A Bob Woodward book is a record of a sequence of transactions. In exchange for access and information, Woodward offers Washington power holders the opportunity to disparage their rivals and aggrandize themselves. But be warned that a Woodward proposition is never guaranteed. It comes hedged with dense, finely printed terms and conditions. And Woodward’s scoops have a way of turning out to be less new than they are first advertised.
Shrewd Washington players understand the risks of a deal with Woodward and negotiate their contracts carefully. The classic example is Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Greenspan gave access to Woodward in the late 1990s and collected a handsome return in the form of an adulatory book, unironically titled Maestro. The book concludes with lavish praise:
Although his words are almost unbearably opaque, he appears to be doing something rare—telling the truth. The very act of thinking, the strain in his wrinkled forehead, can be seen in the video footage of him before the microphone. At times it seems painful. But the public has rewarded his caution, reflection and the results with their confidence. That he is the unelected steward of the economy is simply accepted. … With Greenspan, we find comfort.
That’s the reward that can be extracted by those who know their business—the prize for the canny and effective. It’s the prize Donald Trump hungered for and that Woodward dangled in front of him at the beginning of the Trump era. Woodward was spotted headed into Trump Tower on January 3. Two weeks later, he appeared on TV to entice Trump with a mouthwatering bid: validation of Trump’s accusations of an FBI plot against him. That day, Woodward made a rare non-book-promoting TV appearance on Trump’s favorite network. Speaking to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Woodward poured ferocious scorn on the Steele dossier, which had been recently published by BuzzFeed. Trump immediately tweeted his gratitude. “Thank you to Bob Woodward who said, ‘That is a garbage document…it never should have been presented…Trump’s right to be upset (angry)…”