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The Powerbroker: How Bob Woodward Conquered Washington

Bob Woodward at Trump Tower
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
September 28, 2021

Washington is a tenaciously traditional town, and there are few customs more strictly observed here than the rollout of a book by the legendary journalist Bob Woodward. Everyone knows when it will arrive, like when the air smells of coming rain, and everyone knows exactly how it’s going to go. The juiciest morsels will be reported in the week before the book is released—often by Jamie Gangel of CNN or in the Washington Post, Woodward’s journalistic pied a terre. Other outlets, perhaps the New York Times or NPR, will follow up with “exclusive” reporting of Woodward’s exclusive reporting, bragging, ever so subtly, that they were able to “obtain” the book in advance of publication. This will, in turn, drive the conversation on cable news and on social media. And by time the book is actually available for purchase, it is already #1 on the New York Times best-seller list and Amazon. 

“It’s a fine-tuned machine at this point,” said one Washington journalist. “He has the most powerful agent”—Bob Barnett, who has represented many of the presidents, such as Barack Obama, that Woodward has chronicled—“and the most powerful publisher,” Simon & Schuster C.E.O. Jonathan Karp. “He uses the Washington Post, which has a huge audience. The way they package and dole out the scoops, the way he gets uninterrupted, uncritical airtime gives him a huge ride and huge pre-publication sales”—which are key to ensuring that a book debuts on the best-seller list. “It’s very effective,” added the journalist. “No one does a book rollout like Bob Woodward.”