I’ve got to say one thing about Bob Woodward and the Post. They learned a few things about the Times’ and Judy Miller’s abysmal performance during their own encounter with Plamegate. I’m not sure they’ve learned enough. But at least, once the damage is done (and Bob cooked up a pretty bad stew for the Post to deal with) they’re trying to get out in front of it, rather than hunker down and hoping to ride it out. Keller and Sulzberger made a mess out of that particular brand of “strategy.”
So Woodward’s apologized as well he should. But has he or the Post said enough on the subject? Not by a long shot. The apology and Leonard Downie’s comment that Woodward made a “mistake” are just the beginning. If either one thinks they can stop here they’re sorely mistaken.
Here’s a portion of what Woodward wrote in today’s Post:
“I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner,” Woodward, who testified in the CIA leak investigation Monday, said in an interview. “I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That’s job number one in a case like this. . . .
I would’ve thought job number one would’ve involved obeying the law and one’s duty to one’s employer to inform them of what I’m doing (in case it might potentially harm said employer).
“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.”
I said it in the Libby/Rove case and I’ll say it again here. People get themselves into so much trouble thinking of ways to outrun their legal troubles instead of facing them. Instead of coming up with ways to maintain a stealth profile, Woodward should’ve realized that chances are either his source might come forward or someone who got the information from the source would do so; and then where would he be? Woodward cynically thought he could ride it out till Fitzgerald had packed up and gone home. And then a year or so down the road Woodward would come out with one of his snoozy “I Was There at the Beginning of History” books scooping the whole world in telling how he outfoxed Pat Fitzgerald and protected his source (All Hail the Holy Source!).
Downie, who was informed by Woodward late last month, said his most famous employee had “made a mistake.” Despite Woodward’s concerns about his confidential sources, Downie said, “he still should have come forward, which he now admits. We should have had that conversation. . . . I’m concerned that people will get a mis-impression about Bob’s value to the newspaper and our readers because of this one instance in which he should have told us sooner.”
What sort of misimpression might that be? That Bob Woodward has a sweetheart deal with the Post that practically gives him the candy store? He has a nominal editor to whom he doesn’t need to say anything at all about what he’s doing (as long as it’s for his book). He can pretty much write what and when he wants. He’s got a guaranteed major media outlet committed to running his stuff, promoting his byline and giving him continued journalistic prestige. And the Post gets a Pulitzer-winning journalist who every so often provides scoops and tittilating bits of gossip about the Very Powerful Persons in the White House. It’s all so neat, tidy and convenient. Except when it isn’t, which is now. Now, that appears like a recipe for creating a Mr. Run Amok.
The belated revelation that Woodward has been sitting on information about the Plame controversy reignited questions about his unique relationship with The Post while he writes books with unparalleled access to high-level officials, and about why Woodward denigrated the Fitzgerald probe in television and radio interviews while not divulging his own involvement in the matter.
I’ll say it should ignite a few questions. Shouldn’t newspapers have learned by now that these sorts of privileged, rule-breaking relationships with Celebrity Reporters only lead to disaster (see, ‘Judy Miller’)?
I’ve already written here that Woodward’s denigration of the special prosecutor’s investigation was self-serving and hypocritical. But the Post article broaches a subject I’d like to expand upon. Isn’t it quite possible that, like Judy Miller trying to protect her Big Powerful White Guy source (Libby), Woodward too was carrying water for his own Inside Sources. And doesn’t that raise a question about who these reporters are supposed to be serving–their sources or their employer and their readers? I can understand that newspapers are driven by the idea of scooping rivals and that reporters who can feed scoops are worth their weight in gold. But how much are all Woodward’s scoops worth if he brings the paper’s journalistic integrity crashing down to earth (if not lower)?
And what is the Post doing to ensure that Mr. Run Amok stops running amok?
Downie said he has told Woodward that he must be more communicative about sensitive matters in the future.
Now, that seems like a firm hand taking hold of a problematic employee, doesn’t it? This reminds me so much of Keller’s unwillingness to supervise Miller closely even after he knew her WMD articles got it all wrong. I can tell Mr. Downie that if you give Woodward a long leash (as this statement indicates) this type of thing WILL happen again. And it will be far worse the next time because people will say you should’ve learned your lesson the first time.
And why am I not surprised by this “all’s well” statement from the Post’s editor:
Downie said he remains comfortable with the arrangement, under which Woodward spends most of his time researching his books, such as “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack,” while giving The Post the first excerpts and occasionally writing news stories. He said Woodward “has brought this newspaper many important stories he could not have gotten without these book projects.”
If you read Woodward’s own statement in today’s Post, it is eerily reminiscent of Judy Miller’ first communication in the pages of the Times about her involvement with the case. It’s all a dry repetition of “I testified to this…” and “I testifed to that.” Certainly, prepared by a lawyer. Certainly, tremendously unsatisfying and purposefully opaque.