Friday, November 18, 2005


"Stonewall" Woodward

The Valerie Plame case may have been the trigger but the ticking time bomb hidden within the Bob Woodward/Washington Post relationship has always existed.

Talk about a walking conflict of interest! On the one hand, he is a reporter, which means that he is, technically, "staff"; on the other hand, he is "Assistant Managing Editor," which means he is management.

Yet, he is also always working on a book -- serving a completely different "master" -- his publisher. The question of "what goes into the paper" vs. "what goes into the book" has always drifted over Woodward's head. Given that he basically "made" the paper with Watergate, I can understand why Post execs never wanted to make him decide what came first, but this situation is precisely the problem. (Yet, being scooped by both Vanity Fair and The New York Times earlier this year with respect to the revelation that Mark Felt was "Deep Throat" must have caused more than a little bit of frustration with Post higher-ups, given that Woodward has been sitting on the secret for thirty years.)

Post reporter Walter Pincus, conversely, is almost the anti-Woodward. He believes in day-to-day reporting. He's not an "author"; he's never been a "talking head"; he's never been interested in being Mr. Multi-Media superstar -- and his reporting over the last two years has not only held up, it's been, in many ways, darn prophetic.

passages are revealing:

"He asked me to keep him out of the reporting and I agreed to do that," Pincus said [Wednesday]...

"In October, I think he did come by after I had written about being called and said I wasn't the only one who would be called," Pincus said, adding that he believed Woodward was talking about himself, but did not press him on it. "Bob and I have an odd relationship because he is doing books and I am writing about the same subject."
So, the assistant managing editor tells his reporter (staffer) to "keep him out of the reporting..." Surprise! He agrees. He also admits they have an "odd relationship because he is doing books and I am writing about the same subject."

How can Executive Editor Leonard Downie not see that this arrangement is ultimately corrosive to the aims and values of a daily newspaper that strives to break news and, in so doing, influence the course of daily events?

Does he not see the irony that if this state of affairs had existed in the '70s, Richard Nixon would have likely ended up with two fairly good full terms? A Post assistant managing editor working on a long-term book project on the Nixon administration -- essentially shooing away his own colleague/staff writer from possible avenues of inquiry -- would have established an internal "stonewall" in the way of junior reporters named Woodward and Bernstein.

Just curious: What would Woodward '73 have thought of a public figure who said

"I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."
What's that, Bob -- a "Post-modified limited hangout"?

Of course, journalists have to keep some secrets, hold onto some confidences, in order to continue doing their jobs.

People criticized Tim Russert for not being more forthcoming while Fitzgerald was developing his case. But at least he was upfront about the fact that he had testified, though he didn't share his testimony until after Libby was indicted. In retrospect, Miller's behavior is slightly more acceptable: She neither wrote about Plame or commented on the Fitzgerald case -- until she was subpoenaed and went to jail.

Yet, "Mr. Watergate", using the prestige of The Washington Post, repeatedly goes on TV to downplay the whole legal case, has a key detail about it and feels no compunction about bringing forward the information that he has. Now, he can claim that his source required confidentiality. But if that is the case, then Woodward shouldn't have been playing pundit. His insight on the validity of Fitzgerald's case was clearly guided by his privileged information. Again, the viewer at least knew that Russert was involved on the periphery of the ongoing Plame investigation.

Of course, typical of the baby boomer generation -- once caught with matches, covered in oil and standing next to a burning building -- Woodward "
apologizes." Why not, he has more than one iron in the fire. The controversy can only help his next book on the Bush administration. And the institutional integrity of The Washington Post? Now why would Bob Woodward give a damn about that?

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