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Updated 10:00 AM April 10, 2006
 

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  Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 25th anniversary
Woodward: President Ford knew what needed to be done

Gerald Ford's courage helped guide the nation through the Watergate scandal, and his straightforward manner made the U-M alumnus the right president for that moment in history, award-winning journalist Bob Woodward told a capacity crowd at the Ford Library on North Campus April 4.
Award-winning journalist and author Bob Woodward, who helped break the Watergate scandal with his reporting in The Washington Post, said President Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon was a sensible and courageous act. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who helped to uncover the historic Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration delivered a keynote address that touched upon the courage of Ford's presidency and the nature of modern journalism.

Woodward was introduced by Elaine Didier, director of the Ford Library and Museum. He revisited the past as he expounded on the personal convictions and character of Ford during his presidency in the late 1970s.

"The person that was most open to the reexamination of his presidency was President Ford," Woodward said. In the late 1990s, as Woodward was researching "Shadow," his book on the legacy of the Watergate scandal 25 years later, he soon realized that Ford's explanation for the presidential pardon for Nixon made total sense. "He had all of the right instincts for that moment in history," Woodward said. "President Ford knew that the country needed a new presidency and that Nixon and Watergate needed to go."

Woodward's insight into the integrity of Ford began to coalesce as time went on. "Be careful about judging and predicting when things happen. Maybe it will look different in five years or more—try to stick to the facts," he said. "I concluded that the pardon was the right thing for Ford to do—the sensible thing to do—and the courageous thing to do."

Despite the friendship and trust that Ford had for Nixon even after the scandal, what Woodward said he found remarkable was that Ford continued to understand what needed to be done even as he hesitantly took his oath for the presidency. "He understood that things needed to be set right," Woodward said.

"The piston driving the Nixon presidency was hate. Nixon was a hater. There was a smallness in Nixon—he used the presidency as a tool for personal revenge," Woodward said. "Ford was the opposite of this. He was always asking, 'What would be right? What would be best?' And his actions were always built around principles of directness."

Woodward echoed the words of the former president from his speech at the rededication of the Ford Museum in April 1997: "'Only those who are willing to lose for principles should win in the polls,'" Woodward said.

Asserting that Ford was one of the most transparent presidents to hold office, Woodward recalled the State of the Union address in January 1975 in which he proclaimed honestly and frankly to the nation: "I've got very bad news. The state of the union is not good." Praising his directness and honesty, Woodward noted that Ford conducted more than 200 interviews while he was in office and rarely blamed the media for the material it obtained.

Woodward extolled Ford for his willingness to be open and honest with the public and the press throughout his term: "'I like reporters,'" Woodward recalled the former president saying. "'Even if I haven't always liked what they have written about me. It's a minor price to pay for a free press in a free society.'"

When Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham asked Woodward and Carl Bernstein in 1972 when they would find out the whole truth about Watergate, the former's response of "never" was met with rebuttal of "don't tell me never," by Graham. "I left [that meeting] a very motivated journalist," he joked.

"Katherine Graham knew what the job was. We were to use our resources and the newspaper's resources to find out if it's true—to find out what is really going on? What has happened? Where is our country?" Woodward said. "This is what President Ford did in his own way."

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