It was only fitting that the maintenance crew opened the curtains in the dimly lit Michigan League ballroom right before famed journalist Bob Woodward spoke there yesterday.

Sarah Royce
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren discuss press freedom at a seminar yesterday. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)

Just as the sunlight illuminated the once dark room, Woodward shed light on what many consider to be the greatest political scandal in American history: Watergate, which eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Woodward and 11 others, including journalists, former government officials and legal representatives, spoke to a crowd of hundreds about the extent to which the government should be allowed to withhold information from the public.

Woodward made his most groundbreaking statement near the end of his speech, implying that it might be time for a change in the White House – even before 2008.

“I have to remind people that when Richard Nixon stood his last election in 1972, he was supposed to be in office until 1977,” Woodward said. “But he was held accountable for what happened with Watergate. You can’t always wait until the next election.”

Much of the discussion focused on the federal government’s restrictions on public access to information since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The only way we’re going to keep ourselves safe in a post 9-11 society is by becoming a more open society – not less,” said Greta Van Susteren, who hosts “On the Record” on Fox News.

Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, has long been praised for his ability to get information from top government officials. During his speech, he said the current administration suffers from “reality avoidance.”

“There is no strategy for the war in Iraq,” he said.

“I quote (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld when I say the process is so screwed up ‘competence is next to impossible,’ ” Woodward said. “This is not a Democrat, this is not a Republican, this is not a critic of the war. It’s the Secretary of Defense.”

By uncovering the Watergate scandal, Woodward played a key role in Gerald Ford’s ascension to the presidency after Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon was arguably the defining moment of his administration.

In an interview recorded in 2005 and released after Ford’s death two weeks ago, Ford told Woodward that he “very strongly” disagreed with President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

After the conference, Woodward said Ford was “open to being interviewed,” instead of being secretive.

The Bush administration has held back too much information, Woodward said, particularly during the war.

“I think it’s wrong to say (things are) the president’s business and nobody else’s business,” he said in response to Bradford Benson, a fellow panelist and a former associate counsel to Bush.

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