March 12, 2002

Woodward Speaks on Bush, Watergate

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Greeted by approximately 500 people, journalist Bob Woodward spoke at Bailey Hall last night, addressing issues ranging from the Watergate scandal to the current political climate in the United States.

Currently assistant managing editor of investigative news for The Washington Post, Woodward has been involved in the publishing of 11 books. His most famous book, All the President’s Men, co-written with fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, uncovered the Watergate scandal.

Beginning the lecture, Woodward took a short poll, asking the audience by a show of hands whom they voted for or would have voted for in the 2000 presidential election. With this exercise, he set the stage for an evening of political discussion.

Woodward described what he believes are the president’s duties while in office.

“The President’s job is to define the next stage of good for the majority of people in the country,” he said.

Woodward also discussed his opinions on the most important characteristics of a president — courage and the ability to draft and execute a plan.

“The President must walk that road alone [when executing a plan]. Public support may not come immediately,” he said. “The President must say this is what we need to do; we will not poll the public … we will do it.”

Woodward then described his interactions with and perspectives on President George W. Bush.

While attending a speech presented by Bush last April, Woodward stayed after the speech to greet Bush. When Woodward introduced himself, he did not anticipate Bush’s quick response.

“[President Bush] moved six inches from my face, looked me in the eye and said ‘Duh.’ I had not heard that word from an adult in my entire life,” Woodward said.

For an article series for the Washington Post, Woodward later interviewed Bush shortly after Sept. 11.

“[He] literally let [the reporters from the Washington Post] interrogate him,” Woodward said. “He was very sophisticated, he was very informed … he was not defensive.”

Using a short description of a disagreement between Bush and his advisors, Woodward illustrated several components of the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere. These elements include the possibility of further terrorist attacks, Bush’s decisiveness, and the uncertainty of the outcome on the “War on Terror.”

Woodward then described what he sees as appropriate responses to completely unexpected events, such as Sept. 11.

“Old routines, old approaches just do not apply,” he said. “It is … almost necessary that you find a new way to do things. That’s obviously what Bush was dealing with six months ago.”

He believes Sept. 11 was a test that Americans had to respond and react to.

“If you look at the record, you get a sense of it [is] people saying, ‘What the hell do we do now?’ but then finding out what to do,” he said.

Woodward believes dealing with the “emotion of hate” was an essential part of the country’s reaction after Sept. 11.

Quoting one of Nixon’s last speeches as president, he said, “Others may hate you, and those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them and then you destroy yourself.”

A question-and-answer session followed the lecture. Questions from audience members largely focused on the Watergate scandal. Other questions addressed topics from journalistic integrity to campaign finance reform. After the question-and-answer session, Woodward signed copies of his books for the audience.

The loud applause at the conclusion of the lecture and the long line for signatures demonstrated the many of the audience members’ appreciation for Woodward.

“I thought it was a great lecture…. He’s very honest in what he does and really believes strongly in freedom of the press,” said Tom Sheldon ’02.

Sheldon and others liked that Woodward discussed topics other than the Watergate scandal.

“I thought he would probably talk more about Watergate…. It was refreshing that he didn’t,” Sheldon said.

“I was thinking along the lines of him talking about Watergate, but its kind of overdone, so it was interesting to hear him talk about the Presidency as opposed to the Nixon stuff that he’s famous for,” said Jeremy Weinstein ’03.

The lecture was sponsored by The Cornell University Publicity Board (CUPB).

“[The Board] voted on Bob Woodward as somebody they would personally find interesting and believed the Cornell community at large would find interesting.” said Lisa Prichep ’02, publicity chair for the CUPB.

” [The] Cornell University Programming Board does a lot of diverse programs and we try to find someone who will appeal to the campus at large,” she said.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher