By: Alicia C. Shepard
Many people attack best-selling author Bob Woodward for not including his opinion or making a judgment in his many books. It has a lot to do with the late Gerald R. Ford.
Woodward and his partner, Carl Bernstein, played a key role in helping to bring down President Nixon through a drumbeat of stories in the Washington Post from 1972 to 1974 exposing corruption inside the Nixon White House. When Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, Ford became the first unelected American president.
Although, the courts, Congress and the FBI all played equally important roles, the lore through the years has it that Ford got his job through the Washington Post.
While it was never the goal to ?make? Ford president, Woodward and Bernstein were furious with Ford when a month after Nixon resigned, the new president boldly granted Nixon a full pardon on Sept. 8, 1972 in an effort to put Watergate behind the country and began healing the national psyche.
By resigning, Nixon had escaped a trial in the Senate but not one in a court room. On national television, Ford said that the pardon was for ?all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed, or may have committed,? while in office.
Now, Nixon would never stand trial and the whole story would never come out. While the Nixon tapes prove the president ordered the cover-up, to this day, it is not known whether Nixon knew about or approved the initial break-in of the Democratic National headquarters at the Watergate on June 17, 1972.
Woodward, then 31, was sound asleep in a New York City hotel room when the telephone woke him on September 8. It was Bernstein. He was on fire.
?Have you heard what happened?? a breathless Bernstein yelled into the phone. ?The son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch!?
“Now, I?m slow, but I even understood what had happened,? Woodward said last year when the pair spoke at Harvard.
When the pardon occurred, Woodward and Bernstein had just signed a contract to write their second book, ?The Final Days,? which would explore the year that led up to Nixon?s most humiliating moment. Ford had promised that the ?long national nightmare was over? but it looked to Woodward and Bernstein, like Watergate was continuing.
Through their reporting on the book, they began to believe Ford, Nixon and Nixon?s aide, Alexander Haig may have engineered a backroom deal: Nixon would resign, if in return Ford would pardon him. They found some evidence that there had been talk of a deal but eventually Woodward learned that Ford had never made such a quid pro quo.
Over the years, Woodward and Bernstein began to see the pardon as an act of genuine courage, especially since it may well have cost Ford re-election in 1976.
?Might we have learned a tiny bit more if Nixon was in the dock for the next three years?? said Bernstein, now 62, at Harvard. ?Maybe a little. But it was the right thing to do.?
Twenty-three years later, Woodward interviewed Ford for his 1999 book, “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.” After examining the pardon and listening to Ford, Woodward gradually came to realize the pardon was good for the country. Eventually Woodward told Ford, ?I no longer think you are a son of a bitch but I don?t think (Carl and I have) changed our mind about the other guy.?
Because Woodward, now 63, did change his mind about the pardon over the decades, he learned not to trust his immediate reaction and instead to withhold it. ?My inclination is not to make a judgment because too often my judgments have been wrong,? said Woodward. ?I simply want to try to find out what happened and put it out and people can make their own judgments.?
Like it or not — and plenty of people don?t — that is how Woodward writes his books.