"Fear has more than 1.1 million copies through its first week of publication, the fastest opening in Simon & Schuster’s history, according to the publisher." https://t.co/edcT89LtkG
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) September 21, 2018
Olivia Nuzzi, professional journalist-assassin, sizes up Bob Woodward, professional journalist-legbreaker, in NYMag — “Bob Woodward on the ‘Best Obtainable Version of the Truth’ About Trump”.
IMO, she did a really good job of getting past the old man’s practiced patter and demonstrating just how cozy the Beltway Media Village expected to be with this season’s Temporary Oval Office Occupants, whether or not that warmth is reciprocated — or deserved:
… Entering the author’s home required walking past a stack of the books on the floor. It’s a warm and colorful place, full of eye-catching paintings and, at this particular moment, lots of people and one medium-size dog. Woodward introduced me to his wife, the journalist Elsa Walsh, and then ushered me into a dining room. Over the course of 50 minutes, we discussed his philosophy and methods. But first, my tape recorder malfunctioned in front of America’s most famous journalist…
Nuzzi: I am but a humble newbie, visiting the Great Master…
I wanted to talk to you about how you decide who is credible. It is difficult for me, sometimes, to determine who is credible, even at the most senior levels of the administration at this White House. Mostly at the most senior levels in some ways.
Particularly if it is on the record and public. It is kind of a press release.
I agree to a large extent. But I am curious how you decide who is credible. Because somebody like Rob Porter, he is obviously very present in this book. I won’t guess about your sourcing. There is a lot to suggest that his character is — there is a fundamental flaw there.
In what way?
Well, by some personal accounts he is a very flawed human being. He is allegedly abusive. There is a lot to call into question his honesty.
Say that again.
There is a lot to suggest that he may not be an honest individual, right? So why do you decide to trust somebody like that?
Well, I am not going into the sourcing but there are — you test it with other people and documents and notes and it makes a big difference when somebody tells you something and you get your hand on the document itself. So because I had the luxury of time, of essentially two years to work on this, not quite, even. Ever since Trump was elected you can cross-check and see…
Woodward: I review theatrical performances on the world’s most important stage. Why should anyone expect me to take an interest in the actors’ personal hobbies?
In a review, Isaac Chotiner at Slate asked if you were perhaps the last optimist.
Really? I have not seen this.
He had a lot of criticisms of the book and one of them is there is this sort of view, a bias towards the people who cooperated, and they are presented in an almost heroic way.
But see, he does not know that. No one knows that except for myself and my assistant Evelyn.
Do you think that is true?
I know it is true.
As a reader, there were a lot of moments in the book that it felt rather obvious — when you attributed feelings or thoughts to the person in question. Whether that was Dowd or Gary Cohn or Rob Porter or Reince Priebus or Dave Bossie, where it just seems rather obvious who they are and that they spoke to you.
As you know, people take notes, and as I said in the beginning it either comes from the person himself or herself or it comes from somebody who recorded it right afterwards…
Woodward: Trust me, for I am known to be a Great Man, and every bit as important as the Great Men whose performance I review with such authority.
I feel as though sometimes I’m checking the account of a White House official who is a known liar against another White House official’s account, and they are also a known liar. And it’s like, well, what do you do?
This is the zoo without walls…
… I’m not going to spend a dozen hours or a couple of dozen hours as I did with some people involved without having a trust. And it’s not as you say one White House official who doesn’t tell the truth and another White House official … I think you can penetrate under that for something like a book…
There were times that I was reading it where I thought that I don’t know if I would necessarily trust the principal who appeared to be telling you something. That was mostly with the campaign stuff — but I’m not going to explain reporting to you.
A number of people have said they’ve heard some of these things off the record. Of course that’s the technique people use: “Oh, that’s off the record, we’re going to seal it away,” and not let the public know. And people would say, I want to say this off the record. I said no. No off the record…
They don’t put up a fight.
But see then, this isn’t anonymity. This is really the source is confidential but the information and the players are not. So it’s …
Anonymity, even if they’re not removing themselves from the scene …
Well, it’s the wrong word. Because it suggests to people, oh, maybe the reporter doesn’t even know…
Woodward: Apart from the rare unfortunate aberrant person (*cough*Trump*cough*), ALL IS FOR THE BEST IN THIS BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS. What part of ‘Media Village’ do you fail to understand, young padawan?
Yes, reporting has changed since the Deep Throat days… for the better, in many ways. Read the whole thing; I’m curious as to your thoughts.
Supplemental reading from Andrew Prokop at Vox, “Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, explained”:
… [T]hough the book contains many new, never-before-reported details — Woodward reports that Trump wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and considered sending a tweet his aides worried could cause war with North Korea — the book is unmistakably the product of the sources who talked the most to the Washington Post reporter. And those sources have their own agendas.
It’s barely a stretch to say Fear reads as Rob Porter, Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Lindsey Graham, and John Dowd’s account of the Trump administration. Woodward doesn’t explicitly identify any of these six people as his sources, but he provides pages and pages of their thoughts and motivations.
So yes, Fear offers insight into a dysfunctional policy process, with new details of President Trump ranting, raving, and clashing with aides behind the scenes. But it also tells the particular story that Woodward’s major sources have chosen to tell him, and reflects their points of view and priorities.
Woodward rose to prominence as half of the Washington Post’s “Woodward and Bernstein” reporting duo that helped expose the Nixon administration’s Watergate cover-up, with the crucial help of an anonymous source famously dubbed “Deep Throat.” The scandal led to Nixon’s resignation; it also made Woodward one of the most famous reporters in the country.
Since then, Woodward’s primary aim hasn’t really been to expose deeply hidden scandals (it’s tough to top Watergate, after all). Instead, he’s used his fame and decades of Washington connections to report and write books about what’s going on in the highest levels of the US government.
His past political books have covered the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, and several previous presidencies. The books have tried to put readers “in the room,” depicting what happens behind closed doors at these institutions. To do that, Woodward relies on the cooperation and anonymized accounts of top-level government officials — who speak under the shield of “deep background.” …