Woodward chats with WHYY's Marty Moss-Coane at the Merriam Theater

Two days after President Trump’s widely televised speech on border control, one of his most storied critics is in Philadelphia.

Journalist, Pulitzer Prize-winner and Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward visits the Merriam Theater on Thursday to discuss his most recent work, Fear: Trump in the White House, with moderator Marty Moss-Coane, host and executive producer of WHYY Radio Times.

Of course, Woodward is familiar with presidential takedowns. He’s most famous for 1974’s All the President’s Men, which he wrote with Post colleague Carl Bernstein about Watergate, and his 1976 Richard Nixon resignation opus, The Final Days.

Between then and now, Woodward has turned out 16 other books on American politics, but Trump seems to have gotten under his skin like no other commander in chief. Billy Penn had a chance to speak with him in advance of his visit.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Back when you were tackling Nixon, you didn’t have to contend with the noise of social media and 24/7 cable outlets. How did you focus within that atmosphere?

When I was working on the book, people would say ‘How can you write a book? Look at what happened today!’ You have to understand that noise is part of his strategy. It’s the old Nixon approach, to make the conduct of the media the issue, and not the conduct of the president.

When gathering info, how did you decide who to believe, to ascertain who is credible within Trump’s circle? What is your criteria?

[Because it was a book], I had the luxury of time. It’s not just what people witnessed, but what documents they may have and endless notes and actual quotes from certain meetings.

What I did was piece together what happened in the White House in the last year. The stories such as those where aides remove papers from Trump’s desk so he won’t sign them. Now, this is the ninth President that I have written about. When I first heard that, I was like, ‘Wow, is that possible?’ Then I got a copy of the document which is reprinted in Fear.

Original documents are valuable for reporting.

I fault myself for not trying harder to get his tax returns, because I think they would be a road map to who he is. I wish I had been more aggressive with Trump’s records.

Did you speak with the president himself?

He called me in August to complain that I had not interviewed him for the book. I told him that I had asked six people to arrange that. I got the title of book from an interview that I did with him, where he said, “That’s real power – fear.”

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Since November, things have changed in DC. What ultimately breaks the shutdown?

The shutdown of the government makes no real sense. [But] it is not clear what the Democrats are really planning long term.