversation with Woodward. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

Trump also told Woodward that he understood early on that the virus was "deadly stuff" and far more dangerous than the common flu. At the same time, he was reassuring the public the virus would just "disappear."

Trump's Democratic challenger Joe Biden attacked Trump's downplaying of the health crisis as a "life and death betrayal of the American people."

"He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months," Biden said.

Woodward, in an interview with the CBS show "60 Minutes," described as a "tragedy" the president's failure to inform the American people early on about how deadly the virus was.

"The president of the United States has a duty to warn," he said. "The public will understand that but if they get the feeling that they're not getting the truth, then you're going down the path of deceit and cover up."

- Watergate -

Woodward studied at Yale University and did a five-year tour in the US Navy, before turning to journalism. He was rejected due to a lack of experience when he first applied at the Post.

After a stint at a local paper in the Washington suburbs, he got his shot at the Post in 1971.

Woodward had barely a year of reporting experience under his belt when he and Bernstein stumbled into the story of a lifetime -- the 1972 break-in at Democratic Party offices in Washington's Watergate compound.

Their classic gumshoe investigation prompted a series of congressional hearings and led to Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Woodward and Bernstein wrote a best-selling book, "All the President's Men," about the scandal which was turned into a hit 1976 film starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein.

"Rage" is already topping the Amazon bestseller list even before it goes on sale on September 15.

Since leaving daily journalism, Woodward has put out 20 books, including authoritative tomes on Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and -- Donald Trump.

His brand as an unvarnished reporter about Washington's corridors of power is unmatched, and his ability to back up whatever insider tales he hears has earned him grudging respect in the US capital.

- Mystery -

Why Trump agreed to conduct more than a dozen on-the-record interviews with Woodward is something of a mystery, particularly after his previous book portrayed Trump in a much less than flattering light.

Woodward's "Fear: Trump in the White House" published in 2018 painted a portrait of an angry, paranoid leader and a White House which Trump's own chief of staff described as "Crazytown."

Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, told The Daily Beast that he had recommended to the president that he talk to Woodward.

"The last book Woodward wrote, Trump said he didn't know that he had wanted to be interviewed," Graham said.

"So I said, well, the guy is a well-known presidential author. And, you know, you got a chance to tell your side of the story. The president agreed and there you go."

Woodward, who retains an honorific title of associate editor at the Post but no longer writes for the newspaper, has come in for some criticism for withholding the details of his interviews with Trump for his book.

"Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months," Trump tweeted. "If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn't he immediately report them in an effort to save lives?"

Woodward, in an interview with the Post, defended his decision to hold back the material for his book.

In addition, he said, in dealing with the president's revelations, "the biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn't know if it was true."