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Diminished Trust and Woodward’s Woes

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It’s difficult to imagine that he was surprised by the outcome.

But the White House response that ensued after Author and Journalist Bob Woodward dared to question and criticize the President should be an eye-opener to the world. And the fact that America’s beltway media culture has essentially “sided” with the President and seems quite comfortable with the White House hostility is a very telling sign.

Consider the relationship between the presidency and the press over the course of American history. Believe it or not, the White House has been home to lots of outlandish and at times illegal behavior over the past two hundred years or so, much of which was known to White House reporters at the time but was never reported.

I wouldn’t have believed this, necessarily, until I began researching and writing my first book “White House: Confidential” back in 2005. It was at that time that it became glaringly apparent to me that everything changed in this important relationship during the Nixon presidency. And that very necessary change was mostly brought about by Bob Woodward, and his former Washington Post colleague Carl Bernstein.

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln, conducted séances at the White House in an attempt to “contact the spirit” of their son William, who died at the age of twelve while Lincoln was still President. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt recruited and hired White House reporter Lorena Hickok, and the two of them lived together at the White House in what many believe was a lesbian relationship.

Senator Warren G. Harding was widely known to have had a mistresses and an out-of-wedlock child. So before he was recruited to run for President, his party – the Republican Party – paid the mistress to leave the country until his presidency was completed (she returned after Harding died in office).

President and former Senator James Buchanan, America’s only bachelor President, was known to have shared bedroom quarters during his congressional days with Senator (and future Vice President) William R. King (the press called them “Mr. Buchanan and Aunt Fancy”). And our two Presidents Adams – John, and his son John Quincy- were so ticked-off about being un-elected after one term in office that the both left town a day before their presidencies were completed, and didn’t attend the inaugurations of their respective predecessors.

Was there scandalous behavior at the White House before Richard Nixon arrived? Absolutely. And while historical records suggest that much of it was known to the press, most of it never got reported. Presumably journalists of the day were concerned that such “news” could have been damaging to the presidency, or perhaps to the entire nation.

But everything changed with Nixon – and with Woodward and Bernstein. The two young thirty-something reporters from the Washington Post quickly discovered that the presidency could be a harbinger for serious, and potentially deadly corruption. One can argue that the fraud of the Nixon presidency helped make a lucrative career for Woodward, but Woodward couldn’t have known that while he was in the process of confronting the corruption head-on.

The courage of Woodward still exists today, largely with independent, web-based media operatives like Matt Drudge, James O’Keefe, and those associated with the late Andrew Breitbart. Most in the traditional media, however, have become so comfortable with the thuggish behavior of “”their President” that, rather than express any real concern over this latest episode of abuse, they’ve instead turned on Woodward himself.

There are many very good reasons why Americans’ trust in traditional media is at an all-time low. Consider Bob Woodward’s story as one of them.

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