A rookie reporter at The Washington Post when he got the call about a break-in at the Watergate in 1972, Bob Woodward has become synonymous with the term "investigative reporter."
Perhaps the only journalist who can claim to feature both Judy Belushi and Ronald and Nancy Reagan on his list of enemies, Washington Post editor and Watergate watchdog Bob Woodward is famously (purposefully?) a lightning rod for criticism. Woodward raises as many eyebrows for his anonymous sourcing as he summons applause for his scorched-earth approach in interviewing masses of people for every project; the extensive information he digs up is held in awe, yet greetings from the nation's book critics and journalists don't always read like love letters. Joan Didion, in the pages of The New York Review of Books called The Choice, his account of the 1996 presidential campaign, "political pornography."
The New Republic opened its review of The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by pleading with readers not to buy the book. Frank Rich, the opinion columnist for The New York Times, said that Woodward's book Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate should have instead been entitled All the Presidents Stink, since none of the nation's post-Watergate presidents seemed able to withstand the author's tut-tutting over minor peccadilloes.
For the record, Judy Belushi objected to what she called Woodward's overly negative portrait of husband John's drug use and lifestyle excesses in the 1984 biography Wired, and the Reagans didn't like what he had to say about deceased CIA Director William Casey in Veil.
Still, Woodward delivers the goods.
On the job for nine months as a night cops reporter for The Washington Post in 1972, Woodward lucked into the petty crime of the century: the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex. Woodward and reporter Carl Bernstein's investigation reached the highest levels of the Nixon White House, and has become a template for investigative journalism ever since. Thousands of students have poured out of journalism schools in the ensuing years -- for better or worse -- sniffing the winds for their own private Watergate.
Woodward himself hasn't found it, but he has maintained a reputation as the investigator within American journalism, often winning unparalleled access to his subjects and developing a reputation for almost manic multiple-fact-checking of information. After turning the Watergate story into the book and film All the President's Men, Woodward and Bernstein -- or "Woodstein," as they became known in the Post's newsroom -- collaborated on a second book, The Final Days, a look at the end of the Nixon presidency. In 1979, Woodward cast his glance around Washington and found The Brethren, an inside look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court, this time with co-author Scott Armstrong.
Aside from the Belushi biography, Woodward has stuck to the political. He went inside the Clinton White House with The Agenda, inside the CIA with Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 (raising questions about his mysterious hospital interview with a groggy Bill Casey) and inside the 1996 Clinton-Dole duel for the presidency in The Choice.
Woodward is the only author to publish four books on a sitting president during the president's time in office. He spent more time than any other journalist or author interviewing President Bush on the record -- a total of nearly 11 hours in six separate sessions from 2001 to 2008.
His four books on President George W. Bush are Bush at War (2002), about the response to 9/11 and the initial invasion of Afghanistan; Plan of Attack (2004), on how and why Bush decided to invade Iraq; State of Denial (2006), about Bush's refusal to acknowledge for nearly three years that the Iraq war was not going well as violence and instability reached staggering levels; and The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (2008), about the deep divisions and misunderstandings on war strategy between the civilians and the military as the president finally decided to add 30,000 troops in a surge.
In every case, Woodward digs deep. And it all started when he was a teenager, working one summer as a janitor in his father's law office in Wheaton, Ill. He made his way through the papers in his father's desk, his father's partner's desk and the files in the attic.
"I looked up all my classmates and their families, and there were IRS audits or divorces or grand juries that did not lead to indictment," he told U.S. News and World Report in 2002. "It was a cold shower to see that the disposed files contained the secret lives of many of the people in this perfect town and showed they weren't perfect."
Good To Know
Richard Nixon said his wife, Pat, had a stroke while reading the Woodward and Bernstein book Final Days.
Woodward once briefly dated reporter Leslie Stahl, who also covered the Watergate story, even to the point of following John Dean into a men's room to continue questioning him.