By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - One helped bring down a president, the other helped save one.
Before taking the stage for Thursday night's Fourth Annual Northern Kentucky University Alumni Lecture Series, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post and former Democratic adviser Paul Begala, co-host of CNN's Crossfire, took questions on topics ranging from President Bush's performance to California's recall election.
Woodward, best known for the Watergate stories the led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, is writing a book about American's military action and diplomatic efforts in Iraq.
"There is a tendency in our business to be judgmental and predictive ... I don't share that inclination," Woodward said. "But some good, hard information will go some distance to answering these questions" about Bush's performance and policy in dealing with Iraq.
"But there is a lot unease in this country about the war in Iraq," he said. "That is a political and emotional fact and that is going to be a giant issue. And given the level of investment Bush made in that war and the decisions he made, it is probably the best index on judging who he is."
Begala served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton, through impeachment and numerous other investigations. He said Bush is "absolutely" in trouble over his handling of Iraq and the economy.
"He's dropped from 71 percent approval to 49 (percent) from April to now. And it's not some tempest in a teapot. It's about whether the economy, greatly shaped by his economic plan, is doing well. Most people think it's not," Begala said. "And it's about the occupation of Iraq, which most people supported. But now people are wondering if the occupation is being well run. These are two very, very big things that he is going to have to turn around."
On the investigation into whether a member of the Bush administration may have leaked to the press the identity of a CIA operative, Begala said Congressional hearings are needed to discover the source of the leak.
"There is a bit of a feeding frenzy about it," Woodward said. "That is attributable to the feeling generally in the media business that it's so hard to get information out of the Bush White House. Now my experience has been contrary to that ... but there is a feeling in the media we are being stiffed."
Begala called California's gubernatorial recall election "God's gift to cable television hosts. ... We've got as many freaks as you can line up out there."
Also participating in the lecture was Mary Matalin, a former assistant to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. She was unable to attend the press conference.
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