Robert "Bob" Upshur Woodward
(born March 26
) is an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post
. While an investigative reporter
for that newspaper, Woodward, working with fellow reporter Carl Bernstein
, helped uncover the Watergate scandal
that led to U.S. President Richard Nixon
's resignation. Woodward has written 12 best-selling non-fiction books
and has twice contributed reporting to efforts that collectively earned the Post
and its National Reporting staff a Pulitzer Prize
Woodward was born in Geneva, Illinois
to Alfred and Jane Woodward
. He was brought up in nearby Wheaton
and attended Wheaton Community High School
. Woodward enrolled in Yale University
with an NROTC
scholarship, and studied history and English literature as a member of the fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta
. He received his B.A. degree in 1965, and began a four-year tour of duty in the Navy to fulfill his NROTC commitment. Woodward was discharged from the Navy as a Lieutenant in August 1970 after serving as an aide to the Chief of Naval Operations
, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer
. Toward the end of his naval service he had his first chance meetings with Mark Felt
"), later his inside source for information leading to his reporting on the Watergate scandal
He applied to several law schools, but also applied for a job as a reporter for The Washington Post. Harry Rosenfeld, the paper's metropolitan editor, hired him on a two-week trial basis, a tryout that failed because of his complete lack of experience as a journalist. Still interested in becoming a reporter, he got a job with the Montgomery Sentinel. A year after his on-the-job training at the Sentinel, he left that paper and joined The Washington Post in August 1971.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
were assigned to report on the June 17
burglary of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee
in a Washington, D.C.
office building called Watergate
. Their work, under editor Ben Bradlee
, become known for being the first to report on a number of political "dirty tricks
" used by the Nixon re-election committee
during his campaign for reelection. Their book about the scandal, All the President's Men
, became a #1 best-seller and was later turned into a movie. The 1976 film
, starring Robert Redford
as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman
as Bernstein, transformed the reporters into celebrities and inspired a wave of interest in investigative journalism
The book and movie also led to one of Washington, D.C.'s most famous mysteries: the identity of Woodward's secret Watergate informant known as Deep Throat, a reference to the title of a popular pornographic movie at the time. Woodward said he would protect Deep Throat's identity until the man died or allowed his name to be revealed. For over 30 years, only Woodward, Bernstein, and a handful of others knew the informant's identity until it was claimed by his family to Vanity Fair magazine to be former FBI Assistant Director Mark Felt in May 2005. Woodward has confirmed this claim and published a book, titled The Secret Man, which detailed his relationship with Felt.
George W. Bush administration
Woodward has spent the most time of any journalist with President George W. Bush
, interviewing him four times for more than seven hours total. Woodward's four most recent books, Bush at War
(2002), Plan of Attack
(2004), State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III
(2006), and The War Within
(2008) are detailed accounts of the Bush presidency, including the response to the September 11 terrorist attacks
and the wars in Afghanistan
In a series of articles published in January 2002, he and Dan Balz described the events at Camp David
in the aftermath of September 11. In these articles, they mention the Worldwide Attack Matrix
Woodward believed the Bush Administration's claims of Iraqi WMDs prior to the war. During an appearance on Larry King Live, he was asked by a telephone caller "Suppose we go to war and go into Iraq and there are no weapons of mass destruction," Woodward responded "I think the chance of that happening is about zero. There's just too much there."
Woodward has been accused by a few critics of being too close to the Bush administration, and some say his relationship with the current administration is in stark contrast to his investigative role in Watergate. Others disagree, however. In 2004, both the Bush campaign and the Kerry campaign recommended his book Plan of Attack, and The New York Times said the book contained "convincing accounts of White House failures... presented alongside genial encounters with the president." Rick Hertzberg in The New Yorker wrote that "Plan of Attack is Woodward's best book in years" and that "Woodward is welcomed as a fair witness."
State of Denial, released on October 2 2006, describes alleged tensions and dysfunctions within the Bush Administration in the lead-up to, and following, the invasion of Iraq. Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal wrote, "It may be a great (book). It is serious, densely, even exhaustively, reported, and a real contribution to history in that it gives history what it most requires, first-person testimony. It is well documented, with copious notes."
On February 1, 2008, as a part of the Authors @ Google series, Woodward, who was interviewed by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, said that he had a fourth book in his Bush at War series in the making. He then added jokingly that his wife told him that she'll kill him if he decides to write a fifth in the series.
Woodward's fourth book, The War Within: A Secret White House History (2006-2008), was released September 8, 2008.
Involvement in the Plame scandal
On November 14
, Woodward gave a two-hour deposition
to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald
. He testified that a senior administration official told him in June 2003 that Iraq war
critic Joe Wilson
’s wife (later identified as Valerie Plame
), worked for the CIA. Woodward therefore appears to have been the first reporter to learn about her employment (albeit not her name) from a government source. The deposition was reported in The Washington Post
on November 16
, and was the first time Woodward revealed publicly that he had any special knowledge about the case. Woodward testified the information was given to him in a “casual” and “offhand” manner, and said that he does not believe it was part of any coordinated effort to “out” Plame as a CIA employee.
Later, Woodward's source identified himself. It was Richard Armitage
, Colin Powell's deputy and an internal critic of the Iraq War and the White House inner circle.
Woodward said the revelation came at the end of a long, confidential background interview for his 2004 book Plan of Attack. He did not reveal the official’s disclosure at the time because it did not strike him as important. Later, he kept it to himself because it came as part of a confidential conversation with a source.
In his deposition, Woodward also said that he had conversations with Scooter Libby after the June 2003 conversation with his confidential Administration source, and testified that it is possible that he might have asked Libby further questions about Joe Wilson’s wife before her employment at the CIA and her identity were publicly known.
Woodward’s revelation was controversial because he had not told his editor at the Post about the conversation for more than two years, and also because he had publicly criticized the investigation. He had referred to Fitzgerald as a “junkyard dog prosecutor” on Larry King’s television show, , and said he believed that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great.. On another occasion, he said of the investigation that he thought there was “nothing to it,” and that Fitzgerald’s behavior had been “disgraceful.” In later interviews after his deposition, Woodward said he had meant by his “junkyard dog” comment to suggest colorfully that Fitzgerald was a tenacious prosecutor, and that the “disgraceful” comment concerned the tactic of putting journalists in prison to coerce them to reveal their confidential sources.
Woodward apologized to Leonard Downie, the editor of The Washington Post for not informing him earlier of the June 2003 conversation. Downie accepted the apology and said even had the paper known it would not have changed its reporting.
Other professional activities
Woodward has continued to write books and report stories for The Washington Post,
and serves as an assistant managing editor at the paper. He focuses on the presidency, intelligence, and Washington institutions such as the U.S. Supreme Court
, The Pentagon
, and the Federal Reserve
. He has also written the book, Wired
, about the Hollywood
drug culture and the death of comic John Belushi
Awards and recognition
Woodward has twice contributed to collective journalistic efforts that were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In 1973, The Washington Post
won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service
. Though the Prize was awarded to the entire Post staff, the citation specifically named his and Bernstein's reporting on Watergate as exemplary work. In addition, Woodward was the lead reporter for the Post
's articles on the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks that won the National Reporting
Pulitzer in 2002. He also was awarded the Gerald R. Ford
Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency in 2003.
Woodward is widely regarded as one of the top reporters of the last half-century, and has earned trust and accolades from government officials and journalists of all political persuasions. In 2003, Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal called Woodward "the most celebrated journalist of our age." The Weekly Standard called him "the best pure reporter of his generation, perhaps ever." In 2004, Bob Schieffer of CBS News said "Woodward has established himself as the best reporter of our time. He may be the best reporter of all time."
Criticisms of style
In writing his books, Woodward collects detailed records, including interviews, documents, transcripts, and recordings. He then uses them to describe events as a story with an omniscient narrator
, present tense and dialogue
. His books are often very visually descriptive.
While this style may have earned Woodward commercial success, many literary critics consider his prose awkward and his approach inappropriate for his subject matter. Nicholas von Hoffman complained that "the arrestingly irrelevant detail is [often] used" while Michael Massing thinks the books are "filled with long, at times tedious passages with no evident direction." Joan Didion said Woodward finds "[nothing] too insignificant for inclusion," including such details as shirts worn and food eaten in unimportant situations. "The reader attuned to the conventions of narrative might be led by the presentation of these quotidian details into thinking that a dramatic moment is about to occur," she noted, only to be disappointed by bland comments like how the President "thought a lot of the criticism he received was unfair."
The narrative, reporting-driven style of Woodward's books also draws criticism for rarely making conclusions or passing judgment on the characters and actions that he recounts in such detail. Didion concluded that Woodward writes "books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent," and finds the books marked by "a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured."
Criticisms of content
Many commentators and historians have criticised Woodward for inaccuracies and inconsistencies in his books and other writings. A number of these criticisms can be found in the list below.
- *Woodward has been accused of exaggeration and fabrication by other journalists, most notably regarding "Deep Throat", his famous Watergate informant. Even since Mark Felt has been announced to be the true identity behind Deep Throat, historians John Dean and Ed Gray, in separate publications, have used Woodward's book All The President's Men and his published notes on his meetings with Deep Throat to show that Mark Felt could not have been the only person to be Deep Throat, thus re-introducing the composite character theory on Deep Throat that had been prevalent prior to Felt's announcement. Gray, in his book In Nixon's Web, even goes so far as to publish an e-mail and telephone exchange he had with Donald Santarelli, a Washington lawyer who was a justice department official during Watergate, in which Santarelli confirmed to Gray that he was the source behind statements Woodward recorded in notes he has attributed to Deep Throat.
- *Brad DeLong has also noticed strong inconsistencies between the accounts of the making of Clinton economic policy described both in Woodward's book Maestro and his book The Agenda. Didion, meanwhile, complains about inconsistencies even within the same book. On page 16 of The Choice, she notes, Clinton complains about Dole using the Whitewater scandal to attack him the day after his mother passed away. But on page 346, Dole says "he had never used Whitewater to attack the president personally."
- *Some of Woodward's critics accuse him of abandoning critical inquiry to maintain his access to high-profile political actors. Anthony Lewis called the style "a trade in which the great grant access in return for glory." Christopher Hitchens accused Woodward of acting as "stenographer to the rich and powerful." Woodward believed the Bush Administration's claims of Iraqi WMDs prior to the war, and the publication of the book "At the Eye of the Storm" by former DCI George Tenet led Woodward to engage in a rather tortuous account of the extent of his pre-war conversations with Tenet in an article in The New Yorker Magazine in which he also chastised New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd for being critical of him.
- *Woodward has said that his books "really are self portraits, because I go to people and I say — I check them and I double check them but — but who are you? What are you doing? Where do you fit in? What did you say? What did you feel?" Critics complain that this style allows the biases and beliefs of his sources to steer the narrative and that those who talk to Woodward are painted more favorably than those who don't.
- The Brethren, for example, painted a picture of the Supreme Court based partly on the comments of its clerks; some believe that, as a result, the book suggests that the Supreme Court Justices do little of the actual work. Woodward points out recently that the ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was one of his primary sources for "State of Denial," yet is perhaps the most harshly portrayed figure in the book. Other sources who have spoken to Woodward also confess to having failed to "spin" him, as they had hoped to do.
- *Woodward's dual role as journalist and author has opened him up to occasional criticism for sitting on information for publication in a book, rather than presenting it sooner when it might affect the events at hand. In The Commanders (1991), for instance, he indicated that Colin Powell had opposed Operation Desert Storm, yet Woodward did not publish this information before Congress voted on a war resolution, when it may have made a difference. And in Veil, he indicates that former CIA Director William Casey personally knew of arms sales to the Contras, but he did not reveal this until after the Congressional investigation.
- *Martin Dardis, the chief investigator for the Dade County State Attorney, who in 1972 discovered that the money found on the Watergate burglars came from the Committee to Re-elect the President, has complained that All the President's Men misrepresented him.
- *Woodward was also accused of fabricating his deathbed interview with Casey, as described in Veil; critics say the interview simply could not have taken place as written in the book. However, the CIA's own internal report found that Casey spoke to Woodward 43 times, sometimes alone at Casey's home, and his deputy Bob Gates wrote in his own book that he was able to communicate with Casey at that same time and quoted Casey making short statements similar to those reported by Woodward. The author Ronald Kessler reported similar findings in his book on the CIA. Following Casey's death, President Ronald Reagan wrote: "[Woodward]'s a liar and he lied about what Casey is supposed to have thought of me."
- *Finally, a review by Anthony Lewis in the New York Review of Books challenged the claim in The Brethren (written by Woodward and Scott Armstrong) that Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once voted in a way he thought was wrong to avoid hurting the feelings of Justice Blackmun. Woodward and Armstrong insisted they had one of Brennan's clerks confirm the story on the record; Lewis interviewed everyone who clerked that term; all found the story false or implausible. Woodward showed the notes he'd taken on the subject to a third-party; the notes themselves were unclear but Lewis located the source of the notes who insisted that Woodward misrepresented him.
Despite these criticisms and challenges, Woodward has been praised as an authoritative and balanced journalist. The New York Times Book Review said in 2004 that "No reporter has more talent for getting Washington’s inside story and telling it cogently." The publication of a Woodward book, perhaps more than any other contemporary author's, is treated as a major political event that dominates national news for days.
Commentator David Frum has said, perhaps partly tongue-in-cheek, that Washington officials can learn something about the way Washington works from Woodward's books: "From his books, you can draw a composite profile of the powerful Washington player. That person is highly circumspect, highly risk averse, eschews new ideas, flatters his colleagues to their face (while trashing them to Woodward behind their backs), and is always careful to avoid career-threatening confrontation. We all admire heroes, but Woodward's books teach us that those who rise to leadership are precisely those who take care to abjure heroism for themselves.
Bob Woodward regularly gives speeches to industry lobbying groups, such as the American Bankruptcy Institute, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the Mortgage Bankers Association. Woodward commands speaking fees "rang[ing] from $15,000 to $60,000" and donates them to his personal foundation, the Woodward Walsh Foundation, giving him a tax write-off. The foundation donates most of the money to Sidwell Friends School, the elite private school Woodward's children attend. Washington Post policy prohibits "speaking engagements without permission from department heads" but Woodward insists that the policy is "fuzzy and ambiguous".
Woodward now lives in the Georgetown
section of Washington. He is married to Elsa Walsh
, a writer
for The New Yorker
and the author of Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women, which Entertainment Weekly cited as one of the 10 best books of 1995. He has two daughters.
Woodward still maintains a listed number in the Washington, D.C. phone directory . He says this is because he wants any potential news source to be able to reach him.
Woodward has co-authored or authored ten #1 national best-selling non-fiction
books, more than any other contemporary American writer. They are:
Other books, which have also been best-sellers but not #1, are:
- The Choice - about Clinton's re-election bid; (1996) ISBN 0-684-81308-4
- Maestro - about Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan; (2000) ISBN 0743204123
- The Secret Man - about Mark Felt's disclosure, after more than thirty years, that he was Deep Throat. The book was written before Felt admitted his title, as he was sickly and Bob expected that someway or another, it would come out; (2005) ISBN 0-7432-8715-0
Newsweek has excerpted five of Woodward's books in cover stories; 60 Minutes has done segments on five; and three have been made into movies.
Criticism of Bob Woodward
Rich, Frank. "All the President's Flacks," New York Times.
(December 4, 2005)
Pease, Lisa. "Bob Woodward" Probe Magazine, January-February 1996 (Vol. 3 No. 2)
Pop culture references
On The Simpsons
episode "Whacking Day
reads a book called The Truth About Whacking Day
, written by Bob Woodward.
In the movie The Skulls, the character Will Beckford tries to compare himself to Woodward while reading his column in the school newspaper.
In the movie Dick, which is about Watergate, Woodward is played by actor/comedian Will Ferrell. Woodward and Bernstein are depicted as two bickering, childish near-incompetents, small-mindedly competitive with each other.
In the movie Wired, adapted from Woodward's book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, Woodward is portrayed onscreen by J.T. Walsh.
The graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore is set in a version of 1985 where Nixon is a fifth-term president. A throwaway line reveals that a pair of unknown journalists, Woodward and Bernstein, were found murdered in the early 1970s. This same scenario is used as a dystopian detail in "Back to the Future 2".
Woodward scripted the "Der Roachenkavalier" episode of Hill Street Blues that aired on February 3, 1987.
In one Bloom County series, Woodward writes an expose about the late Bill the Cat's "ugly, sordid private life", based entirely on information he got out of Opus the penguin (although Mickey Mouse and Charlie Brown also appear to have something to do with it). A three-Sunday strip-long mockumenatry based on the Woodward book was used later to explain how Bill came back to life after dying in a car crash.
In "The Long Lead Story", episode 5 of the NBC television series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Matthew Perry's character Matt Albie is talking to reporter Martha O'Dell, played by Christine Lahti. She points to his show board and says, "The Lobster sketch isn't funny yet," to which he replies, "Tell me something else I don't know, Woodward"; a sarcastic jab at O'Dell's decision to report on a sketch comedy show despite being a Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter.
In The Wire episode "React Quotes", a borderline-incompetent journalist is referred to as "not exactly Bob Woodward."
In multiple episodes of "Gilmore Girls" they refer to Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Bernstein, and All the President's Men.
- "I called my father and said I'm not going to law school, but have this job at a newspaper he had never heard of. And my father said probably the severest thing he has ever said to me. He said, 'You're crazy.' So he didn't think it was a good idea."
- "You won't achieve understanding of a person or an issue in a day. Take your time, dig, go back."
- "I once said in an interview with somebody at CBS, I said something that a lot of reporters have put up, the quote, on their desks. And it says the following, 'All good work is done in defiance of management.'