Bob Woodward Visits My Campus
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Investigative journalist and author Bob Woodward spoke to a packed auditorium at the University of Virginia last Thursday about one of the most controversial topics of today: President George W. Bush. Hundreds of students listened eagerly as Woodward painted a picture of the president with respect to the war in Iraq, the upcoming presidential election, and the issue of terrorism. He also used the forum to promote his best-selling book, Plan of Attack.
Woodward, currently the Assistant Managing Editor for The Washington Post, was made famous for his work with Carl Bernstein in uncovering the Watergate scandal. He and Bernstein won the Pulitzer Prize for this reporting on President Nixon and the Nixon Administration. Woodard is also the author of ten best-selling books, including All the Presidents Men, Bush at War, and Plan of Attack.
Judging from turnout and audience response, Woodward was well received by the UVA crowd. In light of the upcoming presidential election, it seems students are taking more and more of an interest in politics and current affairs. Many students had with them copies of Plan of Attack ready to be signed after the talk. The sold-out event took place in the Old Cabell Hall auditorium, which seats about 850 people.
In past weeks, Woodward has also spoken at schools like the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His tour is quite possibly an attempt to educate young people about their president and commander in chief. It may also be an effort to get more students out to the polls in November. After all, college students are often more educated and better informed than the general public.
The sharp polarization of the country over this election is certainly mirrored by campuses like UVA. According to recent polls conducted by university groups here, the student body is fairly split politically, with a slight leaning to the right. Woodwards audience last Thursday, however, was not very representative of the entire student body. Beginning his speech with a quick poll of the audience, Woodward drew attention to the fact that the majority of his audience leaned to the political left.
In discussing Plan of Attack, Woodward explained that the book seeks to depict George W. Bushs presidency in the 16 months leading up to the war in Iraq. Much of Woodwards information comes from his three-and-a-half-hour interview with Bush, in which he asked the president around 500 questions. Woodward said it was the longest sitting interview with a president in history.
Woodward began describing his interview with the president by informing the UVA audience that George W. Bush is in fact not as dumb as he sometimes sounds. Woodward also described Bushs reluctance to answer questions on issues such as Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Furthermore, Woodward was somewhat critical of Bushs pre-war planning. He said that Secretary of State Colin Powell felt that President Bush did not understand the consequences of invading and launching war with Iraq. He also went on to reveal that Bush contacted the ambassador of Saudi Arabia about his decision to attack before he told Powell.
This criticism was, however, accompanied by high praise for the president. Commending Bushs conviction in his decision to go to war, Woodward told the audience more than once that Bush said he would stick to that decision even if it meant he would be a one-term president. Courage often means walking alone, said the journalist of Bushs decision. Woodward even said that history may depict George Bush as a hero.
Along with praise for Bush came criticism for Senator John Kerry. Woodward rebuked Kerry for failing to tell the American people how he will use the power of the presidency. Woodward implied that Kerry has a responsibility to make it clear to the public what his primary goal will be as president. He joked that Kerry should not simply say, I will use the power of the presidency to not be George Bush.
In the question/answer section of the reporters talk, Woodward revealed quite openly his beliefs about terrorism. When asked how he thought a terrorist attack could affect the outcome of the presidential election, Woodward said that he did not think an attack would be planned before the election because he believes a terrorist attack would be planned based upon the goal to destroy Americas economy. Woodward also said that al-Qaida should have attacked again after September 11th and the fact that they havent means that someone is telling them not to for a reason that we cannot understand.
Woodward ended the questioning session with facetious conjectures for the outcome of the upcoming election. Bush will win by a little bit or Bush will win by a lot, he declared. Or Kerry will win by a little bit or Kerry will win by a lot. Or it will be a tie.
UVA students had mixed reviews of the journalists speech. Third Year history and foreign affairs major Meg Fosque applauded Woodward for his honest portrayal of the president. He did a really good job of humanizing Bush, Fosque said. It seems he has the resources to establish a believable sketch of Bushs personality. She added that Woodwards approach to writing Plan of Attack contributes to a better understanding of Bushs policy-making. I think [Woodward] did a good job of conveying how Bush sees himself, and this opens our eyes to what leads the president to make the decisions he does, she said. Furthermore, Fosque heard many of her own feelings about George W. Bush echoed in the journalists speech. What I think is disturbing about Bush is that he does have a paternalistic attitude, not just with our country but with the entire world, she said. Woodward did well to illustrate Bushs mentality that he knows whats best for everyone.
Fourth Year foreign affairs major Brandon Major felt that Woodwards talk left something to be desired. I can't understand why a person with the chance to interview the president and ask him whatever he wishes wouldn't pursue the questions that matter, said Major. It seems he merely accepted so many of the presidents non-answers instead of pursuing the topics further. Major went on to say that Woodward failed to ask some of the most important questions concerning Iraq. I dont understand why he didnt ask questions like why Wolfowitz was pushing so hard to simply take over Iraqi oil fields, or was this simply a war to secure oil interests, or why the US can have WMD's and it's okay but no one else can, he said. Major did, however, have words of praise for Woodwards discussion of terrorism. I really appreciate how candidly he spoke about his views on the war on terror and how and when another attack could occur, Major said.
Suemeeda Sood,19, is a student at the University of Virginia and an intern at