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October 11, 2018updated 30 Sep 2022 6:54am

Book review: Fear: Trump In The White House by Bob Woodward ‘should be at the top of every journalism course reading list’

By John Mair

Fear: Trump In The White House by Bob Woodward is out now, published by Simon And Schuster, priced at £20.

This, quite simply, is a brilliant book. Every journalism 101 course should have it right at the top of their reading list. Every wannabe, working and has-been hack should buy it and read it.

Woodward (pictured) is a legend in our craft after Watergate and defenestrating Richard Nixon with his partner Carl Bernstein back in 1974. He was even played by Robert Redford in the movie All the President’s Men.

Reading this book, you understand why he is feted. It is deep, thorough, thoughtful and accurate first-person reporting.

Woodward does what journalists do best: talking to people (on/off the record, on deep background or however) getting their stories, putting them into shape and telling them as a superb narrative.

Michael Wolff got there first in his book Fire and Fury published earlier this year. Wolff said he sat on a sofa in the White House West Wing and took in the ambiance and the gossip. He took notes, but his book still ended up as the gospel according to Steve Bannon.

Woodward’s tome, for which he did 160 (yes 160!) interviews, is a different beast.

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Nonetheless, the views of at least three Trump White House staff and ex-staffers still shine through – Gary Cohn, the former economic adviser to the president, John Dowd, his former lead counsel, and John Kelly, the current chief of staff, are there on most pages.

Kelly called his boss “an idiot”, adding: “We are in Crazytown’. That’s mild for those around The Donald.

I never used to believe re-constructed conversations, especially when historic. Do you really remember what you said last week even? But now I am a convert.

Woodward has carefully and perfectly reconstructed conversations based on the deep testimony of those 160 interviewees who are closest to the 35th President of the USA. They are gob-smacking and make for riveting reading.

Can the Trump White House really be this chaotic? Is he really a foul-mouthed tyrant who alternately belittles and shouts at his advisers? Do they have to devise strategies to stop him falling off mental and political cliffs, like removing Executive Orders from his desk to stop him signing them?

The answer, sadly, appears to be a firm yes to all the above.

No writer of fiction – like West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin – could make up the goings on in Trumpland and I am one 100 per cent certain that Woodward, the doyen of journalism, has not.

Journalism is the first draft of history, so they say. And if Woodward’s draft of the first 21 months of Trump’s presidency is not totally accurate, then I shall eat several of my hats. There seems to be no rhyme, reason or rationale to explain how The Donald governs or behaves every day.

His cast of advisers is rotated by design. Absolute monarchs rule that way. Some supplicants at the court burn out, some are summarily fired, but too many of them are left with a loathing and a strong feeling that Trump is a “professional liar”, as one damningly put it in his testimony.

Trump has been given all the power toys (some of them nuclear!) by the electorate. He throws them out of the pram regularly with much noise. He cannot read an A4 page brief to the bottom and gets his news and world views from the most extreme of US networks, Fox News.

If you want to experience Fear, just read the chapter on how Trump wanted to rip up all the US deals with South Korea, including withdrawing US troops, because he simply could not see the point. His people persuaded him out of that and now he says he is “in love” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un after their famous Singapore summit.

Woodward is a professional digger. Some worried he had lost his edge in recent years, but those fears were unfounded. Fear is a masterpiece. This time round he has struck another seam of gold.

Time will tell if Trump joins Nixon in the graveyard of Woodward’s presidential victims, felled by the journalist’s pen.

Reading books like this restores your faith in the power of journalism. Empty the bookshops of copies of Fear now. Get it into young minds.

John Mair is the editor of 25 books on journalism. The latest, Anti Social Media, will be published by Abramis on October 26th. It is available to buy on Amazon.

Picture: Reuters/Alex Gallardo

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