Washington Post investigative reporter and author Bob Woodward was born in Geneva, Illinois on March 26, 1943. He was raised in Wheaton and graduated in 1961 from what was then called the Wheaton Community High School. His mother was Jane Woodward and his father was Judge Alfred E. Woodward, a circuit court judge of the 19th Circuit in Du Page County. Judge Woodward was first elected as a Republican. Other members of Bob's family including his uncle practiced law in Wheaton and the family was considered prominent in Wheaton long before Bob went to college.
Classmate Craig Simpson, who was campaign manager for Bob's losing campaign for student council president in high school, told one biographer, Adrian Havill, that "He was always well-intended but remote...In many ways, he was like Nixon."
Woodward graduated from Yale University in 1965 and received a commission in the U.S. Navy by virtue of his studies in Yale Navy ROTC program. It was during his Navy service at the Pentagon that he first met former FBI agent Mark Felt. After more than thirty years of silence, it was disclosed last year that Mark Felt, then the number two official at the FBI, was the source referred to as "Deep Throat" in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book All The President's Men about the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation in August 1974.
Lt. Woodward was discharged from the Navy in August 1970, after a period working for Admiral Thomas H. Moorer who was then Chief of Naval Operations and later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some biograhers of Woodward have claimed that Woodward participated in White House briefings or preparations for those briefings during 1970. But it remains a little unclear to this day how well Woodward might have known Gen. Alexander Haig who was a White House security adviser and later White House Chief of Staff for President Nixon in his final year in office.
Woodward had no experience in journalism at all when he left the Navy in 1970. He had applied to law schools and journalism did not seem the obvious choice for his education and career path. But he was hired on a two-week tryout at The Washington Post that did not work out due to his lack of experience.
For the next year, Woodward got some practical experience as a beat reporter in the Maryland suburbs of Washington with the Montgomery Sentinel. About a year later, The Washington Post was ready to give him another trial for an entry-level job even though he was a few years older than most cub reporters. This time he stayed on as a court house reporter. He was working on that assignment in 1972 when he first started writing about the arrest of Cuban nationals who were arrested by DC Police breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the posh Watergate Hotel and office complex on Virginia Avenue, NW.
The entire Washington Post newspaper staff, including Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in connection with the series of stories on the Watergate investigation. A movie based on the book by Woodward and Bernstein and starring Robert Redford in the role of Woodward and Dustin Hoffman in the role of Bernstein was very popular when it was released in 1976.
Woodward is widely respected by other reporters as a very hard-working journalist when he is writing on straight news topics for a newspaper or magazine. However, controversy has often come up over the details and veracity of "scenes" describe in many of the books that Woodward has authored on current affairs that often rely very heavily on anonymous sources.
The dialogue of the books reads like a fictional novel and often describes the mintue details of meetings, or the weather, or the context of particular days that have little if any direct connection to the story being told. In one of his books, Veil, Woodward claimed to have interviewed former CIA Director William Casey on his deathbed in a hospital. Mrs. Casey, hospital officials, and other reporters have pointed out how difficult it would have been for Woodward to get unauthorized access to Casey's hospital room at all, let alone for the uninterrupted amount of time claimed by Woodward. The controversy mattered because Woodward claimed to have direct quotes from Casey on his deathbed.
Another example of this nameless source pattern and novel-like "scenes" was evident in his book Wired on the life and death of Saturday Night Live legendary actor John Belushi. Woodward did not know Belushi at all. Even though both men attended high school in Wheaton, Belushi was in the class of 1967, six years behind Woodward.
At most, Woodward could only claim a general familiarity with the town of Wheaton and the fact that he knew some of the same teachers that taught Belushi. Because the book focused on those who enabled Belushi's drug addictions, the fact that he was "wired," naturally the Belushi family including his widow Judy and his younger brother actor Jim Belushi were critical of the book. But many people who knew Belushi in Wheaton and later raised legitimate questions about how Woodward could possibly know the specific details of certain events that were limited to a handful of people, let alone be able put direct quote marks around specific lines in certain conversations.
Woodward has written three books about the Bush Administration and the war plans for Afghanistan and Iraq. The most recent is called State of Denial. Once again, many other journalists and officials involved have raised questions about the accuracy of certain "scenes" described in the books. Did they happen when Woodward claims and even did they ever happen at all. Because Woodward almost never cites his sources on the record and tends to be a little vague about dates and time, he admits that readers have to trust him personally for the veracity of some of his claimed interviews.
Bob Woodward does do a great deal of research and that is put on display in his books as a matter of style. But the "news impact" of his books almost always comes from revelations from anonymous sources that cannot be verified by other reporters. Because of this, books by Bob Woodward often sell very well but readers are often left wondering how much of the book is straight reporting and what if any parts might be embellished for dramatic effect. This problem is not unique to books by Bob Woodward, but he is one of the most high-profile practioners of books without disclosing sources. His reputation as a straight journalist is fine, but some critics argue that he should not be given the benefit of the doubt on unsourced books on that account alone.
Woodward has admitted that in college he wanted to be a novelist, and many of his books read just that way. It is possible that style of a novel is one of the reasons that critics question the credibility of many, but not all, of the stories that Woodward relates as if he had personally witnessed the scenes himself. In almost all of his books, he assumes the role of an all-knowing narrator which is an unusual story telling device for a journalistic book as opposed to a historical novel.
More than thirty-four years after his first Watergate stories with Carl Bernstein, the jury still seems to be out on the net legacy of Bob Woodward. His newspaper reporting is relatively free from controversy. One glaring exception was this year when he became a news story himself for holding back information on the Valerie Plame investigation and his direct knowledge of sources. But his books have been far more controversial and while he staunchly defends his methods using unnamed sources, that is usually the reason that his books are criticized as falling short of journalistic standards.
Today Bob Woodward lives in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. He is married to Elsa Walsh, a writer for The New Yorker, and the couple has two daughters. He teamed again this year with Carl Bernstein to write some article about Mark Felt after Mr. Felt revealed himself to be the source called "Deep Throat" to Vanity Fair magazine.