I have no intention of reading Bob Woodward’s latest novel Fear, although it’s creating quite a stir thanks to several salacious quotes already distributed widely.
Frankly, I’m still behind on Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and such recently deceased moderns as Tom Wolfe and Phillip Roth to have much time for a Woodward.
Oh, but Woodward’s book is “journalism,” we are told, not a novel. These are the facts, ma’am. Or sir.
Or are they? Is is just bad fiction?
How are we to know? Like so much of modern “journalism,” the book is apparently packed full of unattributed quotes and observations by people supposedly in the know. But the likes of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly have already come out to deny — quite emphatically — they said what Woodward claims they said.
Are the two soldiers lying or is Woodward lying? Indeed, does Woodward even know if he himself is lying? Someone said something about what somebody said or did to Woodward, who chose to believe that person or persons. It wouldn’t hold up in court — so again, who knows? (As a professional screenwriter and novelist, the dialogue seems believable enough, though no one could mistake Woodward for, say, Tom Stoppard.)
So what we have before us, oh book consumer, is another example of the metastasizing “behind the scenes” White House genre (cf. Omarosa and Michael Wolff) aimed at portraying Donald Tump as erratic, stupid and — if we are to believe the quote from Kelly — crazy.
Is he? Obviously, I don’t think so, but who am I to say? I haven’t interviewed the man like Woodward h… Oh, wait.
Okay, but I have seen Trump speak up close and personal roughly ten times, during the campaign and after, and umpteen times on television and he doesn’t seem dumb or crazy to me. In fact, he’s one of the better extempore speakers I have seen, often quite riveting and frequently amusing. I think it’s no exaggeration to say were our president the host of a late-night show he would destroy his opposition. (Wouldn’t that be an interesting post-presidency?)
As for Woodward and his Robin, Carl Bernstein (who of late has doubled, or is it tripled, down on a lie), Watergate inflated their self-images beyond recognition. Yes, they helped upend Nixon but in many ways all they did was answer the phone and take dictation from informants. That’s the essence of much of investigative journalism, not to be confused with the proverbial rocket science.
And all journalists and writers — myself very much included — are continually prey to our own biases. We hear what we want to hear and say what we want to say or what will advantage us the most (i.e., fame and fortune). Back in the 18th century, Samuel Johnson famously opined, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Joan Didion, one of the great non-fiction writers of recent times, said, “The writer will sell you out every time.”
Joan, who was a friend, was right. Woodward is a fine example of both the Johnson quote and Didion quote.
And while we’re on quotes, perhaps we should paraphrase the famous one from Lord Acton: Journalistic power tends to corrupt and absolute journalistic power corrupts absolutely.
Roger L. Simon — co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media — is an author and an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.