Why Bob Woodward Was Irresistible for a President Who Needs to ‘Touch the Flame’

To Mr. Trump, Mr. Woodward is an exemplar of the Washington establishment the president believes has never respected him. He seemed excited to be talking with him. At one point, according to the book, when Melania Trump walked in, the president boasted, “Honey, I’m talking to Bob Woodward.”

“He’s sort of the establishment media’s version of Zeus, and I think that makes him irresistible to Mr. Trump, in particular,” said Mr. O’Brien, now a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. “It actually reflects how deeply insecure he is about his own self-worth.”

Like other journalists, Mr. O’Brien saw this phenomenon personally. Mr. Trump spent dozens of hours with him for scores of interviews for “TrumpNation,” a biography published in 2005 when Mr. O’Brien worked for The New York Times. Mr. Trump then sued Mr. O’Brien after the book was published, and lost the lawsuit.

At one point during their conversations, Mr. Trump told Mr. O’Brien he would smear him in the media if he did not like the book. Mr. O’Brien asked Mr. Trump why then was he cooperating. Mr. Trump replied that it was “an experience” for him and he enjoyed the author’s company, but also saw it as a challenge. “It’s almost like a competitive thing with me,” Mr. Trump said. “I almost wanna see if you can get Trump.”

Now president, Mr. Trump gave a similar answer on Thursday when asked why he talked with Mr. Woodward. “Bob Woodward is somebody that I respect, just from hearing the name for many, many years, not knowing too much about his work, not caring about his work,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a news briefing. “But I thought it would be interesting to talk to him for a period of calls.”

“I did it out of curiosity,” he added, “because I do have respect and I want to see, I wonder whether or not somebody like that can write good. I don’t think he can, but let’s see what happens.”