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The Tentacle


November 23, 2005

Maybe That’s Why – Part 2

Roy Meachum

The world learned only last week that The Washington Post’s icon of investigative journalist had deliberately concealed his personal involvement in the web of “leakees” and “leekors” under investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Not even his executive editor knew that Bob Woodward had learned the covert CIA agent’s identity and her relationship to a strong Bush critic from a high administration figure; it turns out he was privy to the information before The New York Times’ Judith Miller, NBC’s Tim Russert or anyone else in the press.

Mr. Woodward rationalized he was merely protecting his own source, apparently the latest surrogate for Watergate’s Deep Throat. He broke his silence only after the high administration figure admitted to the special prosecutor that he/she had talked to the man from the Washington Post.

At this writing, he is supposedly trying to get approval from the source to publish his/her name. If anyone really believes his sincerity on that score, they simply don’t know the man or his record.

While his Watergate colleague Carl Bernstein ran off to greener pastures, to enjoy all the pleasures that come with being a household name, Mr. Woodward stayed behind, becoming an assistant managing editor.

As the recent event revealed, his principal chores consist of researching (with the paper’s resources) books that poured a great deal of cash into his private purse. Presumably he also received a hefty salary.

His best-sellers demanded cooperation of officials in the highest places, which the Bush administration granted in full measure. “Bush at War” contributed in no insignificant way to the notion of the former Texas governor as a decisive strong man, the image that got him reelected.

One year after the Iraq invasion, very quickly indeed by book publishing deadlines, Mr. Woodward produced “Plan for Attack,” a work which demanded great access, including what turned out to be three-and-a-half hours in the Oval Office. He got it.

His post 9/11 Bush-as-strong-man publication helped; being high up in The Washington Post hierarchy certainly didn’t hurt, especially when the paper had endorsed the invasion.

If all this sounds too cozy, you are right, especially when we factor in Mr. Woodward’s public stance on the CIA leak before he was forced, by his source, to reveal he had a significant part in the mess, so significant that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald convened a new grand jury on the case.

In his public utterances, the eminent investigative reporter had denigrated Mr. Fitzgerald’s investigation, likening the subject to little more than rumor or gossip, dismissing entirely the notion the leak may have been meant as retaliation against the CIA official’s husband.

At the time, it was possible to wonder why Mr. Woodward bothered. On the presumption of no inside knowledge and certainly no participation, the old Texan expression applied: He had no dog in the hunt. As we learned, he did, indeed.

The man whose career began with a splashy crusade to uncover political wrongs eventually admitted participating in a cover up. Accepting that fact, it is easy to speculate about the role he played in The Washington Post’s editorial policy, which supported the White House ‘plan of attack’ on Iraq.

Journalists’ pejorative “ivory tower” for an editorial department has never really been true; those who weigh in with opinions of importance, to the community or for the publisher, employ various resources, including the paper’s news staff.

In seeking to mine the administration’s mind in the run-up to Iraq, it is inconceivable that the resident expert on the subject would not be consulted, directly or indirectly. It might be judged totally stupid, indeed, had they ignored the insight of the man who wrote “Bush at War.”

With his focus fixed on books and therefore always on the qui vive for promising material, equally hard to swallow for anyone except a Woodward apologist is the notion he came out forcefully in favor of a position on Iraq that might have compromised his administration sources.

Put simply, he could have professionally suffered had The Washington Post reflected the projections of virtually every Middle East think tank and raised the alarm that Iraq could not only prove a new Vietnam, but worse. Invading another Islamic nation, so shortly after Afghanistan, guaranteed rampant hostility among adherents to the world’s fastest growing faith.

The warning about inevitable “urban warfare,” as I called in my column what is currently “the insurgency,” was shared by everyone I know with any knowledge of the region.

While The New York Times had a predisposition to sanction assaulting Saddam Hussein, strengthened by the reporting and commentary of its leading Pulitzer Prize holders, The Washington Post’s sanction of the war remained a baffling mystery. At least until Mr. Woodward exposed himself as an apologist for the Bush administration.

In his high crime against journalism’s integrity, the paper’s assistant managing editor had both the means and the motive. Accepting the war against Iraq inevitable, as “Plan of Attack’s” opening paragraph establishes, the wannabe author of a book on the subject would want to keep his high level contacts on tap.

Joining the administration campaign that sought to denigrate Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald’s investigation does nothing to lessen suspicion that Mr. Woodward would have been very willing to sanction Post editorials that supported the White House and the invasion.

Mr. Woodward’s paper has subsequently joined Thomas Friedman’s Times in journalistic crawdadding, another Southernism, this one for backtracking. Ever so mildly The Washington Post now opposes the occupation.

I never worked for current Post publisher Don Graham; we have met, little more. His mother would have followed the recommendation of Ben Bradlee, selected as managing editor after she ousted Al Friendly. Mr. Bradlee’s innate cynicism might have defended the reporter who brought the paper Watergate fame. Who can say?

Mr. Graham’s father, on the other hand, would have shown Bob Woodward the door, with Mr. Friendly’s backing, I have no doubt; I knew, admired and loved both Phil Graham and my managing editor.

Withholding his role in the current scandal would have been reason enough. Simple journalistic ethics required exposing his participation to his editor. Once the leak became a public issue, especially after the special prosecutor began questioning other journalists, he had no choice.

As for his explanation, wrapping himself in the Deep Throat mantel, the requirement for secrecy did not apply to his editor. Compounding that by acting as an administration shill reflects completely arrogant egocentricity.

Scuttlebutt has the staff more than quietly furious with Mr. Woodward’s betrayal of principle, which comes on top of resentment with his trick of using their reporting to develop stories that he refused to share, saving them for his books.

Moreover, respected colleague Walter Pincus has come across in print as questioning an important detail in Mr. Woodward’s apologia.

Anyway it slices, Mr. Woodward’s performance, including the self-serving appearance Monday night on CNN’s “Larry King Live, is an abomination smeared with hypocrisy on the good name of both The Washington Post and this profession.

At the very least, Bob Woodward has destroyed his own image: Watergate’s hero no longer exists.



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