By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Enough on Woodward

Bob Woodward has had his trip to the woodshed. Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell got it exactly right when she wrote, “He has to operate under the rules that govern the rest of the staff — even if he’s rich and famous.”

Now, enough.

There’s been a lot of talk the past few days about unfair it was that Woodward would almost certainly escape from this mess of his own making, while former New York Times reporter Judith Miller‘s career is in serious doubt. Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi took this on in the Sunday paper.

Here’s the difference. Yes, both Woodward and Miller covered up for administration officials in the Valerie Plame matter because they had promised them anonymity in the course of interviewing them. (When did that become controversial among journalists?) But Woodward is an extraordinary reporter whose interviews around that time did much to advance our understanding of the war in Iraq.

Unlike Woodward’s earlier, pro-White House “Bush at War,” the book that emerged from those interviews, “Plan of Attack,” was full of vital stuff, such as then-CIA director George Tenet’s mind-bending “It’s a slam dunk!” quote and Colin Powell’s heartfelt-if-too-late misgivings about what he had helped enable. If you think “Plan of Attack” was invaluable, then perhaps you should think twice about whether to denounce Woodward’s methods. No, Woodward is not a fearless outsider, like Seymour Hersh. He’s an insider who trades on his connections. But his work still matters.

Miller, on the other hand, got caught up in all this immediately after becoming radioactive for her faulty reporting on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. That’s why there’s so much anger being directed her way; the fact that she spent 85 days in jail in order to protect Lewis “Scooter” Libby has very little to do with that.

There is residual good will toward Woodward, and there should be. There was residual bad will toward Miller, and there should have been. That’s not to condone Woodward’s behavior in keeping crucial information from his editor and in disingenuously attacking special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation on television. But these are two different journalists, and they deserve to be treated differently.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Smoke and light


Beacon Hill theology


  1. Anonymous

    A cliche but as Dad said, be nice to the people you meet on the way up. You will see them again on the way back down. (He had never heard of karma…)

  2. Anonymous

    I can’t doubt Woodward’s reach and knowledge of a lot of behind the scenes details.I do doubt his motives. Maybe he had the hard nose and integrity of a young reporter pre-watergate. But I think he developped into another powerbroker – broker of info- that is most concerned about his prestige, his image, his thirst for getting credit, his desire to be part of any major story and last but not least, his ability to make money and maintain power and connections.Wasn’t there always little tugging energy between him and Bernstein with Bob trying to get all the credit as THE main character and action man??His rush to upstage and outsell Deepthroat was just the ultimate proof of his rapacious attitude change. Not the DT’s family wasn’t any less callous, but he just didn’t have any class.He times everything to maximize exposure, impact and high book sales.You are right in saying he is different from Miss Miller but not by much. Style and objective and greed are very similar. Motivation is not. Miss Miller is very afraid of a collections of things, people and probabilities and that fear and paranoia of hers motivates her digging in matters of fear and her disinterest in the greater matters that envelope all of these issues and problems we are dealing with now.In other words, whereas Bob is the Dominic Dunne of politics, JM is the scared little girl who cried wolf too many times. She is the opposite of the ‘Big Thinker’ Friedman who is always pontificating how the big picture is and how he is going to help you solve the mistery of why is anything the way it is.Problem is, both Tom and Judy over-reach and get it wrong often and get all sides mad at them. Woodward doesn’t care who is mad or slighted, as long as his banker, his publisher and WaPo editors are happy and extend to him the access and means he needs.Bob is clinging desperatly to be relevant. The People spoke and proved he is not as believable unfortunately. During the election he uncovered things that normal people would be dismayed by, had he still had watertight Watergate credibility in their mind.Obviously he didn’t. People ignored his damaging info -and others’- and went en masse to re-appoint the same admin.So if he couldn’t be that effective at that critical of a period, when will he be again then?N.

  3. MnMnM

    Grand Jury testimony of Bob Woodward, longtime Washington Post editor, leaked by Rove-ing reporter (humor). It is posted at: Bob Woodward Tells Grand Jury Who Leaked FirstBobbing and weaving, a tangled web we do. Book him, Danno.Please keep my identity a secret. Double super Secret. Middle-aged, Middle-of-the-road, Mid-WesternerWe can only hope that Fitz doesn’t fizzle. I think Mr. Fitzgerald’s motto should be: “If you do a white collar crime then you will serve blue collar time.” Look where he lodged Judith Miller. A few months in a blue collar jail and she was ready to sing. Unfortunately, she says she forgot the wordsThe Times & Post They Should Be A-Changin Bloggers Request:Come writers and criticsWho prophesize with your penAnd keep your eyes wideThe chance won’t come againAnd don’t speak too soonFor the wheel’s still in spinAnd there’s no tellin’ whoThat it’s namin’.For the loser nowWill be later to winFor the Times & Post should be a-changin’.Good Bye Sulzberger, Keller, Miller, and Woodward!Fitzgerald’s response:Come politician’s, journalistsPlease heed the callDon’t stand in the doorwayDon’t block up the hallFor he that gets hurtWill be he who has stalledThere’s a battle outsideAnd it is ragin’.It’ll soon shake your windowsAnd rattle your wallsFor a new jury and more indictments are a-comin’

  4. Sven

    full of vital stuff, such as then-CIA director George Tenet’s mind-bending “It’s a slam dunk!” quote I’m sorry, but I’m not buying his insider stuff, either. We’re supposed to believe that Bush asked Tenet three months into the sales effort – after the NIE was produced, after Bush himself waxed about mushroom clouds, after Congress approved the war resolution and after Bush made his case before the UN – whether there was really WMD in Iraq?Even I’m not enough of a Bush hater to believe he’s that stupid.

  5. Anonymous

    Here’s a great parody of Woodward’s way of cozying up to top figures. The result, shown here, are of a few heroic souls (inevitably Woodward’s sources) struggling to do the right thing while the misguided or lying souls try to do great harm (would not talk to Woodward). This, again, is parody.Art Levine’s “The Final Days of the Third Reich” via Washington Monthly

  6. Lex

    Are you on drugs?He went on television and tried to spin, via negation, an investigation of which he KNEW he was a critical part. That’s lying to the public, and it’s deliberately misleading the public via failure to disclose a conflict of interest, a firing offense in every shop I’ve ever worked in and most I’ve ever heard of.Look, the guy’s one of the reasons I went into journalism, but if he’d been a serial fabricator or plagiarist, he’d’ve been fired. This is no different; in fact, given the potential consequences, it’s arguably worse.One of the most valid criticisms of this administration is that there are no consequences for corruption (or even for ineptitude). Adopting that standard in the newspaper bidness is NOT change for the better.

  7. Joan Vennochi

    Dan, you should post Sydney Schanberg’s piece on Woodward from the Village Voice. He had much longer than my 750 words; maybe he will convince you of the larger point at issue. – Joan Vennochi.

  8. Steve

    For Schanberg’s Village Voice article on Woodward, click here.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    I’ve followed Joan’s advice and read Schanberg’s column. It’s excellent, but he’s dead wrong about one thing: Woodward’s job is to write books, and, as part of that, he can assure people he’s interviewing that what he digs up won’t appear until the book comes out.You can question why the Washington Post has agreed to that arrangement, but you certainly can’t blame Woodward. And if Len Downie were to order Woodward to shut down the book project and report what he’s gathered, Woodward would obviously quit the Post.If Woodward did decide to go along with such a request, he’d be doing something every bit as unethical as blowing his sources’ anonymity.The sole reason Woodward gets this stuff is because he’s not going to publish it until later. The only way he could report it in real time, as Schanberg wants him to do, is by breaking every agreement he’s made.I fully understand what a compromised, establishment figure Woodward has become. But I would argue that he still brings plenty of value to the table.

  10. Anonymous

    Dan: this is my last comment. Tell me, how do you serve two masters? Your book and your newspaper? You don’t. Woodward needs to choose and the choice seems obvious to me( as well as to nearly all my emailers). And by the way, what, exactly, does the Post get from an author whose loyalty is to his book publisher, not to his newspaper publisher? Watergate was a long, long time ago. It was an amazing journalistic achievement. But Bob Woodward is now as far away as he can be from the daily news reporter who had to fight and claw for information that, at the time, he couldn’t wait to break on the front page of the Washington Post.

  11. Joan Vennochi

    I did not mean to file the above, anonymously. It is from Joan Vennochi, who, sadly, remains a technical nerd.

  12. Susan Ryan-Vollmar

    Dan, I think you’re being far too kind to Woodward. He has *disgraced* himself. He lied to his editors. He openly mocked the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation and dismissed it. He now claims that the revelation of Plame’s name to him was delivered in an offhand casual matter. I think Sydney Shanberg makes an excellent point when he says that this is exactly how smears/leaks like this take place. Woodward is still lying. As for his books, yes they give us information but it’s long seemed that those who talk with Woodward are portrayed in flattering terms while those who don’t talk with him, aren’t. I think his behavior around the disclosure of Plame’s identity totally discredits him.

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Joan and several others have asked: What does the Washington Post get out of the deal Woodward has to write books while on the Post’s payroll?Well, uh, damn little. But obviously the Post wants the prestige of being associated with a famous author and being allowed to excerpt his books before anyone else.Is it Woodward’s fault that the Post is willing to give him such a sweet deal? Of course not. It’s the kind of deal any journalist would jump at, and Woodward jumped.A number of you raise good points. I urge you to go back and read my original item. The lead, in case you’ve forgotten:”Bob Woodward has had his trip to the woodshed. Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell got it exactly right when she wrote, ‘He has to operate under the rules that govern the rest of the staff — even if he’s rich and famous.'”In other words, if you disagree with me, it’s not because I believe he’s done nothing wrong. I’ve made it very clear that I believe he has made some serious mistakes over the Plame matter.

  14. Anonymous

    A few thoughts:- Sven: You are correct in not putting too much stock in that ‘slam dunk’ revelation. I remember a Condi Rice ‘Meet the Depressed’ interview where she categorically said that Tenet DEMANDED that the 16 words or Niger links be striken out of a W speech I believe in December 2003 in some staged forum or University speech, a month before the famous speech in front of Congress. But they were back into the W congressional address since his case was weaker without it.SO Tenet insists the allusion be striken out and a month later does not object to it?I feel bad for the guy. However flawed -like the best of us- he may be, he was brave to take the fall and even convinced himself that to be a loyal soldier, he had to start conditioning himself to help building the case. I think he was psychologically in that close circle pushed to tow the line and pushed back any professional doubts he may/should have had.He is paid to offer honest assessment and reflect accurate info he gathers. He turned into a policy spindoctor.I have always liked the guy. He always seemed like an honest fellow and I think he is a good man and means well. His sense of loyalty got the best of him. Too bad he should have kept his job description in mind. He desrves better than the bismirched rep he ended up with. He deserved to walk away with a head held high in front of his kid, rether than choked up with frustration. Many analysts are in the same predicament and many have left unfortunately because they are too honest to go through such agony. They are irreplaceable, agreat asset that goes silenced and wasted, chased away.What Bob captures is Tenet in a moment of weakness after he has been beaten into submission, just like Powell was despite their doubts. None of them resigned or decided ‘to spend more time with family’ until after it all unraveled post-operation. They could have saved face and probably the country treasure and blood had they left earlier, along with many other important figures like Blair for example. Paul O’Neil, Clark and Thielmann were such examples. I wish Tenet well and I hope he writes his book AFTER 2008, with less pressures.- He went on Larry King since he probably thought one of the friendliest interviews he can do PR damage control on. Larry bucked up to him but he is still not going to come clean and admit that he knew the seriousness of the matter and the sensitivity of the person he was being informed about. He just thinks we are stupid to believe that indeed, there are so many important things flying in his head at any government and this Plame ‘detail’ was just a blip and didn’t deem it important to come clean until the waters clamed down. Oh well!- I see his relationship with the WaPo coming to an end. Isn’t it a cardinal sin to become the story when you are reporting or writing a book on a matter? You have to recuse yourself or the paper will do it for you. WaPo really doesn’t need him. The admin is airtight from leaks. He won’t get anything he is not supposed to. He will be fed what some want him to cry out of roofs. In other words, he will be used by whomever needs a makeover.- To Joan, you say: “Watergate was a long, long time ago. It was an amazing journalistic achievement. “Now Joan, that is quite a reach. We again overrate his contribution.Ona daily basis, good journalists uncover threads that are just as sneaky. There are many examples of DeepThroat today. The political and ethical atmosphere is what is different. Journos don’t have a mandate to prosecute or enforce the Law, they simply uncover the start of the mischief.The main credit for Watergate goes mainly to the Prosecutors, Archibald Cox and Jaworski, to the honest Justice dept of the time, to the honest FBI -aside from some bad apples- of the time who rebuffed a call from the president to silence any investigations or people involved a posteriori, to the great integrity of senators of BOTH sides who regardles of partisanship and serious consequences did not flinch and put the admin against the wall. It takes great men to do the right thing, just like many Dems went along with Clinton Impeachement when they could have stalled matters with their Senate manority like it is being done now.And a great deal of the credit must go to Nixon’s own stupidty for recording himself. Despite the missing seconds, without the tapes the case would have been harder to make. Can we give credit to the Nixon white house who ultimately complied with the subpeona to hand over the tapes. Today, it would have taken years and a lot of barking to get any thing resembling a tape from the 43rd White House. They handed edited versions of the tape but the Supreme court UNANYMOUSLY ruled to hand over ALL the tapes. Can you imagine today’s court UNANYMOUSLY ruling similarly?So can you please tell me if Bob or any other brazen Journo could have really brought watergate to the extent it reached without the built-in checks and sense of duty and righteousness of many in the Govt and the Ervin Committee ?? I say absolutely not. Not in today’s climate.Maybe it would have been resolved differently had the proceedings NOT been televised for the first time after impassioned pleas and Capitol hill’s acquiescence.So thanks to Bob Woodward and Bernstein. But one hand cannot clap by itself. You already knew all of this Joan I am sure, before you generously gave him too much credit.N.

  15. Anonymous

    [I’m not any of the other anonymous posters in this thread – this is my first post on this topic.]Dan, I love your work, but I too have to disagree with you here. Bob Woodward behaved as a tool for the administration, not as a journalist. And don’t get so hung up on the question of whose fault it is the Post gives Woodward such a sweet deal. There’s plenty of blame to share between the Post and Woodward.

  16. mike_b1

    Joan wrote: “Woodward needs to choose and the choice seems obvious to me.”I would disagree with this. There’s clearly no internal pressure on Woodward to choose. And there was no external pressure, not until this came up anyway. If Woodward were made to choose, then wouldn’t that Globe blowhard Dan Shaughnessy have to choose to? His column, it can be argued, is simply a vehicle for him to promote his contrived books. Let’s see your column on that.

  17. Sven

    Ouch. Zing!

  18. Anonymous

    [Same anon. as from 10:23 a.m. today.] I didn’t want to bring up Shaughnessy, because I figured maybe everyone else was tired of the Theo thing. But I’m glad mike_b1 did. Whether for the money, or the glory, or (as seems most likely) for both, Woodward and Shaughnessy did essentially the same thing. The sad thing for me is that I only expect that sort of behavior from one of them.Because of his role in bringing down what used to qualify as the most evil US administration ever, I hesitate to say the Post should fire Woodward, however gently and generously they might do it. But they should publicly take steps to show their readers that they clearly understand that something went very wrong here, and that they’re not going to wait for public opinion to catch up, as the NY Times did with Judith Miller, before taking strong remedial action.But it doesn’t appear that’s going to happen. Looks like they think Downie’s Live Online covered it.

  19. Anonymous

    Dan … We see, over and over and over and over, that the most powerful people in the business are a bunch of lying hypocrites who practice one thing and preach another, in a business with more pretension about being based on integrity and honesty than just about any other.You can’t make stuff up. Unless you’re Mitch Albom. Then you can just create scenes out of thin air and be confident that the same sports editors and managing editors who crack the whip on the regular schlubs over the most minor issues are going to bend over backwards to excuse their untouchable superstar’s actions.There can be warning sirens about Jayson Blair for months and months, but they’ll be ignored.And now when two of the most powerful journalists in the country climbed in bed with the administration, one gets a multi-million dollar golden parachute and the other, well, we’re supposed to play “move along, nothing to see here,” because of what he accomplished 35 years ago.I’ve been plugging away as a rank-and-file journalist for a decade now, and I have to ask, why do I bother being honest? Why do I bother playing by the rules? Where has that gotten me? Not to the point that I’m big enough I could have all the bigshots make excuses for me if I chose to break every rule in the book, that’s for sure.

  20. Bill Baar

    re: two of the most powerful journalists in the country climbed in bed with the administrationDo you mean this literally? It’s not far fetched you know.Gov employes you climb into bed, literally or figuratively, with any reporter ought face punishment.There is no reason or legal grounds for Gov Employees to speak on background or non-attribution basis with the press. Especially employees sworn to secrecey in the CIA.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén