Bob Woodward has had a long and eventful week. And his latest presidential tell-all, Fear: Trump in the White House, isn’t even out yet. By the time he sat down with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show Monday night, damning excerpts from the book seem to have driven President Trump into an even more “unhinged” state, to borrow the title of the last book to roil the administration.
Colbert began with a simple question: “Why do people talk to you?”
Woodward explained that he gets people to open up using good old-fashioned research and flattery. “I have to take you as seriously as you take yourself,” he said of his subjects. “Now, that’s hard in Washington to find somebody who takes themselves seriously.”
He went on to explain that he showed up at one general’s house without an appointment and the general asked him, “Are you still doing this shit?” Taking a page from CIA training, Woodward said he lets “the silence suck out the truth.”
“Do you ever take into account what the motive of the source is? Because I read this book, and there are people in this book—for instance, Rob Porter, staff secretary, who had to leave under a cloud of a scandal for spousal abuse,” Colbert said, pointing out a fact that has been all but left out of Fear. “Absent that knowledge about him, you read about Rob Porter and you go, ‘Oh, I wish that guy was still there, because he comes off as Horatio at the bridge trying to keep Donald Trump from doing crazy things. Are these people telling you their story so they’re portrayed well in history?”
“No,” Woodward insisted, explaining that he always checks their accounts against what other people in the White House have told him. By the end of his laborious process he said he knows “that’s exactly what happened, and that’s what was said.”
Referring to Porter and Gary Cohn, who have both left the administration, Colbert asked, “But isn’t it a chance that they got together and said, let’s get our stories straight about how we’re the good guys?”
“It’s one of these things where you get to know some of these people, and you realize they’re speaking from conscience,” Woodward said, “because they are worried about Trump doing things, and so, they steal papers off his desk. But Trump doesn’t remember!” That scene opens his book, the author said, because he found it the “most shocking” thing about the Trump White House.
Later, Woodward explained that while he conducts most of his interviews on “deep background” he never goes “off the record” with a source. “I think in our business, at times, we are cheating the public,” he said. “We learn things, secret things, off the record, we’re part of the gang. And I think we have to kind of stop doing that and saying, let’s use it in a way that we can tell the public.”
When Colbert asked Woodward what it’s like to have the president accuse him of lying, the author replied simply, “I’m not.” He added, “Look, he has his First Amendment rights, he can say anything, but the great editor at the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, during Watergate used to always say when there was a contest back and forth he would always say that ‘the truth emerges’ and the truth will emerge on this too.”