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CAPITAL COMMENT

Edited by
Chuck Conconi

FAVORITES: Bob Woodward

INTERVIEW BY CHUCK CONCONI

August marks the 30th anniversary of President Nixon�s resignation: His downfall started with a Watergate burglary, and his fate was sealed when the White House coverup was uncovered by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Woodward, who stayed on at the Washington Post as a key reporter and editor, also has had a successful book-writing career with nine best-selling nonfiction books, the only contemporary American author who can make that claim.

His most recent book is Plan of Attack, about the Bush White House and the war in Iraq.

Favorite book read since writing Plan of Attack: 1912 by James Chace. It�s about the 1912 presidential election with William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Eugene V. Debs, and Woodrow Wilson. I was struck by how George Bush is in some ways like Wilson in his internationalism and idealism. There�s one Wilson quote that contributed to my thinking: �If I didn�t feel I was the personal instrument of God, I couldn�t carry on.� Bush doesn�t go that far, but it was like when he told me that he consults not his father but a �higher father.� Bush wants to be a good messenger of God.

Book of all time: All the King�s Men by Robert Penn Warren.

Movie of all time: Casablanca.

Escape: The place I have on the South River in Maryland with my wife, Elsa, and our seven-year-old daughter, Diana.

Place in another country: Israel, where survival is in the air.

Most important influence: Ben Bradlee because his own curiosities and interests were important to the editing of the Washington Post. You always knew that if Ben was interested in something, it was an important story to pursue. There is also his unflappability. I screwed up many times, and he never really got angry with me. He is the opposite of Richard Nixon, who was haunted by the mistakes of his past. With Ben you always leave a meeting feeling better about yourself, and that�s real leadership.

What�s wrong with the media? Near the end of John Stacks�s wonderful book, Scotty, about James Reston of the New York Times, he talks about the breakdown between people in public life and the media as �a corrosively reciprocal cynicism.� That nailed it for me. Skepticism and cynicism are good, but they have become corrosive elements. Stacks quotes a friend saying in the book that people lie where the truth would do. People do seem to get caught up in a cover-up when the truth would do.

Favorite local outing: Thursday nights when my wife and I attend the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center.

Best presidential memoir: RN by Richard Nixon. Nixon had secret Dictabelts on which he would record his daily recollections. When Diane Sawyer was helping him with his book, she persuaded him to include these recollections. They were candid and very personal and revealing in ways that were not always favorable to him. I�m hoping that Bill Clinton�s book will have the same candor.

TV show: I like 24 but rarely get to see it. I get to see only about two or three hours of the 24. The series captures some of the raw fear about terrorism.

Music: I�m a sucker for the classics, from Beethoven to Sibelius.

Restaurant: Nathans in Georgetown.

Most misunderstood president: Gerald Ford. His pardon of Nixon was almost certainly the right thing to do to move the country beyond Nixon and Watergate. It was a gutsy call and cost him the 1976 election.

Least understood institution in Washington: Congress. No institution has changed so much in the 30 years I�ve been reporting. Partisan warfare there is now like World War I, with everyone in their trenches. It is now an institution at risk.

What is surprising about Bush? He�s not that secretive. I�ve interviewed him for nearly eight hours and asked close to 700 questions with no restrictions. He�s permitted serious examination of his decisions relating to 9/11 and the Iraq war. It exceeds what any president has done in my lifetime.

The historic figure you would most like to interview? I guess it would be Nixon. The question that pulses throughout is why? Why all the crimes and abuse? Why didn�t he realize that when he was elected the first time the people had a feeling of goodwill toward him? Why all the anger and hate rather than returning the goodwill?