After doggedly reporting on nine presidencies in both feature and book form, Bob Woodward — the storied journalist best known for uncovering the Watergate corruption scandal alongside Carl Bernstein — sounds especially concerned about the dynamics playing out inside President Donald Trump’s White House today.
“We have a governing crisis,” Woodward said bluntly. “The president has got his own ideas that are often based on untruths. He’s very impulsive.”
Technical.ly had a phone chat with Woodward on Thursday, ahead of a Philly promo visit for his recent book, the result of an 18-month deep dive into the internal dynamics of the White House. While straight-up national politics might not be totally on beat for us, there is an important tech component to the reality described by Woodward in his book. In “Fear: Trump in the White House” (Simon & Schuster, 2018), Woodward describes an administration in disarray, often marred by impulsive decision-making and late-night presidential tweeting.
What role has the president’s use of Twitter played in the current political climate?
It’s very significant. People will start their morning and discover Trump has tweeted something that’s not particularly on a new subject but it’s news so everyone will follow that. He is leading a lot of the media around by the nose. As you know, in the internet age everything is “give it to me know, summarize it, tell me what the future’s going to be.” And we’re not spending enough time digging into the basic policy issues.
Has there been internal resistance with granting Trump access to his own Twitter account?
There have been debates about it, but he’s going to do it either way.
Amid privacy scandals like Cambridge Analytica, has the current landscape of social media permanently transformed the political process?
It’s easier to describe the creation of the universe. The question there is how was the information used and what was the impact. Particularly around Russian interference in the 2016 election, you and people like you will be spending the rest of your lives sorting all this out. My summarized view on this is that there’s no such thing as privacy. I just don’t think the internet’s secure at all. But people act like it is.
You’ve reported on nine presidencies throughout your career. From Watergate to now, how has the current digital media landscape transformed the exercise of journalism?
It’s had a tremendous impact. Back when [Carl] Bernstein and I were working on Watergate stories, we could work for two to three weeks on one story. We would do drafts on six-ply paper so top editors and others would get carbon copies, there would be meetings, people would have questions. … Now, if you have what looks like even an incremental advance on a story, someone will say: “Let’s get it on the site by noon.” So much is diluted, and everyone is rushing to cover the moment.
How could the general public go about summarizing this endless stream of information?
Well, it’s so complex, to sort out the points of view and factual basis for things that are out there is bewildering to people. I find more and more people — and this is anecdotal information — are just tuning out and saying, “I’m just going to live my life as best as I can.”
What do you hope the audience walks away with after your visit to Philly?
I’m going to elaborate in more detail about Trump, what I think it all means, how important this is … but quite frankly, I’m more interested in the questions people have. I’ve done this around the country and when you listen to the questions, there’s one thing that jumps out: People are deeply concerned about where this country is going. Not just the politics of it but the economy and the whole decision-making process in the Trump White House. He doesn’t have a team, he doesn’t have a strategy. So, keep your seat belts on. And maybe get a shoulder harness.-30-
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