This year, the 10th annual Texas Tribune Festival is entirely virtual because of the pandemic. The event is usually a gathering place for lively political discussion in the Texas capital, which is why Tribune CEO Evan Smith said at first, he was skeptical of the move.
“I thought, How are we going to do this in a way that it’s meaningful?” Smith told Texas Standard.
But two weeks into what is usually a three-day event, Smith said the format seems to be working.
He also revealed that the event will close with a conversation between himself and veteran journalist Bob Woodward. Woodward just released his second book about President Donald Trump, titled “Rage.” News outlets have been particularly focused on Woodward’s revelations in the book that Trump downplayed the threat of COVID-19 early on in the pandemic. There’s also controversy about whether Woodward should have alerted the public about what he knew months ago instead of waiting for the book to be published.
Smith said it was important for the Tribune to find the right keynote speaker to end the festival on Sept. 30.
“If you’re the closing night, its the kind of grand finale, the big wrap-up, and it always has to be somebody who is appropriate for the moment,” he said.
Part of Smith’s conversation with Woodward will be about his revelations in “Rage.” But he also plans to talk about how Woodward got President Trump to talk to him.
“Ten hours of conversations on tape, 18 interviews,” Smith said. “We understand that so many of these interviews were conducted just between Woodward and Trump with no staff present – how do you make that work?”
Smith said he wants to illuminate Woodward’s reporting process because that’s “a story in and of itself.”
With the election just seven weeks away, much of the Trib Fest is focused on Texas’ role in national politics. Smith said this year, he’s convinced that Texas will be in play in the presidential race.
“I believe it will be the closet presidential election in Texas in 20 years,” Smith said.
The Texas Tribune Festival runs Sept. 1-30. Some talks are free; visit The Texas Tribune for tickets and more information.