What America’s reporter knew and when he knew it

Michael Sanborn, Black Hills Pioneer local columnist

OPINION — Bob Woodward helped topple an American president. He and reporter Carl Bernstein did most of the reporting in the Washington Post about the 1972 Watergate break-in and the subsequent cover-up by the Richard Nixon administration, which eventually led to Nixon’s resignation and Gerald Ford’s ascension to the presidency.

Woodward and Bernstein became American heroes. They exposed the corruption of a president. They demonstrated to the world the role of a free press as watchdog over government in America. They won the Pulitzer Prize. They were responsible for a generation of journalists choosing the Fourth Estate as a career, myself among them.

Woodward has been a prolific author since. He has written volumes about American politics – multiple books about the Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations.

Woodward milked his association with Nixon’s downfall for four books; two were devoted to the first Bush administration, four about the second Bush’s two terms. And now he has released “Rage,” his second book about the Trump administration. And with fewer than three months before the election, Woodward has declared Trump is unfit to hold the office. There were no such declarations in any of his prior books.

Until “Rage,” Woodward had declared himself to be a just-the-facts reporter who apparently believed just the facts would be enough to have the American public come to the same conclusions he obviously had about other Republican presidents. His books about Obama were about how Obama handled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how Obama had tried to work with Republican and Democrats to restore the nation’s economy. His books about Clinton were devoted to the Clinton’s first term agenda and the skillful manner in which Clinton won his second term. His books about Republicans weren’t quite so soft.

And now we have “Rage,” Woodward’s second Trump book. Included in the book are passages describing – (in Trump’s own words on the record and tape-recorded) – how he downplayed the seriousness of the coming COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s decision to sugar coat the greatest threat to public health and the American economy in the country’s history is utterly inexcusable.

Equally inexcusable is Woodward’s decision to withhold the tape-recorded Trump revelation until it was politically advantageous to Democrats and their presidential candidate Joe Biden and financially advantageous to Woodward. Woodward is an “associate editor” (honorary editor) at the Washington Post. He is no longer on the Post’s payroll. So, it is unclear whether or not the real editors at the Post were even aware of the scoop on which Woodward has been sitting for months.

Woodward’s decision to keep mum about the pandemic being much worse than what the president was telling us, and that the president knew it should be important to every citizen.

The most important words uttered during the Watergate hearings came from Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” We should be disgusted that Woodward knew what president Trump knew and when he knew it and chose politics and profit over the public’s right to know. It can be argued that his choice likely cost American lives. A hero of American journalism has fallen from grace, his legacy defiled.

Michael Sanborn writes from Rapid City

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