The multi-award winning Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward has been called "possibly the best reporter of all time," by CBS's Bob Schieffer. He and Carl Bernstein famously opened the floodgates for investigative journalism with their Watergate scandal expose that ultimately brought down President Richard Nixon. Since those heady days he has written 11 national bestselling non-fiction books (some were co-authored), including his latest, "The War Within," about the Bush administration. He will be at Heinz Hall Wednesday for the Robert Morris University-sponsored Pittsburgh Speaker Series. (subscription only).
Q: As a lifelong newspaper man, do you think the newspaper industry will survive the financial meltdown?
A: Yes, it will survive. I recall a couple of months ago having lunch with my old editor at the Post, Ben Bradlee; we were discussing this. He said quite emphatically, and this is the great editor of the last century, "obviously there will be fewer newspapers." They will be delivered differently, but he believes passionately that there will remain a group of journalists whose job it is to tell what they believe the truth to be. Obviously we are going through a convulsion. Probably we in the newspaper business have not responded fast enough or smart enough, but the need for information is greater. Not just the quick and dirty take of the Internet or bloggers, but people really digging into things and doing the long form.
Q: You've been such a successful investigative reporter. Do you ever wonder what you don't know?
A: [Laughing] Sure, all the time to be honest with you. I get up in the morning and one of my first thoughts is "what are the bastards hiding?" I shouldn't be so flip, but in government, in business, in any institution in anyone's life, there are things that are concealed.
Q: Were you surprised that the disciplined Obama team ran into something as basic as tax troubles with the nominees?
A: No. I think it was probably the process of intensive digging and vetting that led to the discovery. There was pressure to get things done fast, so the nominations and the vetting were going on simultaneously, so they are the victims of their own success to a certain extent.
Q: If 9/11 had never happened would we still have gone to war with Iraq from everything you have learned?
A: First of all that's "if" history. 9/11 did occur. But I think that 9/11 was one of the drivers for Bush and others. You don't get to the issue of what are the threats and what do we need to do about them in a pre-emptive way unless you have 9/11.
Q: So what was the obsession with Iraq because that country had nothing to do with 9/11?
A: That's right, but it was momentum. It was the feeling that it would be easy. And the strong feeling and evidence that Saddam Hussein had defied the U.N. inspections and resolutions requiring him to disarm weapons of mass destruction. The conviction, and it turns out very inaccurate intelligence, about the belief that he had WMD.
Q: Do you think (former Vice President) Dick Cheney is right when he says that the policies of the Obama administration could lead to an attempted nuclear or biological attack on this country?
A: Cheney has always felt that we are under the threat of that kind of attack. He's right we are, but we are going to have to see if the policy change -- to the extent that they are altered -- will have an impact.
Q: Do you think that President Bush began to question Vice President Cheney before or after his decision to go for the surge? What was the tipping point?
A: The tipping point, I found when I did the reporting for the last book "The War Within," [was when] Bush decided to get rid of [Donald] Rumsfeld, his secretary of defense, without consulting Cheney.
Q: For an administration so secretive, why do you think President Bush agreed to be interviewed on the record by you for "The War Within"?
A: Because the surge helped stabilize things in Iraq. The book shows he made the decision in the face of strong opposition from the military. He thought it was a good news story, which it is in part, but I was looking deeper at his overall management of the war and the decisions in the last two years. The overwhelming evidence is that it took years to figure out how bad things were in Iraq. When I asked him about how they decided on five brigades, it was [Stephen] Hadley, Bush's national security adviser who chimed in and said, "Well, that came out from my discussions with Gen. [Peter] Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs." I was surprised and then Bush chimed in and said, "OK, I don't know that. I'm not at those meetings, you'll be happy to hear. I've got other things to do." What in God's sake could the president have to do that's more important? And why would he think somebody would be happy to hear he wasn't at the meetings?
Q: President Bush talked about himself as being a uniter not a divider, but he never got close to that.
A: That's right. The last interview [I did with him] in May 2008, he acknowledged he had not, and one of his failures was that he had not changed the tone in Washington.
Patricia Sheridan can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2613.