ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa and this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on our broadcast.
Tonight we are joined by a special guest, Bob Woodward, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post and author of the new bestselling book Fear: Trump in the White House.
The headlines coming out of Woodward’s book paint a bleak picture of dysfunction inside the West Wing. But for Woodward, capturing a presidency under siege in sharp detail is nothing new. Woodward’s reporting on Watergate with Carl Bernstein led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Then and now, he has been able to break many stories using deep background sourcing where the source does not want to be identified in any way.
Bob, as you look at your career, but especially at this book, what’s the advantage of deep background?
BOB WOODWARD: Well, deep background means I’m going to use the information, but not say where it came from. And when you have time to work on something like this, you can cross-check and you can get documents and notes and it’s central. As you well know, if you go, say, on the record, somebody’s going to give you a press release statement and you’re not going to get the truth, you’re going to get what Carl Bernstein and I call the best obtainable version of the truth.
By developing these trusting relations with confidential sources, they are not anonymous to me, they are participants, they are people who witness, are involved. And the person most quoted in this book is Trump at these meetings, in these discussions, in these phone calls.
MR. COSTA: And he didn’t speak to you for the book.
MR. WOODWARD: He did not. I tried through six routes. And he called me last month and wondered why. And I listed some of the people I talked to about it and he said, oh, yeah on some of them, he kind of denied others. And then he said you’ve always treated me fairly. And since the book has come out, he’s changed his mind dramatically.
MR. COSTA: When you think about deep background, has that enabled you to really get documents that paint the picture beyond just interviews on tape?
MR. WOODWARD: Yes. And documents and diaries, notes are the key. You talk to people, you get into their homes, invited, interview them and then come back and then you say, do you have documents? Well, not really. And then later on, you say, do you have any documents? Well, let me go upstairs and check. And then it’s literally, you know, coming down with, in some cases, with boxes.
MR. COSTA: Calendars or notes?
MR. WOODWARD: You know, the real documents of exactly – it’s important to get material like that because that validates what people are saying or it gives you a new avenue for inquiry with people.
MR. COSTA: You’re famous for knocking on doors during Watergate and for all your reporting since then. Did you do the same this time, just go show up at people’s homes, sit down with them at their homes?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, yes in a couple of cases, but I would call ahead and just say I’m coming. So no one actually said no and some people invited it.
MR. COSTA: When you think about the risks the sources are taking –
MR. WOODWARD: Well, they are, they’re taking risks. Of course, Trump does not like people who provide alternative stories and alternative realities to journalists. But to my knowledge at this point, he has no Plumbers unit out looking, like Nixon did, trying to plug leaks and see who provided information. I hope it doesn’t get to that.
MR. COSTA: What do you make of the attacks on journalists by this administration? On social media: fake news. At rallies, again: fake news and enemy of the people. What’s the cost to the country, to the democracy when that kind of back-and-forth is happening?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, if you go out and talk to a group, say, of a thousand people, which I have done a good deal of, and you ask, how many people distrust the media, it’s, at minimum, 30 percent and sometimes 90 percent say they distrust the media. So what we’ve got to do is – and I don’t have an answer to this, not a simple answer anyway – we’ve got to win back trust. And a lot of that has to do with tone on television. There’s a lot of snideness, a kind of self-satisfaction. And I think that doesn’t work, you have to stick to the reporting. And you can make the analytical points without being snarky about it.
MR. COSTA: Bob, thanks so much. We’ll leave it there.
MR. WOODWARD: Thank you.
MR. COSTA: That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. And be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
I’m Robert Costa, see you next time.