Bob Woodward (March 26, 1943– ), considered a premier
investigative journalist, first won fame for his role in reporting the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of
President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. As half of the youthful
Washington Post reporting team known as “Woodstein,”
Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, relentlessly
pursued a tale of corrupt campaign activities that led to
Nixon himself following a 1972 burglary of the Democratic
National Committee offices at the Watergate, a Washington office complex. Their reporting, carried on in the face
of indifference by other news media, involved Woodward’s
use of a confidential source referred to as “Deep Throat,”
whose identity was kept concealed until 2005.
In his book, The Secret Man, published after “Deep
Throat” was revealed to be W. Mark Felt, the number two
official in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Woodward
wrote that keeping his source’s name secret proved that he
could be trusted. As a result, he was able to get interviews
for subsequent best-selling books.
Following Watergate, for which the Washington Post
won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for public service, Woodward
continued his career at the Post, where he was named an
assistant managing editor in 1981. Writing books pertaining mainly to power and politics, portions of which were
excerpted in the Post and Newsweek, which the Post owns,
Woodward demonstrated he was a quintessential Washington “insider.” His books revealed infighting, socializing,
and political strategizing at the highest levels.
Born in Geneva, Illinois, to Alfred E. Woodward, a
circuit judge, and his wife, Jane Upshur, Woodward was
the oldest of six children. He attended Yale University on a
ROTC scholarship, majoring in history and English literature. After five years of service with the U.S. Navy following graduation, he decided in 1970 to try journalism and
talked his way into a two-week tryout at the Post. He failed
the tryout but was sent to get experience on a weekly newspaper, the Montgomery County Sentinel, in the Maryland
suburbs. After uncovering misconduct in county government, Woodward was hired back at the Post in 1971, where
he cultivated police and governmental sources while investigating consumer abuses and health code infractions.
To investigate the Watergate burglary, Post editors
paired him with Bernstein, another young reporter but one
with more journalistic experience and stronger writing
skills. Since the personalities of the two differed, Woodward was meticulous while Bernstein was impetuous,
the two had to learn to work together as described in their
acclaimed 1974 book, All the President’s Men. Made into
a movie with Robert Redford playing Woodward, it drew
attention to Woodward’s surreptitious meetings with “Deep
Throat” at night in an underground parking garage. Many
people believe that the movie attracted an influx of students
to journalism schools in the 1970s hoping to emulate the
achievements of “Woodstein.”
“Woodstein” collaborated on another best-selling book,
The Final Days (1976). Based on voluminous reporting, it
reconstructed life in the White House prior to Nixon’s resignation to avoid impeachment stemming from Watergatelinked improprieties. It received some criticism for use of
anonymous sources and inclusion of intimate details about
the Nixon family. Bernstein left the Washington Post in
Woodward’s next book, The Brethren (1979), written with
Scott Armstrong, offered the first exposé of the internal workings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Although some
reviewers complained of poor taste, it also sold well.
Woodward then turned aside briefly from Washington subjects to write Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John
Belushi (1982), a biography of the actor who died of a drug
overdose. Upset by the portrayal of her husband’s addiction,
Belushi’s widow tried unsuccessfully to block distribution
of the book.
Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, Woodward, who
became editor for local news in 1979, supported the hiring
of Janet Cook, who claimed to be a Vassar graduate. When
Cook won a 1980 Pulitzer Prize for a story on “Jimmy,” an
eight-year-old heroin addict, it came to light that she had
lied about her educational background and fabricated the
“Jimmy” story. The Post returned the Pulitzer and Cook
resigned. The debacle led the publisher of the newspaper,
Donald Graham, to tell Woodward, who had approved the
story, that he would never be editor of the Post, the position
he had hoped to attain.
Subsequently concentrating on books, Woodward,
known for his tireless work habits, published behind-thescenes accounts of the Washington power structure. Over
a two-decade period he wrote books on the CIA (Central
Intelligence Agency), presidential election campaigns,
leadership of the Gulf War, the Clinton White House, the
legacy of Watergate as it affected the presidency, Alan
Greenspan and the Federal Reserve system, and the Bush
administration’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of his books, which drew heavily on key
sources, some anonymous, and paper trails of internal documents, received mixed reviews. Some critics contended
Woodward offered too much detail instead of analysis,
but he was lauded with having access to top officials and
ferreting out information. Plan of Attack (2004), a study
of the decision-making leading up to the war in Iraq, won
praise on the grounds Woodward still possessed the ability to open the White House to public scrutiny thirty years
Ironically Woodward himself was scooped on the release
of the identity of “Deep Throat.” In 2005 the family of Mark
Felt, who was in ill health, revealed his name in an article
published in Vanity Fair magazine. Woodward himself had
said he would not identify his source during the source’s
lifetime, instead using the nickname, “Deep Throat,” taken
from a pornographic movie of the 1970s.
In 1970 Woodward divorced from Kathleen Middlekauff
whom he had married in 1966. A 1974 marriage to Francie
Barnard resulted in one child, Mary Taliesin. It ended in
divorce in 1979. Woodward lives in Georgetown with his
wife, Elsie Walsh, a writer for the New Yorker, whom he
married in 1989. They have a daughter, Diana.
Bernstein, Carl, and Bob Woodward. All the President’s Men.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.
Havill, Adrian. Deep Truth: The Lives of Bob Woodward and
Carl Bernstein. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1993.
Kelly, Tom. The Imperial Post: The Meyers, the Grahams and the
Paper That Rules Washington. New York: Morrow, 1983.
O’Connor, John D. “‘I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat.’”
Vanity Fair, May 2005, 86–89, 129–33.
Woodward, Bob. The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
——. Bush at War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
——. The Choice. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
——. The Commanders. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.
——. Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
——. Plan of Attack. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
——. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.
——. Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.
——. Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981–1987. New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1987.
——. Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
Woodward, Bob, and Carl Bernstein. The Final Days. New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1976.
Woodward, Bob, and Scott Armstrong. The Brethren: Inside the
Supreme Court. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Maurine H. Beasley