“What are the Bastards Hiding?”

By Caroline J. Hanna

Bob Woodward on Obama, getting to the truth and his tryout at the Post [Politics] While President Obama has “the armor of a good heart” and high hopes for the country, he has not found a way to engage Congress productively, said Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author Bob Woodward to a crowd of nearly 600 in Johnson Chapel.

In the September talk Woodward gave his take on current and former commanders-in-chief and on the state of American politics today.

He described a “leadership problem” in the White House and Congress: “There are certainly failings on both [political] sides. But Obama is the CEO. He’s the president. He’s got incredible leverage. And as the CEO, he needs to find a way to work his will.”

Bob Woodward at podium in Johnson Chapel

Recalling that an Obama aide once remarked of the president, “He has the armor of a good heart,” Woodward said, “I think that really is true. He has the best of aspirations for the country, for himself and where we’re going. But the engagement to get things done is just not happening.”

In terms of national security, Obama’s job is to “comfort our friends and scare the hell out of our enemies,” Woodward argued. “Sometimes Obama does the opposite,” which can displease Republicans and Democrats alike.

Rob Mattson photo

 “What are the bastards hiding?” Woodward said that’s his first thought when he wakes up each morning. So how does the legendary reporter get politicians to talk?

In a video interview on campus before his Johnson Chapel talk, he outlined his method: “Get to know people, interview them, listen, treat them seriously, get documents, get notes, go back, go back. That’s how you can get closer to what is hidden.”

Woodward began his journalism career with a failure. He was working at the Pentagon, finishing his Navy service, when he started reading The Washington Post. He walked into the Post with no experience and asked for a job. He wrote a dozen articles, “none of which they published,” and after two weeks the editors said, “You don’t know how to do this. You failed the tryout.”

“I said, ‘Thank you, because I now know this is what I want to do,’” Woodward said. The young man found a job at a weekly paper in the Maryland suburbs, and the Post hired him in 1971.

The next year, he teamed up with Carl Bernstein to start investigating Watergate. By 1974 they’d published the No. 1 bestseller All the President’s Men. He has worked there ever since.