Fred Forum Welcomes Woodward
By ANNIE KINNIBURGH
On March 11, Bob Woodward came to UMW as part of the Fredericksburg Forum lecture series.
Woodward has been called “the best reporter of our time” by CBS News. Since uncovering the Watergate scandal in 1971, he has won nearly every American journalism award and brought two Pulitzer Prizes to his newspaper, The Washington Post.
In a speech full of jokes and personal anecdotes, Woodward nevertheless managed to discuss serious topics like the 2008 presidential election, the Iraq War and his experience with the Bush administration.
Woodward began his discussion of the upcoming election by inviting the audience to raise their hands in support of Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama or John McCain.
He then gave his own opinion of the election.
“Elections are a measuring point,” Woodward said. “They give us a chance to ask ourselves important questions. Who are we? What do we fear? What should we fear? Where are we going?”
Woodward said that whichever candidate wins the election will deal with many issues, including health care, the economy and immigration reform. However, he said that the most important issue will be the war in Iraq.
“War is a defining event. It defines who we are to the world and to ourselves,” he said. “This war will determine where we are in twenty years.”
Woodward was qualified to speak about the Iraq War—he has written four books on the subject. While writing one of these books, Woodward landed a rare interview with one of the war’s greatest supporters: President George W. Bush.
After Woodward sent a 21-page memo of information he had received from sources to President Bush, his editors questioned his decision.
“They said I was crazy—that there was no evidence Bush had ever read that much in his life,” Woodward said. “Then Condoleezza Rice called. She said I didn’t have all the information and that the president would see me the next day.”
What followed was the longest sitting interview with a president on record, according to Woodward. The interview lasted 3.5 hours and included 500 questions spread out over two days.
“The transcript of that interview reads like a legal deposition,” he said. “He gave very direct answers. I had to ask a lot of follow-up questions—when did this happen, where did it take place.”
Having spent most of the 21st century on George Bush and his administration, Woodward used the interview as an opportunity to understand the president’s motivations for actions taken while in office.
“I wanted to understand what drives him. And the answer is in his statement that it is America’s duty to free people,” Woodward said.
“He really believes that. That’s the reason we’re still in Iraq.”
However, Woodward admitted that Bush has not been open about his policies, and cautioned against the existence of “secret government.”
“Democracies die in darkness,” he said. “When the government hides everything, there’s no accountability. Having mechanisms to force governments to be accountable for what they do is important.”
For freshmen Benjamin Saunders and Tatiana Faramarzi, the high point of Woodward’s speech was the contrast between his reputation and his actual presence.
“With all that he’s done, the fact that he was very humble was very impressive,” Saunders said. “You could see it in his body language—he was relaxed and straightforward. It leant credence to what he was saying.”
“I only knew him from being involved in Watergate,” Faramarzi said. “But I was really impressed—it was a great speech.”
Bob Woodward is most known the man who uncovered the Watergate scandal.
However, during the question-and-answer session that followed his speech, Woodward proved why, thirty years later, he is still considered by some to be the best reporter of all time. An audience member asked whether Woodward would rather have dinner with President Nixon or President Bush.
“Would Nixon be alive?” Woodward joked. More seriously, he said, “I would rather have dinner with President Bush. The Nixon case is over. Bush is what I’m working on now.”
The Fredericksburg Forum will return in fall 2008 with a performance by the Capitol Steps comedy group and a spring 2009 lecture by Sam Donaldson