By Hannah Simpson
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward spoke on Nov. 13 in the Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
An audience of several hundred listened intently as he described a conversation in 2005 with former Vice President Al Gore.
“How much of what goes on in government does the public know,” Woodward recalled asking. “One percent,” Gore had answered.
If you were to write a “tell-all” book about the government, Woodward asked Gore, what would the public know? Two percent, Gore replied.
We don’t know enough, Woodward stated.
Woodward, who is perhaps America’s best-known print journalist, spoke as part of UNCP’s 2007-08 Distinguished Speaker Series.
Best known for his role in the investigation of the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, Woodward has written about five presidential administrations and has a trilogy of books dedicated to the “war on terror.”
“The trick…is to develop a method that will increase the communication, so people know what goes on,” he said.
In Woodward’s trilogy about the Bush administration, he focuses on the question: “Why did we go to war?”
Woodward, who was writing the book for the Washington Post, was given one year to produce it. After nine months of gathering data and information, he condensed his material into a 21-page memo, which he sent to the White House with a request to interview President Bush.
“Woodward, you’ve finally lost it,” a colleague told him. “There’s no evidence that the president ever read anything this long.”
Woodward said he asked Bush a total of 500 questions, trying to discover the answer to why the U.S. went to war with Iraq.
“The ‘why,’ even now, is not fully, appropriately understood,” he said.
In the second day of his interview with the president, Woodward recalled Bush saying, “I believe we (America) have a duty to free people and liberate them.”
Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that, he said. “This is at the spine of who he is and what his basic belief system is.”
In Woodward’s most recent book about the Bush administration, “State of Denial,” he said President Bush often contradicted documentation that revealed how badly the war was proceeding.
For over three years, Bush was in total denial of the reality of the war, Woodward said. He reported that in the spring of 2006, there were four terrorist attacks an hour on U.S. troops or its supporters.
This was not reported to the public, and the American people were often led to believe the war was subsiding, Woodward said.
Woodward put the president’s denial of the reality of the war into perspective when he asked the audience members to raise their hands if they have ever received a
“D-” in class.
A scattered few raised hands, to which he replied, “Look at all that denial.”
Woodward said another area that needs more clarification is why the U.S. was attacked on 9/11.Bush says Al Qaeda is after us because of our freedom, Woodward said, but the truth is not clear.
In the question and answer session that followed, Michael Graham, a journalism student, asked Woodward for advice in the field of journalism.
Woodward instructed Graham to check all information with three different sources. First, Woodward said, we are all human beings, second is documentation and third is to go to the scene of the story.
Speed and impatience are two driving forces in news today, Woodward said. But, journalists need to be patient and check and recheck their facts.
This is partly important, because today’s media reports are “as if everything is kind of like 9/11 or a big tragedy,” he said.
An Assistant Managing Editor for the Washington Post, Woodward has written 11 number one best-selling books and was portrayed by actor Robert Redford in the movie “All the Presidents Men,” which is based on a book about Watergate by Woodward and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein. Woodward has earned nearly every American journalism award.
The Distinguished Speaker Series continues on February 25 with former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley. For more information about the series or other events at GPAC, please call the Box Office at 910.521.6361.
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Hannah Simpson is a third year journalism and political science major and an editor for The Pine Needle student newspaper.