What “The Trump Tapes” Reveals About Bob Woodward


In June 2020, Bob Woodward received one of his many unexpected phone calls from Donald Trump. When their conversation turned to the rapidly growing protests following the police killing of George Floyd weeks earlier, the reporter took a personal approach in pressing the President of the United States on the national outpouring of grief and of anger.

“I mean, we share one thing in common,” Woodward told Trump. “We are white, privileged. … Do you feel that this privilege has isolated you and put you in a cave, to some degree, like it put me – and I think a lot of privileged white people – in a cave? And that we have to come out of it to understand the anger and the pain, in particular, that black people feel in this country? Do you see -“

“No,” he said dryly. “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you?” just listen you. Wow. No, I don’t feel it at all.

The exchange is captured in “The Trump Tapes“, Woodward’s new audiobook centered on 20 interviews he conducted with Trump for his 2020 book “Rage.” Woodward, associate editor of the Washington Post, said he made the unusual decision to posting the audio because he felt it offered new insight into Trump’s worldview.”When you get the voice, it’s a total and completely different experience,” Woodward told the Post. Kool-Aid, Trump speaks in a mocking tone, with a hint of sneer, and at other times he sounds twisty repetitive or defiant.

Yet “The Trump Tapes” also offers a startling window into the legendary investigative journalist’s process – an undying focus that is both mystical and critical. At various times, Woodward argued with Trump, sympathized with him, and — in a phone call that Woodward’s own wife suggested crossing an ethical line for a reporter — appeared to advise the president on how to handle the pandemic.

Woodward, 79, has written about American presidents since Nixon. “In my process, I do in-depth interviews with dozens, hundreds of sources,” he said, though all of his interviews with sitting presidents, dating back to George W. Bush, have been taped. Still, the veteran interviewer said that listening back to his Trump interviews, he regretted some of his choices.

When Woodward asked Trump in another June 2020 conversation if he would refuse to leave the White House if the election was close or contested, Trump declined to comment — a rarity in their conversations — and changed the subject.

“Listening to this again, I blame myself for not following this,” Woodward told the Post.

Listening to “The Trump Tapes” can be a shocking experience for audiences accustomed to more polished radio or television interviews, in which broadcast reporters ask rigorously crafted questions meant to inform the audience as well as to spark the topic – then respond to their topics in the moment by fact-checking, pushing back or drawing attention to shocking comments.

Woodward, however, did not audibly react to many of Trump’s more startling quotes. (Even when, as he described of an exchange in the voiceover commentary that provides a fact-checking overlay throughout the audiobook, he was “absolutely amazed.”) And he didn’t take a confrontational stance — which he says was intentional. Arguing would have been counterproductive, he said, for interviews designed simply for his own information gathering.

The Trump Tapes: 20 interviews that show why he is an unparalleled danger

The tapes also show Woodward struggling to extract background information from Trump, as the former president spins off on tangents or repeats himself on unrelated topics. Still, Trump would often strike up phone conversations at unexpected times and talk at length, Woodward told the Post — even as Trump claimed he didn’t have time to sit down with the world’s top infectious disease expert. White House, Anthony S. Fauci.

In an exchange, Woodward pointed out for Trump their shared contempt for Steele Folder – a compilation of memos written by a former British intelligence agent suggesting links between Trump and Russia.

In early 2017, Trump happily tweeted about Woodward calling the folder “a junk document” during a “Fox News Sunday” appearanceand Woodward reminded Trump of this in a 2019 conversation. “You tweeted a ‘thank you’ thing and everyone piled on me: How can you say that?! It is a sacred document!“, added the journalist with a touch of sarcasm against his opponents.

Woodward told the Post that his past comments on the record may have encouraged Trump to talk to him. But he also believes Trump was also influenced by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.), who reassured him that Woodward would not put words in his mouth.

Meanwhile, the audio tapes suggest Trump was determined to earn Woodward’s respect, repeatedly referring to his prowess as a leader in terms such as “nobody else” or “I’m the only one.”

Woodward’s style of interviewing became more confrontational during an April 2020 call, amid the growing pandemic crisis — to the point where he found himself lecturing Trump. The recordings show the reporter pushing Trump for a more forceful government response.

“If you go out and say, ‘This is all-out, this is a Manhattan Project, we’re going to – pardon the expression – bullets to the wall,’ that’s what people want,” Woodward told Trump, sometimes shouting and interrupting the president. to make his case.

“I’m going to do what you want me to do, what I do,” Trump replied later, after hearing Woodward’s case.

“No, no, it’s not —” Woodward said, apparently aware that his comments had come across as a plea, but Trump cut it off.

In his interview with The Post, Woodward acknowledged that his approach to this conversation was “really unusual for a journalist”. But he had previously spent several weeks talking to the government’s top health experts who said they couldn’t tell Trump about the severity of the crisis, and he felt compelled to come up with their list of actions. recommended to Trump, to make sure the president knew what the experts were saying.

“We were in a different world,” Woodward told the Post, citing the accelerating death toll. “You have to take the public interest in this case first.”

Although Woodward repeatedly told Trump that the recommendations were “based on my reporting” and that he was speaking “as a reporter,” after the call his wife, journalist Elsa Walsh, told him that this sounded like he was telling the president what to do.

In July, Woodward again pressed Trump on his pandemic plan. “You will see the plan. Bob — I’m 106 days old. That’s a long time.” In mentioning the 106 days until the election, Trump seemed to see questions about the crisis through the prism of his re-election bid. In his voiceover comment, Woodward noted, “I don’t didn’t know what to say.”

In the audiobook, Woodward also revisits an interview that previously drew criticism for his reporting methods.

When “Rage” was released in September 2020, some readers were shocked by Woodward’s revelation that Trump – who had spent months downplaying the threat of coronavirushad told the author in February of that year that the coronavirus was far more deadly than the flu.

From 2020: Should Bob Woodward have flagged Trump’s virus revelations sooner? Here’s how he defends his decision.

Woodward found himself on the defensive of critics who questioned why he didn’t publish this interview as soon as it happened – as well as a later interview in which Trump said he downplayed the virus” because I don’t want to create panic”.

The writer explained at the time that he was aware that Trump frequently spoke lies during their interviews and that it had taken him months of additional reporting to corroborate Trump’s comments on the coronavirus and perceive their relevance.

“The Trump Tapes” makes Woodward’s reporting journey clearer with its chronological presentation. When Trump told her that covid was more deadly than the flu, the two men referred to it as a problem confined mainly to China. But in May and June, several senior officials told Woodward that they warned Trump as early as January that the coronavirus would be the biggest national security threat the president would ever face.

Woodward says it wasn’t until he saw the February conversation in hindsight that he decided “what it shows is the cover-up.”

New Woodward audiobook shows Trump knew Kim’s letters were classified

On Friday, after the announcement of the project, Trump told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade that he had no objection to the content of the audiobook but vaguely hinted that he might attempt to assert rights to the project, arguing that he had not agreed to their publication and that “the tapes belong to me”. Woodward said he didn’t tell Trump about the closely guarded plan to release their interviews as an audiobook and said he didn’t need them “because everything was recorded.”

For Woodward and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, the audiobook is something of an experiment. It’s unusual for a journalist to make a raw report so public. And while research papers and interview transcripts often find welcoming homes in library archives, “The Trump Tapes” also aims to be a commercial product.

Will it sell? Interest in Trump books remains high; “Man of confidence”, the new biography of the former president by New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman, debuted at the top of the bestseller lists this month. And if “The Trump Tapes” is a hit, other journalists might consider publishing their tapes, said Chris Lynch, president of Simon and Schuster’s audio division. On Monday, a day before its official release, it was already the #1 seller on the Audible platform.

“Because I heard it and I think it’s a compelling listen, I think there will be a market for anyone interested in politics, history and Trump in particular,” he said. said Lynch, adding that understanding Woodward’s techniques could also make the audiobook useful for journalism teachers.

But “The Trump Tapes” raises another question: Does it demystify Woodward’s reporting process or expose too many of his tactics? If so, what does this mean for his future reporting projects?

Woodward said he could still write another presidential book, but “I’m just not sure.” He does, however, want to write a book about the storytelling process.

“It’s a never-ending process,” he said, “learning to report.”

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