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    Bob Woodward Visits SBU

    Stony Brook University had a treat for its students and community last week. On Wednesday, Apr. 11, Bob Woodward, the multi-award-winning journalist and author of 11 non-fiction, bestselling books, spoke at the SAC Ballroom. The talk, titled ‘Bob Woodward: From Watergate to the War in Iraq,’ was presented by SBU’s School of Journalism.

    Woodward is considered a legend (and to some, a hero) in the journalism field. He is a Yale graduate (1965), and served in the U.S. Navy for five years before pursuing a career in journalism. After working briefly at the Montgomery County Sentinel in Maryland, Woodward soon joined The Washington Post. It was here that Woodward, through his reporting, changed the face of the U.S. government forever.

    It was in 1973 when he and Carl Bernstein, both staff writers for The Washington Post, began investigating a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. After much investigating and with the help of an anonymous source close to the Nixon administration, Woodward and Bernstein unveiled a scandal that resulted in former President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

    Although Woodward is known to most people as the journalist involved with Watergate, he has continued his reporting since then. In the past five years, Woodward has published three books about the War in Iraq: Bush at War (2002), Plan of Attack (2004), and his most recent, State of Denial: Bush at War Part III (2006). His speech focused primarily on these books, seldom mentioning Watergate or his earlier years as a journalist.

    Woodward went into great detail about his second book, Plan of Attack, calling it ‘an excavation of decision-making in the White House.’ While researching this book, Woodward was able to interview President Bush about the war in Iraq. Over the course of two days, he spent over three hours questioning the President. While gathering information for his book, Woodward asked Bush 500 questions, a substantial number for a presidential interview. He noted that researchers at The Washington Post discovered Woodward’s interview for Plan of Attack was the longest interview a sitting President has given since George Washington.

    The main question for Bush, of course, was why the U.S. decided to go to war in Iraq. Bush’s reply was, ‘I believe we have a duty to free people.’ Woodward was surprised, noting that other countries may see this ‘duty’ as ‘dangerous paternalism’ on our part. Bush then became irritated, called Woodward an ‘elitist,’ and said that Americans have a ‘zeal to liberate people.’ According to Woodward, Bush has idealist views and an ‘unwillingness to give into the reality of what the war in Iraq has become.’ The audience, with the majority being middle-aged or older, was mostly in agreement.

    When discussing State of Denial: Bush at War Part III, Woodward’s most recent and wildly popular book, he said the ‘title came from the material.’ Woodward obtained (for research) reports to the President and his cabinet that contradicted what the Bush administration has been relaying to the public. He provided a few examples.

    In October 2002, five months before the war in Iraq was declared, the Pentagon assigned James ‘Spider’ Marks, the chief intelligence officer for the war, to go to the Middle East and do some investigating on the chances of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). While overseas, Marks reviewed 946 folders he obtained from an intelligence agency on WMDs and Saddam’s nuclear weapon program. His conclusion was that the intelligence was ‘no good.’ Marks was ‘consumed with doubt’ if there even were WMDs in Iraq.

    In addition, several months later in February 2003, just three weeks before the war in Iraq was established, Jay Garner, a retired Army general, was placed in charge of dealing with post-war Iraq. Former Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld, gave Garner a list of nine things he was ‘supposed’ to do after the War in Iraq was over. Of these nine tasks, Garner told Rumsfeld and other Bush officials that four he could not do, including rebuilding the Iraqi government. Woodward then made an amusing comparison, saying that it was ‘[a]lmost as if someone passed gas – no one wanted to comment on it.’

    Four months later, on Jun. 18, 2003, Garner told Rumsfeld (in regard to the war in Iraq), ‘Already, our goose is cooked.’ Rumsfeld’s response to this was, ‘We are where we are,’ and supposedly ‘laughed it off.’ Woodward continued to give examples from his book, including reports involving present Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. His final words on this issue were, ‘The simple conclusion of this research is: We have not been told the truth.’

    Continuing on the topic of the war in Iraq, Woodward then spoke of what it is we, as citizens, should worry about. He noted that ‘the thing that will get to us is secret government’hellip;the failure to confront and say what [the war in Iraq] is really like.’ He related the situation to a favorite quote of his from a John Wayne film: ‘Son, life is tough, but life is tougher if you’re stupid.’ The main issue that is at risk with a secret government is that the President has lost his ‘moral authority,’ is toying with the ‘delicate matter of trust,’ and that all in all, President Bush ‘needs to be a ‘truth-teller.”

    The talk then turned over to a question and answer session with the audience. The questions regarded the war in Iraq, how the Bush administration is currently handling it, as well as the relationships with reporters, editors and politicians. In reply to a question about politicians shutting reporters off when asked questions, Woodward said, ‘You have to convince people you really want to hear them out. If you do your homework, you can get around it.’

    When asked to elaborate on the ‘special relationship’ between editors and reporters, Woodward referenced a quote used amongst reporters in The Washington Post: ‘All good work is done in defiance of management.’ He chuckled and continued, ‘The best reporters are a pain in the a–.’ As a reporter, one has to figure out the story and get it right; editors don’t get out onto the scene, and thus rely on
    their reporters to get the truth. He also said that the best editors are not just defined by what they put into an issue, but by what is kept out. Woodward concluded his answer with a quote from former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, saying that a reporter needs to keep his/her ‘nose down, a– up, moving slowly, forward, ahead.’

    Woodward was also asked to define the journalistic technique used by the Fox network, which was received with many laughs. Woodward replied, smiling, ‘It’s easier to describe the creation of the universe,’ and added that ‘it’s the First Amendment,’ and Fox’s process is ‘fine.’ His final question was about whether or not the War in Iraq will be solved soon since the Congress is now ruled by Democrats. He said that no one knows anything about the future, that the government needs ‘to have the political will to fight,’ and that the U.S. doesn’t ‘have the political will anymore.’

    The talk ended rather abruptly, with Woodward and Journalism Department Dean Howard Schneider walking briskly offstage. Woodward was soon surrounded by enthusiastic audience members, requesting autographs and pictures, but was quickly ushered away. Although the number of students to adults was minimal, everyone was happy to be there, and welcomed Woodward with cheers and applause. It was an honor to have such an influential journalist come to SBU, and a privilege to see him speak.

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