Bloomfield Hills native and Cranbrook Kingswood alum Bob Woodruff was on the brink of becoming a major household name in December 2005, when the journalist was named Peter Jennings’ successor as anchor of ABC World News Tonight. Only a month later, Woodruff sustained a life-threatening traumatic brain injury when a roadside bomb detonated while he was embedded on location in Iraq. What could have – and many predicted to be – the end of his on-screen career is now a thing of the past, as Woodruff serves as ABC’s chief Asian correspondent during a time when that region is making lots of news.
He’s come full circle in a way, as he began his career as a journalist somewhat accidentally by covering the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 nearly 30 years ago. Woodruff was a lawyer, a recent graduate from the University of Michigan Law School, who closely followed China in the ‘80s as the country emerged from the Cultural Revolution. A “traveling addict,” he was in Beijing teaching law when the violent student protests began. He was hired by ABC News as an on-air interpreter, which Woodruff attributes to changing the direction of his career.
He now spends nearly half the year in Asia, often stopping through Detroit to visit his father – and until recently – his 23-year-old daughter who was living downtown and working for the chickpea-based pasta company Banza. “I tell a lot of people, it’s like a deployment. I’m gone for a somewhat temporary mission to get something done over there.”
That mission is to use three decades of knowledge culled as a journalist, distill the turbulent events taking place halfway around the world, and make them understandable to American TV-watchers. According to Woodruff, “the situation with North Korea is getting worse – we have an unpredictable leader with Kim Jong Un. He’s unpredictable, he’s a mystery, and he’s different than his father. Do we negotiate, do we use military, do we attack them, do we use sanctions?” Yet, in spending time on the ground, he notes that, “It’s interesting to be in South Korea because the people in South Korea don’t react – they’ve been dealing with this for 65 years.”
He also comments that he believes a military war would be “a complete disaster” and would “shatter the global economy,” leaving tens or hundreds of thousands dead in its wake.
“To witness this as a journalist is fascinating. One thing as a journalist, you report on a lot of topics, so to have the chance to tell so many stories about different countries, it’s an interesting and lucky niche that I’ve got at ABC.”
As “the stories are getting much bigger over in Asia,” so too are the ways in which he can report on what he learns thanks to digital platforms and the multitude of news programs that allow for more in-depth storytelling. Call it his Career 2.0, as Woodruff embraces the opportunity to work as a journalist, while also aiding veterans and sharing their stories each and every week through the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which he founded with his wife, Lee. Since its inception, the foundation has reached 2.5 million vets and their families, investing more than $42 million in helping them return to their communities after injury.
“It’s the most satisfying and fulfilling thing I’ve done in my entire life.”
Photo: Stefan Radtke