Bob Woodward, legendary journalist who covered the Nixon Watergate scandal, urges Utah journalists to be cautious in Trump-era reporting

(Courtesy photo) Journalist Bob Woodward spoke at the University of Utah on Thursday.

Longtime Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward avoids comparing President Donald Trump to Richard Nixon.

Nixon directed an operation that sought to subvert an election against his Democratic opponent during Watergate scandal that Woodward uncovered as a young reporter working for The Post.

There is evidence of impropriety among key staffers of the Trump campaign, yet Woodward cautioned journalists Thursday night to follow the story and evidence patiently.

“Restraint always works,” Woodward said in the University of Utah’s Sam Rich Lecture Series. “Who knows where the story is going?”

When reporters fail to get out, report thoroughly and wait for a story to guide them, they are at risk for getting it wrong, Woodward said.

When former President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Woodward said it appeared at the time to represent a grave case of corruption.

“The son of a b---- pardoned the son of a b----,” Woodward remembered his reporting teammate, Carl Bernstein, telling him shortly after the pardon.

More than two decades later, after speaking directly with Ford for the first time, Woodward said the conversation convinced him that the Nixon pardon was an act that served the national interest by helping the nation move on from the scandal.

Reporters must be “rigorously empirical” when working to unravel the 2016 presidential campaign, which featured questions about the Russian government’s possible support for Trump’s candidacy.

There has been “unhinged” reporting “on both sides,” Woodward said, though he noted that some journalists were doing a good job of waiting out the story.

“The pressure is on,” he said. “As it should be.”

Woodward also encouraged journalists to show up in person and get out of the office, noting that crucial reporting happens during human interaction.

Such reporting is crucial now more than ever as the country remains divided and political and cultural norms are being tested under Trump, who Woodward told him believes “real power is fear.”

“This really is the final exam for democracy,” he said.