Less than an hour ago I ended one of the most informative and entertaining Zoom sessions I have ever had: Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward speaking as part of the ending ceremony of our 2020 ‘Journalism Under Fire’ conference in Santa Fe.
The president would not talk to Woodward for his book titled “Fear” released in 2018. After publication White House staff told the president the information in the book was basically true and accurate, so he agreed to talk to Woodward for the latest book “Rage”.
Woodward observed that one way of getting an interview is just to show up. Many today use email or telephones or texts to conduct interviews but do not go that extra mile to show up in person. Covid-19 put a stop to most in-person interviews so he and Trump talked by phone, usually at night which suited Woodward because of an adage he holds dear: “Lies in the Day, Truth at Night.”
During the nine months they talked on the phone President Trump did not let anyone at the White House know he was talking with Woodward and, upon publication, lashed out at the book but has since said he read the book and is pleased that he got many of his points out there in its pages.
A topic of current interest was touched upon in our Zoom meeting: presidential pardons. In 1998 Woodward interview Gerald Ford and asked him why he never pressed Nixon for an admission of guilt. Ford pulled out his wallet. He went thru the wallet and found a small, folded old newspaper clipping and showed it to Woodward. It had an article about a US Supreme Court decision from 1915 reading, in part, “Acceptance, as well as delivery, of a pardon is essential to its validity”, that is, an acceptance of a pardon is admission of guilt. [Note: The case was Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79. Quaere – whether the President of the United States may exercise the pardoning power before conviction. “The facts, which involve the effect of a pardon of the President of the United States tendered to one who has not been convicted of a crime nor admitted the commission thereof, and also the necessity of acceptance of a pardon in order to make it effective, are stated in the opinion.”]
Woodward ended our Zoom with a story he has told before. After Nixon resigned Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham sent a note she had written on a yellow legal pad to Woodward & Bernstein. On it she had written a statement mentioning that their work had been important in bringing down a president and ending with a warning that all of us may take to heart: “Beware the demon pomposity”.