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A conversation with Woodward

Oct. 4, 2007
By Jessica Alfrey and Anita Martin | Photos by Rick Fatica

Acclaimed journalist Bob Woodward received the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Carr Van Anda Award in front of a packed audience at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium Wednesday night before delivering a Kennedy Lecture. 

Bob Woodward photo by Rick FaticaHe spoke mainly about the current presidential administration, specifically President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

Woodward reported for The Washington Post during the Nixon administration, and with fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein conducted the journalistic investigation into the Watergate scandal that eventually led to Richard Nixon's resignation.

Woodward, currently assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, conducted the longest interview ever granted by a sitting president on a single topic when he spoke to Bush in 2004 about the war in Iraq. He published his account of that conversation in his 11th No. 1 best-seller: "Plan of Attack."

Woodward reported that Bush, when asked what his father had advised regarding the 2003 Iraq invasion, responded, "In terms of strength, I appeal to a higher father."

Neither did Bush seek the advice of key presidential advisers such as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, stating, "I knew what they thought."

Woodward contended Bush held too many meetings "about how to go to war, not whether to go to war. ... We did not live in a world of doubt, which is what you need to live in when you go to war." 

The journalist said he highlighted two words from Bush's statements -- "duty" and "zeal." When you determine how a president defines those words, Woodward said, you know a lot about him.

"The real cause of war, I'm convinced, (was clear to me) when he told me we had a duty to free people. He believes that is his duty," Woodward said. Bush continued that he and coalition leaders such as Tony Blair have a "zeal" for the concept of liberation, which, Woodward said,  "accounts for his unwillingness and inability to change course."

After his lecture, Woodward took questions from the audience on topics such as the possible invasion of Iran, the role of newspapers in today's world and the work between Democrats in Congress and the president.

In relation to the current war in Iraq, Woodward expressed regret at not doing a better job as a journalist. 

"With no reservations, I am happy to say I should have worked harder and been more aggressive," said Woodward, referring to his reporting leading up to the war. With today's pace of online journalism, Woodward said it's harder to slow down and "sometimes you need time to get the best version of the truth." 

The Carr Van Anda Award, named for the former managing editor of The New York Times who attended Ohio University in the 1880s, is presented annually by the Scripps School of Journalism to recognize outstanding work by journalists throughout their careers. The Kennedy Lecture Series is sponsored by the Edwin L. and Ruth E. Kennedy Endowment. 

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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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