Sawyer and Woodward in Awe of Obama Protecting Nation, Fret He’s Saddled by Bush’s Malfeasance

Acting as if President Barack Obama is uniquely burdened by the responsibility of protecting the nation from a terrorist attack or overseeing a war, Diane Sawyer and Bob Woodward marveled at how he’s taken on the job despite the terrible world George W. Bush left for him, in awe of his recognition that terrorists setting off a nuclear device in U.S. city would be a “game changer” and how he dictated “a six-page document” outlining Afghan war strategy – a level of presidential engagement never before seen in “American history.”

Setting up an eight-minute segment on Monday’s World News pegged to Woodward's Obama's Wars book (an abridged version ran later on Nightline), Sawyer relayed how “Woodward said, quote, ‘the saber-rattling Bush administration had not prepared for some of the worst case scenarios, ones the new President was handed in the Oval Office.’”

As if the terrorist threat was unknown, Woodward empathized with Obama: “Imagine the high of being elected on that Tuesday and then they come in two days later and say, ‘by the way, here are the secrets. It's a drumbeat. They're coming. They're planning. They're plotting. They're communicating.’”

Sawyer pointed to how Obama “talked...about a game changer.” Viewers then heard an audio clip of Obama: “A potential game changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hand of terrorists blowing up a major American city or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city.”

Standing in front of the White House, Woodward admired Obama’s work ethic, as if were the first President to have briefing papers to review: “He works all day in the Oval Office and then he goes upstairs....Has dinner with his family, sees the girls, involved in homework and their lives. And then he gets the briefcase and the stack of stuff to read and digest.”

Recounting how a “wary” President pushed back against the military on Afghanistan, Sawyer and Woodward reveled in Obama’s engagement:


SAWYER: And, again, he sits down and he writes a six-page document?

WOODWARD: He dictates.

SAWYER: He dictates a six-page document-

WOODWARD: -to the military.

SAWYER: Ever before done to your knowledge in American history?

WOODWARD: Not that I can tell. And of course, in the White House, what they're saying is one of the big problems in Vietnam was the orders were vague. And so make them specific in this case.

This admiration and awe for Obama is not quite the media’s approach toward Woodward’s 2004 book on former President Bush, Plan of Attack.

The April 19, 2004 MRC CyberAlert item, “CBS’s Wallace Mocks Bush’s Smarts and Belief in Freeing People,” recounted:


During his 60 Minutes sessions aired Sunday night with Bob Woodward, author of the new book, Plan of Attack, CBS’s Mike Wallace mocked President’s Bush’s smarts and belief in freeing people from oppression. Wallace demanded: “Who gave George Bush the duty to free people around the world?” Wallace also jeeringly proposed: “The President of the United States, without a great deal of background in foreign policy, makes up his mind and believes he was sent by somebody to free the people -- not just in Iraq, but around the world?” Woodward shared Wallace’s concern: “It is far-reaching, and ambitious, and I think will cause many people to tremble.”
Having established Bush’s irrationality, Wallace moved on to wondering “how deep a man is President George W. Bush?” Woodward contended: “He is not an intellectual. He is not what I guess would be called a deep thinker.”...

An April 20, 2004 MRC CyberAlert article, “Woodward Provides Positive Take on Bush, Nets Focus Elsewhere,” began:


On Monday’s Nightline, ABC’s Terry Moran related how the White House likes Bob Woodward’s new book since “it portrays a President who’s deeply engaged, who is challenging his subordinates, who is very concerned about Iraqi civilians and most importantly politically for the administration, a President who did not distort the pre-war intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, but who was given this intelligence from the CIA.”

But those aren’t the parts of the book which interested the networks earlier in the day as all led with the supposedly controversial and “explosive” revelations in Plan of Attack, from how Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador allegedly promised lower oil prices to benefit Bush’s re-election to how Bush “diverted” funds from Afghanistan to Iraq war planning. Indeed, Chris Bury opened the very Nightline on which Moran spoke by touting how the program would focus on, as it did, “the secret path to war: oil, politics and faith.”

In the morning, ABC’s Good Morning America ran a story on Woodward’s book, CBS’s The Early Show ran excerpts from Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview with him and NBC’s Today ran the first of a two-day interview with Woodward. In the evening, the networks all featured multiple stories tied to the Woodward book and he appeared for the full hour on CNN’s Larry King Live, which will have him back on again on Friday night.

“Explosive new allegations against President Bush: Manipulating gas prices and military money,” Dan Rather breathlessly announced at the top of the April 19 CBS Evening News....

ABCNews.com version of Sawyer/Woodward.

From the Monday, September 27 ABC World News:


DIANE SAWYER: And it is the book everyone is talking about, Bob Woodward's latest, Obama’s Wars. Once again, Woodward has reached into the heart of decision-making in the presidency, specifically, a young President, just 14 years old at the end of Vietnam, tested by the military as he makes his life and death decisions about the long war in Afghanistan.

But the book begins with the whiplash. Just hours after the inaugural balls, the President is told the reality of what confronts America on terrorism. Woodward said, quote, “the saber-rattling Bush administration had not prepared for some of the worst case scenarios, ones the new President was handed in the Oval Office.”

SAWYER TO WOODWARD: You do have a heart-pounding description of a brand-new President. He gets the briefing about the constellation of terror in the world.

BOB WOODWARD: It's a cold shower. Imagine the high of being elected on that Tuesday and then they come in two days later and say, “by the way, here are the secrets. It's a drumbeat. They're coming. They're planning. They're plotting. They're communicating.”

SAYER: And what is his reaction to that when he gets these briefings?

WOODWARD: Well, if you want to play what he told me.

AUDIO OF PRESIDENT OBAMA: I said very early on, as a Senator, and continued to believe as a presidential candidate and now as President, that we can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it and we are stronger. This is a strong, powerful country that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient.

WOODWARD: I jumped in my chair a little bit when he told me, when he literally said, “we can absorb a terrorist attack.”

SAWYER: Did he say it before?

WOODWARD: As best I can tell, no. I mean, all the people run around the White House and say, “we're living on borrowed time” in terms of a terrorist attack. And I suspect consciously, unconsciously, he's laying the groundwork for telling the people we can absorb it. We'll try to prevent it, we're strong, we got over 9/11.

SAWYER: He talked, though, about a game changer.

AUDIO OF OBAMA: A potential game changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hand of terrorists blowing up a major American city or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city. And so, when I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that's one area where you can't afford any mistakes.

SAWYER: A terrorism battle and at the center, not an enemy, but an ally, Pakistan. Osama bin Laden hiding there. The shoe bomber lived there. The Times Square bomber trained there. Woodward's book had uncovered a secret warning the U.S. has given Pakistan. If an attack comes from someone trained in that country, the U.S. will respond. And take out 150 sites as you report here, a 150 sites?

WOODWARD: It's political reality in Pakistan. It's political reality in the United States. Something like this happened and the President would not have a choice.

SAWYER: Even today, NATO helicopters are ramping up attacks inside Pakistan, seeming to reflect that secret strategy. And what about the war in Afghanistan? Woodward's book gives vivid portraits of what he calls the veterans. The five blocks of granite lead by the brilliant General David Petraeus, maneuvering against the new President to get a 40,000 troop surge in Afghanistan and an open-ended commitment. The wary President battled them back.

WOODWARD: They said 40,000 and the President pushed them in this most direct way, “I want options, you promised options.” And he never got them.

SAWYER: Of all the things you learned, what surprised you the most? Surprised you the most?

WOODWARD: That in many ways, this is the Obama we don't know. He just says, without qualification, this has to be a plan for a handoff to the Afghanis, and for us to get out of Afghanistan. There can be no wiggle room. That is his bedrock conclusion. He wants out. He said, “I'm not doing 10 years. I am not doing never-ending nation building. I'm not going to spend a trillion dollars.”

SAWYER: What's the angriest he gets at the military?

WOODWARD: At one of the meetings, if I can quote him directly, he just says “I’m pissed.” And he is, because they keep coming back about details and they're trying to push him in that direction and he's pushing back.

SAWYER: It goes on for three months. More than a dozen meetings. The President pushed one way by the military, another by his own White House team. For instance, Vice President Joe Biden, who appears unannounced at the White House at the foot of the stars, warning the President not to fall in to Vietnam.

WOODWARD, STANDING OUTSIDE WHITE HOUSE: He works all day in the Oval Office and then he goes upstairs.

SAWYER: Yes, right, for dinner.

WOODWARD: Has dinner with his family, sees the girls, involved in homework and their lives. And then he gets the briefcase and the stack of stuff to read and digest.

SAWYER: It turns out, even Woodward, the king of getting people to talk, can't crack the wall of silence about the President's formidable wife.

You've written before about Laura Bush's role. Where is Michelle Obama in all this?

WOODWARD: I don't know. And I confessed to not cracking that code and I wish I had.

SAWYER: Glean anything about her role?

WOODWARD: She wants him home for dinner. On time. With her and the girls.

SAWYER: It was November 29th last year when the President made his decision: 30,000 New troops to Afghanistan. But he tells the military that's it, no more. And, withdrawals will start in July 2011.

And, again, he sits down and he writes a six-page document?

WOODWARD: He dictates.

SAWYER: He dictates a six-page document-

WOODWARD: -to the military.

SAWYER: Ever before done to your knowledge in American history?

WOODWARD: Not that I can tell. And of course, in the White House, what they're saying is one of the big problems in Vietnam was the orders were vague. And so make them specific in this case. Now-

SAWYER: Also -- excuse me, but he also says that he wants every person from that room committed on the record, even in writing, right?

WOODWARD: Didn't ask for signed documents but he said, “I want everyone to look me in the eye and tell me they'll go along with this.” And he pushes them.

SAWYER: And someone says to him, if you do this, it will become your war. He says-

WOODWARD: “It already is.”

SAWYER: And as Woodward was leaving the White House, you can hear it on tape, a final word from the war President.

WOODWARD: He quoted General Sherman from the civil war. He said:

AUDIO OF OBAMA: War is hell.

WOODWARD: He said his job is to impose-

AUDIO OF OBAMA: -clarity on the chaos.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center