Bob Woodward has covered eight presidents – including one who he helped force out of office thanks to his reporting about Watergate. Which means that when he talks, you should listen. And when he says he’s never seen anything like what he saw reporting out “Fear: Trump in the White House” – his book out tomorrow – then you should stand up and pay attention.
“I’ve never seen an instance when the President is so detached from the reality of what’s going on,” Woodward told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in a Monday interview, adding: “This has not been treated seriously enough. Some of the things Trump did and does jeopardize the real national security.”
It’s easy to get lost in exaggerations and superlatives when talking about President Donald Trump. He claims everything he does is the biggest, the first, the best. And given how norm-busting Trump’s presidency is – in terms of his relationships to the media, to his own party, to policy – it’s also difficult to avoid making mountains out of everything, even those things that might be molehills.
That said, consider what we are talking about here: One of the two reporters primarily responsible for a series of stories detailing corruption at the highest level of the Nixon government and a man who has spent the last four decades reporting and chronicling how each successive president since Nixon has dealt with the immense challenges of the office, is now suggesting that what he saw in the Trump White House is unlike what he’s seen before.
That’s a big deal – especially because it confirms much of the daily reporting that has come out of this White House since Trump became President 19 months ago.
Like what you're reading?
How has the President responded to the seriousness of the charges contained within Woodward’s book, and those that the author leveled himself on Monday? The same way he almost always does – by name-calling on Twitter.
“The Woodward book is a Joke - just another assault against me, in a barrage of assaults, using now disproven unnamed and anonymous sources,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning. “Many have already come forward to say the quotes by them, like the book, are fiction. Dems can’t stand losing. I’ll write the real book!”
(Sidebar: That book is going to be AMAZING.)
The problem here for Trump is credibility. In both his campaign and his presidency, Trump has shown he has little regard for facts – unless those facts bolster a pet view he already holds. To Trump, all facts are fungible. All data can be deciphered however he likes. (A prime example: Trump’s easily debunked tweet on Monday that the gross domestic product has never been higher than the unemployment rate.)
Woodward, on the other hand, has a very long track record of fact-based reporting. While Trump has tried to sully Woodward since excerpts of “Fear” emerged last week but, as recently as August 14 of this year, Trump told Woodward he has “always been fair.” (We know this because Woodward recorded the conversation, with Trump’s permission.) Woodward has literally built his career on having the receipts, on always being able to produce the tape or the transcript or the document that backs up his reporting. This is not a guy who makes big boasts and then fails to deliver on them. Quite the opposite.
In a credibility fight then, Trump loses. But he also loses in a little thing I like to call common sense.
What Woodward is reporting in his book isn’t new. There have been reports of massive staff dysfunction in the Trump White House from the get-go. There have been reports that Trump seems uninterested or unaware of the details of key foreign policy and national security efforts. He seems entirely convinced that he possesses all the knowledge he needs despite never having held elected office before. He began his presidency cocooned from the news and has grown only more so – seemingly (if his Twitter feed is an accurate representation) primarily watching Fox News at this point. His entire life – including the long period before he started running for president – suggests that Trump is simply telling himself a story of his own life. Whether or not that story is consistent with established facts has never been of much concern to him.
Woodward’s book reinforces all of that. And unlike, say, Michael Wolff or Omarosa Manigault Newman, Woodward comes from a position of decades of journalism about the highest levels of government with very, very few questions about the veracity of his work. In short: Woodward is not easily dismissed.
When Bob Woodward says that we are not taking seriously the threat posed by a President “so detached from the reality of what’s going on,” we should all take note. These are not idle words by a carnival barker.