Robert Upshur Woodward born March 26, 1943 is an American investigative journalist. He has worked for The Washington Post since 1971 as a reporter and is now an associate editor there.
While a young reporter for The Washington Post in 1972, Woodward teamed up with Carl Bernstein; the two did much of the original news reporting on the Watergate scandal. These scandals led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. The work of Woodward and Bernstein was called “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time” by longtime journalism figure Gene Roberts.
Woodward continued to work for The Washington Post after his reporting on Watergate. He has since written 18 books on American politics, 12 of which topped best-seller lists.
Woodward was born in Geneva, Illinois, the son of Jane (née Upshur) and Alfred Eno Woodward II, chief judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit Court. He was a resident of Wheaton, Illinois. He enrolled in Yale College with a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship and studied history and English literature. During his service in the Navy, Woodward served aboard the USS Wright, and was one of two officers assigned to move or handle nuclear launch codes the Wright carried in its capacity as a NECPA. While at Yale, Woodward joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and was a member of the prestigious secret society Book and Snake. He received his B.A. degree in 1965 and began a five-year tour of duty in the United States Navy. At one time, he was close to Admiral Robert O. Welander, being communications officer on the USS Fox under Welander’s command.
After being discharged as a lieutenant in August 1970, Woodward was admitted to Harvard Law School but elected not to attend. Instead, he applied for a job as a reporter for The Washington Post while taking graduate courses in Shakespeare and international relations at George Washington University. Harry M. Rosenfeld, the Post’s metropolitan editor, gave him a two-week trial but did not hire him because of his lack of journalistic experience. After a year at the Montgomery Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Woodward was hired as a Post reporter in 1971.
Woodward often uses unnamed sources in his reporting for the Post and in his books. Using extensive interviews with firsthand witnesses, documents, meeting notes, diaries, calendars, and other documentation, Woodward attempts to construct a seamless narrative of events, most often told through the eyes of the key participants.
Nicholas von Hoffman has made the criticism that “arrestingly irrelevant detail is [often] used”, while Michael Massing believes Woodward’s books are “filled with long, at times tedious passages with no evident direction.”
Joan Didion has leveled the most comprehensive criticism of Woodward, in a lengthy September 1996 essay in The New York Review of Books. Though “Woodward is a widely trusted reporter, even an American icon”, she says that he assembles reams of often irrelevant detail, fails to draw conclusions, and make judgments. “Measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent” from his books after Watergate from 1979 to 1996, she said. She said the books are notable for “a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.” She ridicules “fairness” as “a familiar newsroom piety, the excuse in practice for a good deal of autopilot reporting and lazy thinking.” All this focus on what people said and thought—their “decent intentions”—circumscribes “possible discussion or speculation”, resulting in what she called “political pornography”.
The Post’s Richard Harwood defended Woodward in a September 6, 1996, column, arguing that Woodward’s method is that of a reporter”talking to people you write about, checking and cross-checking their versions of contemporary history,” and collecting documentary evidence in notes, letters, and records.
Bob Woodward regularly gives speeches on the “lecture circuit” to industry lobbying groups, such as the American Bankruptcy Institute, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the Mortgage Bankers Association. Woodward commands speaking fees “ranging from $15,000 to $60,000” and donates them to his personal foundation, the Woodward Walsh Foundation, which donates to charities including Sidwell Friends School. Washington Post policy prohibits “speaking engagements without permission from department heads” but Woodward insists that the policy is “fuzzy and ambiguous”.
Woodward also frequently lectures at colleges and universities. He gave the 2001 Robert C. Vance Distinguished Lecture at Central Connecticut State University, and has spoken at the University of Arkansas, University of Alabama, Eastern Connecticut State University,. West Texas A&M University, and Oklahoma City Community College.
Woodward now lives in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. He has been married three times. His first marriage (1966–1969) was to his high school sweetheart Kathleen Middlekauff, now an English professor. His second marriage (1974–1979) was to Frances Kuper. In 1989, he married for a third time to Elsa Walsh (b. August 25, 1957), a writer for The New Yorker and the author of Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women. He has two daughters – Taliesin (born 1976) and Diana (born 1996).
Woodward was portrayed by Robert Redford in All the President’s Men (1976), J. T. Walsh in Wired (1989), and Julian Morris in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (2017).