More than four decades ago, as a young reporter working with Washington Post colleague Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward broke the Watergate story that toppled President Nixon. After he and Bernstein wrote “All the President’s Men’’ Woodward went on to write one bestseller after another, often about presidents and their crises. Now, he’s contemplating writing a book about President Trump — who, like Nixon, is no fan of the media and is prone to self-inflicted wounds. On Saturday Woodward will discuss the American presidency at New Bedford’s Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. In telephone and e-mail interviews Woodward detailed his thoughts on Trump and the challenges the new president poses to journalism.
Q. As a longtime observer of Washington and of different styles of presidential leadership, have you ever seen anything like this tumult in the first months of an administration?
A. Everything is up for grabs, and it could turn into a mess. But nothing major has happened. Trump may be better off that the replacement for Obamacare did not pass because it was a bill that did not solve the problems. Obamacare needs more federal money, and the Republicans almost certainly will not give that. Trump has to demonstrate he is in control of his presidency. That is a giant challenge.
Q. What do you see as the particular challenges facing journalists as they cover President Trump?
A. Getting inside and finding the truth. I think there have been a lot of very successful efforts to do that by my paper, The Washington Post, The New York Times, other papers. I teach a journalism class at Yale, a seminar, and I always find that when you get to the bottom of journalism and really examine the pieces of what makes it work, it’s about depth; it’s about patience, doing long interviews, building relationships, getting out at night if necessary to interview people. In my view it’s basic blocking and tackling. That’s what I try to do in the books I’ve done and the projects at the Post; it’s an amplification of that method.
Q. Do you have a desire to write a book about Trump?
A. I may write a book about Trump. In these talks I give, I provide my take on him but try to put it in the context of the presidency. There are themes here about the presidency and what it can do, how it often fails. The disease of presidents is isolation. They become isolated and wind up crisis-managing.
Q. Some people have likened Trump’s antipathy toward the press to Richard Nixon’s. What do you think of that analogy?
A. [Trump] used the press for decades in New York. He used the media with his “Celebrity Apprentice.’’ He used it in the campaign. He may be angry about some work, but I think in the end he realizes this is a transmission belt to the public.
Q. One of the notable things about your books is the enormous amount of access you’ve been able to get. People have been willing to open up to you. Do you expect that to be the case if you decide to write a book on Trump and the Trump White House?
A. You never know. You just do your work. In the case of George W. Bush and Obama, you send in 10 to 15 pages of specific questions. The impulse of a president is: “Well, I can answer these. I want to give my point of view.’’
Q. Given the seemingly shifting dynamic of power in Trumpworld, are you sanguine that [underlings] would be willing to talk to you if you wrote a book?
A. You can always find some people who will be helpful. There are always people — in the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, the Pentagon, the CIA, Hollywood (I did a book on John Belushi) — who believe in the First Amendment and in answering questions about what they’re doing, what they’re up to.
Q. Why do you think people are so willing to talk to you? How do you get them to trust you, talk to you, administration after administration, decade after decade?
‘It’s about method, spending the time, learning what really happened. . . . It’s the opposite of Internet culture. It’s about being patient and slow.’
A. It’s about method, spending the time, learning what really happened, and demonstrating that you take them as seriously as they take themselves. Everyone in Washington, everyone in Boston, everyone everywhere takes themselves seriously. You have to demonstrate that sincerely. It’s the opposite of Internet culture. It’s about being patient and slow.
Q. Princeton historian Kevin Kruse recently tweeted: “Woodward and Bernstein never attended a White House briefing. They cracked Watergate from the Washington Post’s City Desk.’’
A. But it wasn’t the city desk. It was the city of Washington and the suburbs of Washington. It was getting out and talking to people, more often in their homes than in their offices. Part of the problem now is reporters who do their work on the Internet or the telephone. A city editor once told me: “Get your ass out of the chair and go there.’’
Q. Do you think there is an internal “Stop’’ sign anywhere in Trump’s psyche? Does the presidency enforce some kind of discipline that will take hold of this guy at some point?
A. If I knew the answer to that question, I would be in a much better position to unravel all of this. The question is: Are there filters? I can see in some cases filters taking hold, that filters are being erected by the presidency, by the White House, by the staff, by his family. But again, we don’t know.
Q. If you did decide to write a book about Trump, do you have a sense of what areas you would focus on?
A. No. When George W. Bush became president in 2001, I determined that the tipping point of his presidency was going to be the tax cuts. So I worked nine months on it, until the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even I realized the tax cuts were not the story. Events drive that, often. So if you ever run into anyone who wants to do a book about Bush’s tax cuts, have them call me. I have boxes full of transcripts and documents.
BOB WOODWARD: THE AGE OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY
Presented by the New Bedford Lyceum on Saturday at 8 p.m., at Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, New Bedford. Tickets $25-$75, 508-994-2900, www.zeiterion.orgDon Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com.