Bob Woodward tells Benedictine audience: Blame Google for news decline

One of the men behind the most famous investigative journalism in U.S. history said Tuesday that he blames now-former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for the decline of the American news industry.

Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward said he told Schmidt that some day his tombstone will read, “I killed newspapers.”

However, Woodward — speaking at Benedictine University in Lisle — also said he believes in the future of newspapers, but that it may take an almost-catastrophic decline in the business before people realize how important they remain.

“There is something that is going to happen, that we are going to miss,” Woodward said. “We will miss some vital story and then people will say, ‘Where were you?' Then people with money will say, ‘Well, we will have to invest in information.'”

Woodward, 68, who along with fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein broke a series of stories starting in 1972 about a break-in at the Watergate Hotel that led to then-President Richard Nixon's resignation, made the comments during a keynote address at Benedictine University. The address followed his participation in a day-long civics conference for high school students. Around 400 people packed the Krasa Student Center for the address and a question-and-answer session, which covered several topics pulled from Woodward's 16 nonfiction books.

He said people should not allow politicians and public figures to “rescore” history merely by writing a memoir, and said President Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon, highly controversial at the time, was “very gutsy” because it was based on a desire to help move the country forward from a dark time.

Additionally, he warned that the consolidation of power in government is dangerous to the American people and journalists must keep watch on officials to ensure no wrongdoing.

“What we should worry about most is secret government,” he said. “That is what will do us in. We need to know what is going on.”

During the hourlong speech, which was alternately light-hearted and serious, Woodward lamented the current state of his industry, saying impatience and the speed with which reporters are asked to publish information are a detriment to solid investigative work. Also, he shared stories of his interactions with Bernstein, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several former presidents, including George W. Bush. But he primarily focused on President Barack Obama's involvement in the wars in the Middle East, the subject of his latest book, “Obama's Wars.”

Woodward painted Obama as a man who has played both sides of the fence. On one hand, he said Obama realizes that he has to make decisions that could lead to war. On the other, Woodward said he could see during several hours of interviews that Obama despises war.

“He knows we can't walk away,” Woodward said. “This is a divided man. Sometimes, contradictory ideas are roommates in his mind.”

Woodward — a Wheaton native who honed his investigative chops sifting through files and looking for classmates' names while working as a janitor in his father's law office near the DuPage County Courthouse — said Obama is as much a politician as any other and this helped stave off the threatened government shutdown last week.

“Every time he does something, he asks, ‘Where is my support? Where can I win more support?'” he said. “I knew he would not let the government close down. It was too much on his head.”

Despite the work he has done and the revelations that have come because of it, Woodward said he still believes in the American government.

“The people are trying their best and there is a good-faith effort,” he said. “Sometimes they get this power and they want to conceal these inner secrets. But it doesn't belong to them. It belongs to the public.”

  Bernie Hurley, left, of Wheaton says hello to his former physical education student, Bob Woodward, before Tuesday’s event at Benedictine University in Lisle. Bev Horne/
  Bob Woodward gives a talk called “Obama’s Wars and Foreign Policy: Challenges Facing the Administration and the American People.” Bev Horne/
  Bob Woodward, center, chats with Robert W. Fioretti, right, 2nd ward alderman in Chicago, and his friend Nicki Pecori, left, before giving a talk Tuesday at Benedictine University in Lisle. Bev Horne/