ST. PETERSBURG — In the age of Twitter, Facebook, 24-hour cable news and always-updated websites, people may feel they're swimming in more data than ever about their world and how it works.
But Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Bob Woodward — half of the Washington Post team whose reporting on President Richard Nixon helped turn Watergate into a household word — had a sobering message about all that connection for an admiring crowd Tuesday.
"If there was an Internet (during Watergate), the information still would not have been available … so much is hidden," said Woodward, speaking to an audience of 176 people at a fund-raiser for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.
"I get up in the morning and ask the question, 'What are the bastards hiding?' " he added, sparking laughter. "Not as a cynical reporter, but as a realistic reporter; people are always hiding something."
Beginning with his landmark work alongside partner Carl Bernstein on Nixon's Watergate scandal, through books on the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Woodward has devoted a near-40-year career to unraveling the riddle of how power works in Washington, D.C.
Speaking as part of the Poynter Institute's Community Conversations series, the 67-year-old reporter admitted little connection to online media — his Facebook page is maintained by his assistants — calling the revelations of secret documents by Wikileaks site oversold.
Instead, he speculated on a moment when today's journalists, pushed to move fast with fewer resources, might miss a truly important story, prompting the minds behind Facebook or Google to do something drastic, like buying the New York Times.
"The people who have all the money and brains are going to say, 'Oh, we need to fix the information system' … (because) good information is critical in a democracy."
Woodward was relaxed and affable in an interview before the evening's official program, well aware of what some critics say: that he avoids reporting harshly on those who feed him information. That he focuses too much on powerful government figures.
He countered that talk by recounting his recent dustup with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose memoir he called "a brazen effort to shift blame to others" for the push to invade Iraq.
Nearly four decades after winning a Pulitzer for his Watergate scoops, Woodward says he still listens to the tapes Nixon made of conversations in the White House, bringing transcripts along to read in his hotel room. "You're digging for the question: Who was Richard Nixon?" he said.
"It's still illuminating. The onion keeps getting peeled to new layers."