A few days ago Edward Luce, the Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times, treated the readers of that eminent newspaper to an account of his lunch with Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward at the Hay-Adams Hotel in DC. (The menu and price of the meal are carefully noted; this is one installment in a regular FT feature about lunches with celebrities.)
Unlike many of his American counterparts, who might be almost dumbstruck at meeting the venerable member of the Fourth Estate and hagiographical when writing about it, Luce (the son of a former Lord Chamberlain) is impertinent enough not only to cite Christopher Hitchens’s statement that old Bob represents “essential shallowness and ephemerality of Washington journalism,” but to actually mention The Man Who Would Be President, Woodward’s 1992 book about Dan Quayle, which is the one title always omitted from the “By The Same Author” list in his recent volumes.

But lese majeste can only go just far – Luce doesn’t actually discuss that book with Woodward, to judge from the article. But Luce does ask the elder journalist whether, with the benefit of hindsight, he would have entitled his 2000 book about former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan Maestro. “That is a fair and important question,” loftily replies Bob, and then compares writing about Greenspan’s career as chairman at that point to writing about a baseball team halfway through its season. In other words, he doesn’t exactly answer the question that was asked.

Woodward also declares, “Some people call me an insider and that’s laughable.” Luce asks him what it was like to have Robert Redford play him in All The President’s Men. “You have no idea how many women are disappointed by me,” is Woodward’s response. Just how many, Bob? Luce, alas, leaves that unasked. (Nor does he pose the perhaps more intriguing question of Woodward’s reaction to being portrayed by Will Ferrell, in Dick, or by the late J.T. Walsh, in Wired.)

An amusing moment comes when Luce’s tape recorder goes on the fritz early in the interview. But not to worry – Woodward produces “an elegant contraption from his jacket,” and notes: “I always carry a digital tape recorder,” adding: “I’ll get my assistant to e-mail you the audio file.”

But the biggest head-scratching moment comes when we learn that Woodward, despite all his moralizing about the reporter’s civic duty to expose the hidden workings of government, has not chosen to vote in a presidential election in over 40 years. And, the last time he entered the booth for that purpose, in 1968, he pulled the lever – for Richard Nixon.

Woodward finishes the lunch by noting that he’s going off to talk to someone in the Obama administration. If you want to know who, you’ll have to read (between the lines of) his next book.