tv Bob Woodward on History and Disinformation CSPAN December 16, 2021 3:02pm-4:03pm EST
utah university professor laura june davis talks about confederate guerilla attacks. exploring the american story. watch american history tv saturdays on c-span2. find full schedule op your program guide or watch. mr. caro donated his papers to the exhibition. turn every page inside the robert caro archive. good morning.
welcome to the new york historical society. it is a great thrill for me to welcome you this morning to our spectacular robert h. smith auditorium. whether you're joining us here in person or via live stream. we're so pleased to have you join us for a special day, very special day of discussion by distinguished speakers presented in conjunction with the opening of turn every page inside the robert a caro archive. it's on view on our second floor. this is the first public exhibition drawn from the archive of robert caro. this is a good time for me to acknowledge the biographer and
master of narrative, robert caro and his wife, ina caro. [ applause ] we have very honored to have the archive but also to have both bob caro and ina caro with us today. today's panel history and sbeg di in an age of misinformation is a special conversation inspired by robert a caro's distinguished work. just before i introduce our panelist, i would like to thank and recognize a number of trustee who is have joined us this morning. our chairman, our chair elect, our advice chair.
many thanks to all of you everything we do is great tribute to the dedication and support of our trustees. thank you. we appreciate your encouragement and support. now then, we are also particularly grateful for the support of first republic which is the sponsor of today's impose -- symposium. i want to thank you for your
partnership. our first discussion will last an hour and it will include a question/answer session. the q and a will be conducted via written note cards with your questions on those note cards. you should have received note card and pencil on your way into the auditorium this morning. if not, my colleagues are going up and down the aisles with note card and pencils. they will check your questions later on in the morning. there will not be a formal book signing today but pre-signed copies of our speakers books will be available for purchase in our ny history store on the 77th street side of the building. okay. now to our speakers. we are honored to welcome bob woodward. he's shared in two pulitzer
cnn. he's a frequent contributor to the new york times, the washington post and the boston globe and he's the author of numerous books. his most recent new york times best seller is american moon shot, john f. kennedy and the great space race. before we begin, i ask that you please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices and remember to keep your mask on. please note that with the exception of our house photographer, we're not permitting photography this morning. please join me in welcoming our guests. >> good morning. welcome to bob fest. bob caro and bob woodward.
what an honor to get to spend some one-on-one time the you at new york historical society. we're going to open it up to questions that are being put on cards after about a 40-minute conversation. with bob woodward's book just number one in the charts doing so incredibly well and so much news going on, i would be remiss if i didn't ask him the burning question of the moment right out of the the gate and that's when did you first meet bob caro? >> i think about 25 years ago i was in new york and we invited him for dinner. we talked about history and how do you find it? how do you verify it? both my wife and i, elsa, learned a great deal.
when you talk to caro, you're going to history school, as you know. >> when you look at his achievements, what's your reflection on lbj in american history? what was the positives of johnson's presidency and the perils? >> easier to describe the creation of the universe. >> yes. >> as caro is finding out. there's many highs and many lows. you have to sort them out and you have to dig. you and i were talking the other day when you have tow ask the question as a historian or a
journalist. how good is history and the answer is often it's at its best when it's too late. ords, johnson's gone. he's out of the presidency. he's deceased and in this internet age of impatience and speed, i think you have to ask the question not how good is history but when is history. when is it going to be available to people and i think the sooner, the better. at the same time no one can match caro of going back and back and refining his understanding.
>> they switch and start doing biographies. you've stayed with journalism. you haven't made that move. high have you stayed as a reporter and maybe not go back and write a book on eisenhower or something? >> because what i enjoy about the contemporary is you can interview people. you see the holes and you can go back if somebody's alive and accessible. i think it's the best job in the world and i think you're right. a lot of journalists switch to history thinking they are historians when they're probably better journalists.
>> don't you find that -- >> i find that to be the case sometimes. >> we plow our way into doing our phd and history. the thing that the journalist brings to history is they write so well because they worked for time or the new york times and they're able to write where a lot of academic historians sometimes we're so just footnote driven. there's room for both. >> one of the historian diseases is to men, certainly not you, some historians chase obscurity. i visited lots of presidential libraries.
they will find the deputies labor secretary and interview him or her and when did you first meet george bush. what was it like. that isn't history. you need to sit down aggressively and ask yourself what are the key unanswered questions in the bush presidency, the clinton presidency, abraham lincoln presidency. if you approach it that way, you avoid the amassing lots of basically irrelevant information.
>> could you have done what you do if you lived in atlanta or sacramento? >> i suspect not. there's understand ground parking garages in atlanta and sacramento but it's a long trip. no. i find i can have people over to my house. i can invite them again and again and that's really central to it. am i getting too isolated, to washington centric. then i read one of my critics of
the bush books i did, george w. bush. i did four books on his wars in afghanistan and iraq. i was criticized because the books were too white house centric. i remember, wait a minute, that's where they make the decisions. you can cover the cia or the pentagon and think the decisions are really made here. they are important parts of the puzzle but george w. bush said, he's the decision maker.
>> the tape that's played on the here and we here at new york historical society are hoping to do, perhaps in the spring, a program on the incredible career of general powell and his immigrant roots from jamaica and his time at the city college. he's a great american story. you asked general powell about who did he, out of all the people he met, who moved him the most. i hope you guys remember bob or heard this conversation. >> you asked general powell the questions. i'm asking you. >> this was three months ago
where he was very open. i did not know he had cancer and parkinsons and he was quite open about it. even reporters sometimes can be human and i said, oh, i'm so sorry. he just slapped me down. he said don't feel sorry for me. i've had a great life. the what's interesting about powell is he was so open in this conversation which is being taped. he's talking on the phone to me, he shouts out to his wife, alma, i'm on the phone. he comes back and he says she doesn't like me talking to you, but here we are. hen his answer to the question about who his pillar was, the
person he admired the most, he said alma. she stuck with him. he understood in his capacity as a great leader was he understood other people. he understood her very well and realized that he was off doing all kinds of things being colin powell and she raised the kids. she would tamp him down. i said powell is great book but we already know everything because he was so open.
i could call him up and he would answer or call back right away. i interviewed him 24 times up until that point. i had transcripts and typed notes of all the interviews and i just called him up. i said i have a christmas present for you. i said a christmas present from you. is it ticking? i said no, i'd like to bring it over. i brought over copies of all the interviews. i said here is my christmas present. he looked at me and he smiled and said i know why you're doing this because i'm now going to do
i contradict you or what i told you in my book. he didn't. he said he was the reluctant lawyer which was my label for him. first, i can't let you off the hook. you can't answer who would be your person. you might want to say a family member right now. >> i'm going to say my wife, elsa. >> i just saved you. >> it's true. she's had the last 18 books i've done and is incredibly involved. she was a rough order for the post, a staff writer for the new
yorker and she is tough. you want to learn from that. i'd al say ben bradley, the editor of the post during watergate and a friend and somebody who was the great newspaper. >> you're in the navy for four years. >> five. >> five years. when you were in the navy, was there somebody you looked up to as a military hero of the world war ii generation or korean war generation when studying military history? >> you know, this was during
>> that's a big interview to have had early in your life. >> yeah. he have kind of open. i was the graduate student. he was in his law firm. i'm not sure and again this is one of the lessons for a graduate student coming in and talking to somebody like it. i didn't know enough. i read his auto biography which was very strong. >> may i turn the tables. tell us what you're working on now and why. >> okay. one thing on atchison.
his favorite quote that he used, his motto. i wish my kids would adopt it but he's to say, complaints are born a nuisance to all and undermines the serenity essential for endurance. every time i'm about to complain about something, that it's a bore and a nuisance to all coming into my mind. i'm writing a book right now, i'm finishing it called "silent spring revolution" john k. kennedy, rachel carson and lyndon johnson. the environmental history of the '60s and '70s, which we call the long '60s from say '60 to '74. bob carol is in my book. he was on the the ddt spring
problem. in long island they would spray ddt and there were people in the late 50s that started suing. she said i'm an organic farmer and you're spraying ddt over my farm and i have a right as an american citizen to be an organic farmer and you can't pray that stuff. rachel carson's book came out in 1962 and bob carol was the first person he met with and wrote this incredible serious about rachel carson's book. it's so much so, it coincided almost exactly the caro stories
were coming out. new yorker did an excerpt of carson. john f. kennedy held a press conference and said we're looking at miss carson's research and kennedy created a science council and found out that a lot of these insecticides that were developed an multiplied during world war ii were u.s. fish and wildlife and she was connecting it to humans. >> thank you for that. >> who was the catalyst for this? was it rachel carson? >> carson is big. her book, the anti-nuclear testing movement grew in the united states.
there was concern after john hershey wrote his book of hiroshimo where he talked about people's skin melting and the horrors of it. old joe ken dip was against atomic testing. william dug last was against it. norman cousins was against it. a name that nobody talks about anymore but he won two noble prizes. albert schwitzer won to prizes. >> what's interesting always for historians, journalists is you said that he made jfk the pt109 hero.
if kennedy were here, he would say i did that myself. >> fair. good point. let me say by be made part, once the article came out, joe kennedy bought it and sold it, strong armed readers digest to put it in in addition. it already ran in the new yorker and they made booklets with the cost a lot of money where he would hand out to her see when he ran in 1952. this is the historical problem of the tree falling in forest that no one heres until somebody comes along and says see, look at this. that's what -- this is what makes that quest really great. if somebody came from mars and spent a year in the united
states and says who has the best job in the united states, they'd say the journalists. >> yeah. >> we do. we get to make momentary entrances into people's lives when they are interesting and get out when they cease to be interesting. >> once the politicians decide they hate reporters, they're like you're a historian. you're all right. we'll talk to you. we don't capitalize on it enough. you look at journal impl and you'll see it much lower. >> yeah. >> okay.
it's genuine and he means it. >> let me ask you a couple and then i want to talk about a document. i can't do all of them. while we mention bill clinton, what stand out now. we're far enough away from his presidency. we did have a balanced budget and surplus and nato expansion and the '90s, from today's perspective looked like the salad days. >> even better. we had two thing during the clinton years. peace and prosperity. i wrote a book about him called the agenda which was one of the first books and had a lot of the scream and shouting and chaos which was true.
his economic plan is joe biden's unfulfilled dream. we're going to cut spending but we're going to increase revenue. we're going to plans or put ourselves on the road to balancing the budget. it actually makes sense. the problem with clinton was always getting there. there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of doubt. at least i do at the out come and not so bad.
>> what about richard nixon's legacy. do you look back and realize is there anything positive to be said about nixon. >> certainly. you can't have been passenger on the titanic and say the table tennis was really great. nixon is revealed in his tape. it's not only the criminality. the most potent evaluation of nixon was by nixon in his farewell address to on the day he resigned in august 1974. he's up there talking and his
wife is there and daughter, two daughters. son-in-laws and he has every one in the east room audience. he's going along and he kind of like, this is why i called you here. he says always remember others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. then you destroy yourself. think of the wisdom not just for a politicians but the hating destroys you. you look at, listen to his tapes, i mean, hate was the piston that drove him and he never let go of that hate and
nixon's gift to history i think is that lesson of hardest thing to do is ever crank it back and just say, ooh. he was an active hater. is there something positive there? sure. in the environment what he did with china and so forth. you can't have that added to infect politics and the culture the way he did and feel good about it. >> only ask one more president because we could do them ul and then i'll turn to president trump which is another story. i picked george herbert walker bush. when he died, the country generally seemed to mourn him as this one term president. did you see bush in that light
during your time of covering him? >> i never -- he would never let me talk to him. >> why is that? >> because he didn't like me. >> where did that rub come from? >> he didn't like what i did. he was chairman of the republican national committee during watergate. he went around the country nixon is innocent, absolutely. when the truth came out, it was really, that was hard duty being chairman of the republican national committee at that time. also when i was doing one of my books, i really want to talk to you. he wrote me a very angry letter about he said you and i didn't have much of a relationship.
we had actually no relationship. you're part of the press and i see all these things and articles that i claim i didn't say and so forth. he never made -- you need to make peace. he was just not able to do that. i think his reputation is perhaps a human being strong not as strong as it could have been if he just got over -- again, we see now the coverage of trump like so many people in our business are so angry at him. i've written three books and trump is filled with the last
four or five years of my life and i'm not angry about it. you want to understand it and that anger is really interrupts the ability to find out what happened and -- >> he spoke -- you've been able to interview donald trump. are you surprised he was willing to do that or is that part of his persona? >> it's long complicated for the second book "rage." i did ten hours of interviews with him. he would -- i could call him. he had a number. i would answer the phone and he would say is bob there.
he said, ask whose calling and he said it's donald trump. he was that way. he never -- when i told him you're not going to like the book at all. he said, maybe i'll get you on the next book which he didn't. we trying to talk to him and he declined. >> sorry i can't pass this around to the audience. it's from september 23rd, 2021. it says dear mr. bannon and the subpoena compelling you to produce for steve bannon to produce documents that on and on
a. this is in the news right now. i notice on the footnote on the bottom it has bob woodward and bob costa. tell me the back story. >> we work on the book and we got lots of new information about -- i don't want to belabor this but it's the catalyst for the whole bannon subpoena for the whole bannon holding him in contempt and so forth. we found out he did all kinds of things with trump a week before january 6th, the insurrection.
he had conversation with trump and said, you know, you have to return to washington very dramatically. you've got call pence off the f'ing ski slopes. it's a crisis. january 6th it's going to be a moment of reckoning. he said we're going to cast a shadow on the biden presidency. we're going strangle it in the crib. that's not nice. i've talked to some people who were legal experts and who ran the criminal division in the justice department. there's a cold case to investigate and perhaps prosecute bannon and trump in what's called u.s. code 18.
it's section 371 where it is against the law to conspire to against the federal government and it's legitimate activities. the idea that people are working, it's astonishing. bannon and trump knew they couldn't get a certification but they wanted to strangle the biden presidency. that's against the law because there's a process and you get into the weeds here.
trump and bannon's efforts to get pence to not do what the institution, the 12th amendment requires. just get up there and take the certificates from 50 states and count them. that was a wobbly course to get there. it's going to be an interesting issue for the justice department because politically i'm sure biden and merrick garland don't want to be seen going after the former president. if there was an obstruction of the process of government, this is it.
there is no evidence this was a stolen election. the people who investigated of utah, big trump supporters. they came up and discovered that all of these claims are false. >> were you surprised doing the research with bob costa who i'm going to ask you about in one second but are you surprised that trump still has so much fuel in his tank when you watch
january 6th, one would have thought that was the end of donald trump but he seems beyond being alive and well. he really is the heart and soul of the republican party. >> yeah. he is. tens and millions of people believe the election was stolen. we're looking. we're looking. we looked. we got documentation and showed there's nothing there. here we are divided america. . it is a big not just journalistic historical prompt, i think it's a moral problem for the country that people don't listen to the other side. graham green, the great british
novelist said don't despise your enemies or people who are on the other side. they have a case and you've got to understand that case. >> yes. where were you on january 6th. what was your immediate -- what was the circumstance? were you consuming it on television. watching it blow by blow? >> we were working hard on the bok at that point. that's where my head was. >> you're embedded with the washington post not really -- >> no, no. we were off. we had the luxury of time working on this. robert costa is the best young reporter i've encounter.
he do eight hour interviews. how often do you do that? >> never. >> carol all the time. it's a good lesson for me. >> i want to honor for bob costa that he's able to collaborate with you at this point. >> listen, i learned how much out of touch i was with what was going on in republican and democratic party on the hill and lesson for me. >> since we talked about bob costa, one of our great journalist, it's a perfectly fit into one of the questions here. in addition to costa, are there any contemporary journalists that you think are doing exceptional work with the understanding you always feel bad you lever and you didn't name a bunch of people. is there something else that you
keep an eye on as like a talent if you were manager of a ball club. you say that's a reporter that's going somewhere? >> that's a good question. i have a lot of respect for the daily reporters at the washington post newspaper, wall street journal, new york time, the network cn i find really digs into stories and dug into the book we did. i can't single out but i did single out costa because in 2016, we're in the news room and he said, you know, there's this guy donald trump running for president and we're not taking him seriously enough. he said we ought to go interview him. i said, fine.
we went and interviewed trump for 90 minutes and decided we're not going to ask him for the news of the day questions but talk to him about the presidency. i got two titles out of that interview. he said -- we asked, what's real power? and he said, real power is, i don't like to say it, fear. and then -- >> real power is fear? >> yeah. and the second one, he said, i bring outrage in people, you know, kind of proud of it. and so that's the second book "rage." >> this one wants to know -- here is a question, i'll shorten it. are you and karl bernstein, you're tied at the hip to history, are you personal friends? >> yes, we are. >> and do you spend time
together? >> we talk all the time, and i've read his memoir, his book coming out "chasing history" about his time at "the evening star" and it's a great book about the self-education of a reporter. and we just talked the other day about it, and, you know, what's going on. >> so he's one of your closer friends -- >> indeed, indeed. >> and would you do a memoir on your whole life? have you considered with jonathan carp doing the bob woodward story? >> boy -- >> the education of bob woodward. >> no, no, you see, the only possible interesting thing about me are my sources, and i'm not going to name them unless they're deceased. >> do you keep your sources on an old-fashioned rolodex or are
you online with them? how do you protect them? >> mixed. there's signal -- do you use signal as a historian? >> no. >> the secure -- >> my university emailed us that. >> it does it, okay. and then there's the vpn for internet security, but, you know, nothing is secure. nothing is secure. >> have you felt -- have you felt in recent years it's so angry out there, have you felt threatened? when you do a book like "peril," do you find ways to protect -- you have armor and you don't hear about somebody's after bob woodward type of thing? >> it's very interesting. sometimes there are hateful things said, but it's not -- i
don't think that people look at me because, you know, i spend a lot of time with trump interviewing him. it was just last year. i spent all that time. so i don't think, though he doesn't like the books, but, you know, trump -- here is the problem with trump, and it's the problem with lyndon johnson, you never get in his head. all you can do is describe behavior, and he's the fact man. if you lay out all the facts, and does trump -- you know, what does he think? you know, does he think? [ laughter ] no, seriously. >> i hear you. >> is he -- freud says we're a
victim. we define ourselves by our impulses and i think that's absolutely true of trump. >> my one time of talking to trump at mar-a-lago, i asked what kind of books -- i don't read books. you must have read books when you were younger. no, i just go with gut. never read a book on lincoln or kennedy. bragging about not reading. most people exaggerate what they're reading. he's bragging, i don't read. that's for losers. >> i mean, think of that. should that not be disqualifying or semidisqualifying for somebody seeking the presidency? i've often thought people who want to run for president should
go to president school. >> i like that idea. spend a week with caro, spend a week -- >> have to draft or people had military service and at least you could work out some of the kinks of leadership skills in the army or navy that are not there anymore. let me -- this one you've touched on so we can do it brief. what recommendations do you have for everyday citizens, our audience, to avoid misinformation? >> oh, wow. that's, you know, stay off twitter. though there's some very good things on twitter. it's really hard. look, i'm prejudiced, but if you read "the washington post" online, "the wall street journal," "the new york times,"
follow the networks and listen to cnn, listen to fox. when i exercise, i listen to fox, because you need to know what's going on. you can get a pretty good idea of what's going on in the various interpretations of people. >> boy, you are saying things before i can even ask the question this is about the 24-hour news cycle. is there a problem with 24-hours news, and is that causing some of the public mistrust? >> sure. it is, of course. the impatience and speed of it you can defeat it and what costa and i tried to do in this book
is somewhere between journalism and, you know, caro history. you have to get it fast and you have to get it in an authoritative way that people who subpoenaed bannon, the chief strategist for trump, know that when we put something in the book, we have a solid basis for it. it is from participants or witnesses or documents or notes, and so they can use it, and people can be -- you know, look, the bottom line is that the book ends with this peril remains. democracy is on trial here. people better take it seriously.
>> well, thank you for your books and your public, being a public intellectual, which you are on forums helps us. you are like what cronkite was, trusted, but almost an institution unto yourself, i'm counting on woodward and bob costa delivering goods a year from now what's going on. is that a pressure to have that kind of people need you? >> you're just talking about longevity. that's all. stay around for 50 years. and don't get hit by a bus and you're still in the game. but you need to think about what you're doing. there are things i'm thinking about working on now that we
talked about this the other day. what happens in journalism is you don't -- some people don't pick hard targets, and i think you have to take hard targets. back in watergate, i remember people -- a lot of journalists say, oh, yeah, nixon probably did it, but you'll never find out. and you can't find out what goes on in the supreme court. you can't find out what goes on in the cia. you can't find -- but you can. and between journalism and the final history. >> we're going to -- we're winding down here for the last couple of questions. and we mentioned steve bannon. here's somebody who would like to know about do you feel the investigation of carter page was an abuse of power? >> oh, yeah, he was one of the
trump people. i don't know enough about it. the whole russia investigation went off the rails a little bit and we didn't see the muller report was kind of a bust and there was a lot of focus on a lot of emphasis. >> what do you feel are the unanswered questions of the obama administration? >> oh, yeah. i did two books on him and one on afghanistan and one on negotiations of the budget. in my critique in the second obama book, which he did not like at all, obama did not find a way to work his will.
and presidents need to find a way to work their will. lyndon johnson found a way to work his will and i think a president is elected to do certain things and we now see biden, where is that going? has he found, with all of his experience and so forth, is that an inhibitor or something that's benefiting him? but he has not found a way to work his will. and presidents need to know, i've been elected for reasons. and let's work those reasons. >> bob, this has been -- and i think everybody agrees -- a
tremendous talk with you. >> thank you, thank you. thank you. >> thank you so much. >> thank you. >> thank you, guys. >> thank you. >> dale? >> thank you, doug. for those of you who don't know me i'm dale gregory, vice president for public programs, and we thank you all so much for joining us on zoom, in person, and this was very special am thank you so much for coming and joining us for this occasion, bob woodward, doug brinkley, thanks again. >> the robert caro symposium held in conjunction with the new york historical society's exhibition of his papers "turn every page" inside the robert caro archive continues. you'll hear from the historian later. next a discussion on history and story telling. great, so good morning and welcome once again to the new york historical society and our beautiful robert h. smith auditorium. whether you are joining us here in pn
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