Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and Yale lecturer Bob Woodward ’65, the reporter whose work exposed the Watergate scandal, is back on the nation’s front pages — in headlines rather than bylines.
On Sept. 11, in a whirlwind of politically charged excitement and media attention, Woodward released his latest book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which portrays the current presidential administration as dysfunctional and fraught with internal tension between the president and various members of his staff. Published by Simon & Schuster, “Fear” is advertised as an inside look at the White House based on hundreds of hours of interviews and months of research, according to The New York Times. In recent days, the book has come under heavy fire from the White House, which has disputed its sourcing and conclusions.
Woodward’s book features stories about and comments made by high-ranking American officials and senior members of the Trump administration. Examples include remarks made by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis comparing Trump to a “fifth or sixth grader” and former Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn removing from the president’s desk a trade agreement with South Korea.
In the wake of revelations about the book’s contents, Trump and members of his administration have repeatedly lashed out against Woodward, who teaches a journalism course at Yale, attempting to discredit his account and disparage his reputation along with that of his former colleague Carl Bernstein, who worked with Woodward on the Watergate coverage. Those attacks have escalated over the past week, with Trump calling Woodward a “liar” on Monday.
Woodward did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the News. He has made only one public comment about the furor surrounding the book over the last few weeks, telling The Washington Post that “I stand by my reporting.”
Although the book is one of Woodward’s most scathing journalistic portraits since he penned the Watergate stories, a monograph by Woodward has become something of a rite of passage for presidential administrations. Trump is only one of several presidents about whom Woodward has written: The Washington Post editor wrote “Bush at War” and “Obama’s Wars” in 2002 and 2010, respectively, as well as “The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House” in 1994. But while those books included material from hours of interviews with the former presidents, the Trump administration did not respond to Woodward’s numerous requests for comment.
On Aug. 14, amid rumors about the book’s unflattering depiction of a chaotic administration, Trump reportedly called Woodward in an attempt to clarify the book’s tone. Woodward expressed his frustrations about Trump’s dismissive and negative attitude toward his reporting.
“Mr. President, how can I spend all this time talking to people, like Kellyanne [Conway] and Raj [Shah] and all the Republican Senators,” Woodward responded with exasperation, according to a transcript of the phone conversation published in the Washington Post. “It is a tough look at the world, the administration and of you.”
Conservative media sources have also responded since Woodward and President Trump’s telephone conversation in August, slamming both Woodward and Bernstein. Breitbart News, a publication previously led by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, published articles and editorials with such titles as “Disgraced Journalist Carl Bernstein Calls On Gen. Kelly to Resign,” and “Bob Woodward Amps Up Scare Tactics to Hype Book.” Breitbart’s reporting comes in the wake of recent criticism of the Trump administration by Bernstein.
A number of Woodward’s former Yale students did not respond to requests to comment for this story. One former student — who asked to remain anonymous to avoid running afoul of his current employer’s rules — spoke highly of the reporter.
“[H]e deserves the reputation he has for integrity and careful reporting. I think he is an American hero,” the student said. “Both [Donald Trump and Bob Woodward] deserve the reputations they have with regards to credibility … Bob Woodward has made a career out of finding the truth and reporting it, and Donald Trump has made a career out of lying.”
Woodward’s most famous book, “All the President’s Men,” an account of the Watergate investigation, was published in 1974.
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