WASHINGTON – Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward urged members of the media to “listen” more, adding that the “road to credibility” for the press would be “long” in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.
Woodward, who referred to President Trump as the “disrupter in chief,” said recent polling data suggests that two-thirds of people do not trust the news media.
“We have a big problem. The road to credibility is going to take a long time and the thing that we need in the news media, it’s the thing you always have to find in your business when you’re successful – you need two things, stamina and vigilance. And when you reduce everything to a sound bite, it doesn’t work,” Woodward said at the recent American Academy of Actuaries annual meeting.
The Pulitzer Prize winner explained the technique he uses to remind himself to listen more often during interviews.
“I have a little technique of taking this finger and sticking it over the little finger and jamming it into the finger nail so it hurts, and it is a reminder to me – it’s like a string around the finger and it tells me to shut the fuck up and listen, listen,” he said.
“What do you learn? I’m sure you learn in your business the power of silence. Let the silence suck out the truth. Just sit there. Now, with Trump, this day: you don’t have to endure much pain. He wants to talk,” he added, referring to an interview he conducted with Trump during the presidential campaign.
After the field interview with Trump, Woodward said he sent the transcript to his friend who is a psychologist.
“It is a classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. Now, this was last year. People have now picked up on this,” Woodward said. “My friend said you could argue that all politicians have some sort of a narcissistic personality disorder. You could argue that Hillary Clinton has this.”
Woodward recalled speaking to a reporter who said that he does not conduct interviews in-person.
“I have to confess, I have not gone out for interviews enough – particularly when people do not want to talk,” he said.
Woodward told of visiting the home of a four-star general who declined his interview requests during the course of writing one of his books on former President George W. Bush. He used the story to support his point that too many journalists today are “not showing up.”
“He opens the door, looks at me, I’m going to quote him directly, he said, ‘Are you still doing this shit?’ You’ve never seen such a pure poker face. If you saw me you would say is it possible to stand and be in hibernation because I’m nothing. I’m not getting anything,” Woodward said, explaining that the general eventually let him inside his home and answered most of his questions. “Now, why did he do that? Because somebody showed up. We are not showing up. We have to get out of the bubble we live in.”
According to the Watergate reporter, the current political environment serves as the “final exam” for American democracy.
“The Constitution is really resilient and strong, but it’s also fragile. This is a test. Don’t think it’s just politics as usual or the way it’s been with other presidents. This is different. And can we survive the test? It is political gridlock. It is the bitter ideological divide,” Woodward said.
“It is divisions within the Republican Party like I’ve never really seen before, divisions within the Democratic Party – a sometimes emotionally unhinged media on both sides,” he added. “And how does this come to equilibrium? Answer: I don’t know. I have no idea but one thing I’m pretty sure of is that this moment is the final exam for our democracy.”