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If you like Bob Woodward's story, you might also like:
Tom Clancy,
Sam Donaldson,
David Halberstam,
Nicholas Kristof,
Charles Kuralt,
Colin Powell,
Dan Rather,
Neil Sheehan
and Mike Wallace

Bob Woodward can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Bob Woodward's recommended reading: All the King's Men

Bob Woodward also appears in the videos:
A Leader of Character

Media and Social Responsibility

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Bob Woodward Interview (page: 4 / 7)

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  Bob Woodward

Mr. Bradlee, what were your emotions when Nixon resigned?

Ben Bradlee: That we had really done a really good job. That the difficulties they put up to prevent the truth from coming out had been overcome. That really is what we're all about. Let's be sure for the record to say that it wasn't just the Post. The Post played a critical role in the beginning, and Woodward and Bernstein came in at critical moments. They were the first to reveal the tapes, and they were always ahead of the curve, but there was a lot of great reporting done by other people, Sy Hirsch, the Los Angeles Times, they all did really good work.

Mr. Woodward, tell us what it felt like to you personally when Nixon stepped down.


Bob Woodward: We had done some of the early stories, that it led to the Senate Watergate Committee, led to the House Judiciary Committee and impeachment investigation. Special Prosecutor Cox and Jaworski investigated this, put lots of people in jail. The Supreme Court ordered the President to turn over his tapes, which really sunk him -- the "smoking gun" tapes -- at the end. So I had just a sense that -- we had done some of the first work on this -- that any suggestion that we had caused it, or brought down a President, was a stretch, to say the least, and not factual. That we had done stories, but it is a process of the judiciary, the Congress, the Supreme Court, that led to Nixon's demise. But then, of course, if you think about it, Nixon is the one who did himself in. The piston driving the Nixon Administration was hate. Nixon was a full-blown hater, and if you listen to the tapes, it's chilling and frightening.


Paranoid too. Right?

Bob Woodward: Well, paranoid, and...


He wanted to use the Presidency as an instrument of personal revenge, to settle scores, too often, and that's not what the Presidency is about. And what's sad about the Nixon Presidency is not just the criminality and abuse of power, but the simple truth, to the best of my knowledge at this point, on those tapes no one ever says what would be good, what would be right for the country, what would be best for the country, which of course is what a President is supposed to do. It seemed to always be about Nixon. "How does this affect me, Nixon, the President? How do I pay someone back, either good or bad, for what they have done to me?"


Mr. Bradlee, by the time of the Watergate affair, the Post had already come into conflict with the Nixon administration over the Pentagon Papers. How did that come about?

Bob Woodward Interview Photo
Ben Bradlee: The Pentagon Papers was a study commissioned by Nixon in the first or second year of his first term, 1970 or '69. It was to see if they could find the origins of our involvement in Vietnam, and what went wrong. How did we get into committing 500,000 troops 10,000 miles away in a way that we could never win? There were 7,000 papers finally, and The New York Times got a copy of it. They had it for three months, and they started to publish it. We had heard that they had this big blockbuster coming up, and suddenly, they just dropped this on us. One morning in June of '71 I think, they led the newspaper with it, with eight-column banners. My God, it looked like the end of the world! We led the paper that day with Tricia Nixon's wedding. It was embarrassing that they had this great story and we didn't.

How did they get the story?

Ben Bradlee: From Daniel Ellsberg. He had worked in the Pentagon, and then he had worked for the Rand Corporation. He had gone to Vietnam as a soldier, so he had fought in Vietnam, but he got convinced that it was a quagmire and that it was a great mistake and that by releasing this study, he could shine light into the darkest corners and change the course of the world. He did. It was already changing, but he certainly speeded it along.

The New York Times played the lead role but we played a role too. After the Times had been estopped by a judge, we decided to publish them. I think most people feel that the old Post would have just sat by. A judge told the Times they couldn't publish it, so a judge would tell us the same thing. But three or four days later, we got a copy of them from Ellsberg, only we didn't have three months to study them. We had one day.


Our lawyers were telling us that -- and this New York judge had ruled -- that the statute says whoever has reason to believe that publication of certain information will threaten the national security of the United States shall be -- this was a civil suit, but the criminal equivalent, which they would certainly have done had they convicted us, would have put us in jail, put us all in jail, including Katharine Graham, or the possibility of it. And once you are convicted of a felony, you can't own television stations, so it would have cost us all the television stations. I think there were two or three then, but I think there are six now. But it would have been -- I mean, there was a lot of money on the table. And she decided to do it.


We worked her over very hard, but so did the lawyers. She had the lawyers on the same phones.


Finally, the night before we published came the critical moment, and we were in my house. The reporters were all there, and the editors were there, working on the copy, and there was some guy writing for the next morning. And there came a time when we had to get her, 'okay,' and the lawyers started off by telling her --the lawyer was one of the greatest men, even though he didn't approving of publishing it -- but the way he told her that was just so important. He said, "I think on balance I am against it." I mean, he didn't tear his hair out and say, "God damn it, Katharine, you can't do this. It risks the whole thing." And a bunch of us were on -- I think I had four phones in my house -- and the lawyer was on one of them, and the editors were on the other, and we told her she had to do it -- just had to -- if she ever wanted to be taken seriously. I mean, I shudder to think the way we put it. But she finally said, "Well, okay. I say we publish it." And three of the journalists all hung up immediately, because we didn't want any -- we had what we came for, and we didn't want to let her change her mind. And we published the next day. We missed the first edition, but we published it the second edition, which came out at 11 o'clock at night, 11:30.


You probably didn't sleep a whole lot that night.

Ben Bradlee: Well, we were tired. We actually published three papers with it before they stopped us, and then we were in the courts for 12 days. We just didn't sleep a hell of a lot.

What made you decide that this had to be done?

Ben Bradlee: It is an interesting thing.


You don't think of journalists automatically as patriots, one. You don't think of them as real authorities in the question of what is classified and what isn't, and what is a threat to the United States and what isn't. But in fact at that time, we were. We were more expert than a lot of the government witnesses who testified against us. Like an assistant secretary of defense who had been a year or two before head of a big Republican contributor and head of an automobile company and, you know, sold cars in Omaha or somewhere. And most of us had served in World War II. Most of us had quite fancy security clearances in that capacity. So we did, and there was no threat to the national security, and information, truth, is not a threat to security, and we believed that.


Eighteen years after the Supreme Court ruled that they couldn't shut us down, the prosecuting attorney, who was the Solicitor General of the United States, wrote The Post a letter saying that in the whole Pentagon Papers, there was no threat to national security.

Who was that? What was his name?

Ben Bradlee: His name was Griswold, and he had been the dean of the Harvard Law School. I mean, he was no rank amateur himself. They were after us and The New York Times. You have to remember that the Attorney General, who prosecuted us was the first and only Attorney General in the history of the United States to go to jail.

And that was?

Ben Bradlee: John Mitchell, Attorney General Mitchell.

Who played quite a role in the Watergate affair.

Ben Bradlee: He sure did. Much to his chagrin. He went to jail for that. He and 39 others, I might add. Think of that! 39 or 40 people in this White House staff went to jail.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 17:21 EDT
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