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.”
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.