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Will the Real Bob Woodward Please Sit Down?

 

 Once there was a young Washington Post reporter named Bob Woodward who became a celebrity almost overnight by joining with another reporter named Carl Bernstein (remember him?) to expose the inner workings of a seemingly minor break-in at the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington. D.C.

The Woodward/Bernstein team, aided by WP editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katherine Graham (along with several unsung on-the-ground reporters), wrote a series of powerful exposes, thrilling and galvanizing an entire nation, opening our eyes to the widespread corruption, collusion and obstruction in the Nixon Administration.  That seemingly inconsequential 1972 burglary grew into a major scandal involving and eventually bringing down a sitting president of the United States.  (Nixon resigned the office of the presidency on August 9, 1974.)

Woodward and Bernstein won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting and then went on to write the first of two books about their experiences. It was entitled, "All the President's Men"  and it became an instant bestseller. (Their second book together, "The Final Days", recounted Nixon's last months in office.)

As if those accolades weren't heady enough for a young reporter like Woodward, the crowning glory came in the form of a gorgeous famous actor named Robert Redford, who portrayed him in the highly acclaimed Academy Award-winning movie based on their book.

That was Bob Woodward way back then.  Shift to this week, when the real Bob Woodward is busy trying to disentangle himself from a claim he made that the White House threatened him!  Threatened Bob Woodward!  When all Bob Woodward was doing was attempting to expose President Obama's "lies about the sequester". (Was the sequester the president's idea, or not?  Bob says it wasHuge.)

When Woodward discussed his upcoming column with a "very senior White House aide" (no secret any more, it was National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling) both on the phone and through subsequent emails (where Sperling actually apologized to Woodward for coming on too strong), the seasoned reporter came away from them believing, he said, that he had been threatened.

As much as the real Bob Woodward wanted to convince the rest of us that he's so important he's still getting threats from the White House, he couldn't get around the fact that the emails are out there and we've seen them.

This is what Woodward told Jonathan Karl at ABC News:

Feb 28, 2013 9:31am

gty bob woodward dm 130228 wblog Woodward vs. Obama: Woodward Reveals Emails
 Kris Connor/Getty Images
 
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has shared with ABC News his email exchange with the White House official who told him he would “regret” his reporting on the sequester.  That official was Gene Sperling, the director of President Obama’s National Economic Council.

Woodward tells me that Sperling’s words – “as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim” – was an implied threat because, Woodward says, the White House was not really disputing the facts.

“It’s just not the way to operate,” Woodward told me, saying Sperling’s implied message was, “You challenge us, you will regret it.”

Why did he respond to Sperling’s email so politely?  He was trying to keep open the lines of communication.

“They don’t have to talk to anybody,” Woodward said.


That was yesterday.  Today, Woodward says he never said he was threatened. (That's all, folks.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.)

But we're talking about Bob Woodward here.  Attention must be paid. 

Rush Limbaugh starts a program this way and then moves on from there:

I don't know, folks.  I don't know.  I'm just not sure that what we're dealing with here is a "you're gonna have a dead horse in your bed tomorrow morning" kind of threat.  I don't think that's what we're dealing with.  I do think the White House is gonna take care of Woodward with a death panel down the road.  That's how they're gonna deal with this.  We'll never know.  Woodward's gonna get sick and the death panel will come in there and that will be that.

 Fox News and the Right Wing media have a field day.  Because he's Bob Woodward and. . .attention must be paid.

The real Bob Woodward, it turns out, is not the stuff of Hollywood.  That Bob Woodward, if he ever existed, is long gone.  Someone needs to tell that to the real Bob Woodward.  And then someone needs to tell that to people like Politico's Ron Allen, who appeared on Morning Joe today defending Bob Woodward by reminding everyone that (guess what?)  "Attention must be paid to Bob Woodward."

This isn't the first time that Woodward has either outright lied or exaggerated in order to make himself more important.  The stories about his inaccuracies are out there in great enough numbers to see that, in fact, attention has been paid.

Perhaps the most egregious (and easily disproved) outright self-aggrandizing lie was the one he told about the supposed deathbed confession of former CIA director William Casey, as told to Woodward and spelled out in great detail in his 1987 book, "Veil". 

Six years ago, Jack Kelly brought it up again in an article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Skeptics noted:
That Mr. Casey had suffered a stroke which deprived him of the power of speech.

That Mr. Casey's room at Georgetown University hospital was guarded 24/7 by CIA security personnel, who likely would have noticed if Mr. Woodward had attempted to sneak in.

That Mr. Casey's wife, Sophia, said that either she or their daughter, Bernadette Smith, were constantly at Mr. Casey's bedside, and likely would have noticed Mr. Woodward if he had been there. "We had our food brought up there," Mrs. Casey told Time magazine. "There was a lavatory there. We never had to go out of the room."

That intimates said Mr. Casey despised Bob Woodward, and that he would be the last person on earth to whom Mr. Casey would grant a deathbed interview.

One of the skeptics, Michael Ledeen, was contacted by Ted Koppel, who was going to have Mr. Woodward on ABC's "Nightline" program, and was soliciting suggestions for questions he should ask.
"Ask him to describe the room," Mr. Ledeen said he told Mr. Koppel. "What was Casey wearing? Were there lots of flowers? What color were his pajamas?"

Mr. Koppel did ask those questions, and, Mr. Ledeen said, "Woodward froze, deer-in-headlights. Then he said he couldn't discuss it because it would 'reveal sources.' "
That was over a quarter of a century ago, and still life goes on for Bob Woodward--as if it's All Watergate All the Time and nothing he has done to blacken his name since then has caused even a smudge.
 
 Jonathan Cohn over at the Atlantic, while making light fun of Woodward's "I was threatened" claim, along with showing us how wrong Woodward got the whole "sequester" thing, still says, "Woodward remains one of the best fact-gatherers in the business." 
 
Anybody who has watched Woodward in action over the years can't possibly still believe he walks on water, but what he has going for him, what keeps him up there on top, is that magical name.  Bob Woodward.  It's like a cloak of invisibility for him.  It renders him omnipotent, even in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.  
 
He basks in his Watergate glory because the truth is, we really hate to see our idols fall. We have so few journalistic idols anymore, we especially can't stand the thought of a protector of the people turning into a pompous prick. 

So once again Bob Woodward not only makes the story, he is the story.  And as much as I hate that kind of stuff,  I'm doing it, too.  I'm giving Woodward what he wants.  Attention.  Attention.  Everlasting attention.
 
(Cross-posted at Ramona's Voices)

Great piece, Mona.

I wonder if it's even possible to have journalistic idols in the 21st century. We've got plenty of journalistic celebrities, of course, and they often become the story too but not in the same way.

You're right, Michael.  I can't think of a journalist today who rises to celebrity hero status.  Journalism is such a muddied title these days, it's hard to know who is a journalist and who isn't. 

Rachel Maddow works for me, but she's not a reporter in the classic sense.  I don't know if she thinks of herself that way, either, though she employs journalistic ethics when she reports a story.  If she's wrong she's the first to admit it.  I'm not sure Bob Woodward has ever admitted he got something wrong.

 

I don't think you have to be investigative journalist to be a "hero" journalist. Cronkite and Murrow come to mind. But I do think you have to transcend partisan politics, which Maddow does not. You have to win the respect of a broad swath of the country.

That's the part that may be extremely difficult now. With the country so divided, it's hard to achieve success without identifying with one side or the other.

The problem is that if a journalist truly transcended partisan politics they'd have to call out most of the republican party like Murrow called out McCarthy. And then they'd be called left wing radicals.

The truly nonpartisan story now is about a republican party that's gotten so extreme and crazy.

Its a story of a democratic president that passes a health care bill designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, supported by moderate republicans 20 years ago, and put into law by a republican governor. Its  a story of a president that bent over backwards and compromised away many democrat supported ideas in a fruitless attempt to get a single republican vote on that republican designed health care bill. Then got called a socialist for passing it.

The nonpartisan story is a democratic president offering significant cuts in SS and medicare  and republicans that would not compromise a nickel in revenue in return.

How can an honest nonpartisan journalist tell the story of what's happening now without sounding like a left wing partisan.

 

Murrow established his reputation before he called out McCarthy. That's why his condemnation had such impact. There were plenty of vocal McCarthy critics before Murrow spoke up. The McCarthyites called them communist sympathizers of course. But they couldn't make that stick on Murrow.

 

Woodward was always a repub but a money seeking prick anyway!

Carl must just laugh at bob's antics but then again, Carl got a piece of the action on some nothing book published last year.

Nixon through his enemy's lists and his hidden catch of funds attempted to destroy the democratic party and won the 1972 Election in a landslide by breaking a hundred laws.

w and dicky C attempted through straight out lies, use of radical right outlets like Fox and rush and beckerhead and....attempted to use a tragedy in order to prosecute a war that had been planned years before that duo was even elected.

Woodward is attempting to create a scandal involving the issue concerning:

Who exactly is responsible for the current sequestration that resulted from a 2010 election?

This is all silliness but Woodward sells books.

Good for him.

So does O'Reilly and Coulter and a host of right wing nuts!

F*&k Woodward.

and f*&k a system that creates people like Woodward.

Ramona,

Fabulous writing and spot-on.  I read Woodward's book back in the 80s about Iran Contra and I so wanted to believe his alleged interview with Casey, but of course, as you note above, it was an absolutely incredible story with infinite holes.  And, yet, because it was Woodward and because I loathed Reagan and Casey and Oliver North and that whole crowd, I just hung on to the notion that the guy was telling the truth.  

With the production of the email chain with Sperling, which I understand Woodward produced (presumably because he knew the White House would eventually leak them and better to get out ahead of that--Legal Maneuvering 101), Woodward will never be the same again.  In a word or two, Bob Woodward is a has-been and he has been exposed.   And it's a friggin' shame, because we really do want and need  journalists whom we can trust when they attack left, or right, or in between.

Really nice work Ramona.  Thanks.

 

Thank you, bslev.  I'm really rather surprised at the backlash against Woodward this time.  This may be it for him, at last. 

I've watched him on talk shows and tried to get something concrete from what he said, but he's a master at saying nothing in a meaningful way.  His odd pronunciations often sidetrack me, too.  I find myself listening for them rather than listening to him. 

Excellent piece, Mona. You do a great job of showing how a reporter who used to be a (small) part of the solution has become a (permanent, immovable) part of the problem.

Thanks, Doc.  I've had my eye on him for a long time, wondering how much longer he could go on.  It's been a fascinating trip.

How is it that Bob Woodward is such a noob that he didn't realize emails are forever, and no one deletes work emails, just in case you need back up. How is it he thought he could get away with this?

Wow, seriously?

Anyway sometimes you just want to like an blog, but you can't so you comment.

:)

t.

I agree with Anonymous TMac.  I have nothing of substance to add, other than to say that I really enjoyed your blog.  I also enjoyed Woodward squirming on Morning Joe the other day, claiming he never said he felt threatened, right after they played the clip of him saying he felt threatened.  What a maroon.  hahahahaha. 

Kathleen Parker wrote a piece in WaPo yesterday called "Why the 'threat' on Bob Woodward really matters".  Apparently one must never, ever cause Bob Woodward any discomfort:

Though the tone was conciliatory and Sperling apologized for raising his voice, the message nonetheless caused Woodward to bristle.  Again, Woodward’s kneecaps are probably safe, but the challenge to his facts, and therefore to his character, was unusual, given Woodward’s stature.

And besides that,

Woodward, almost 70, is Washington’s Reporter Emeritus. His facts stand up to scrutiny. His motivations withstand the test of objectivity. Sperling obviously assumed that Woodward wouldn’t take offense at the suggestion that he not only was wrong but was also endangering his valuable proximity to power.

He assumed, in other words, that Woodward would not do his job. This was an oversight.

The comments are 3,000 and counting, almost all against Parker.  But that won't stop her or any of the others in thrall of Bob.  The legend will live on.

Maybe he will finally retire.  I have been hitting the mute button for years when he is on TV.

My grandson asked me about him last night.  I told him that it was about time that journalist take a close look at the decline in the quality of their product.  This could be a sign that making up stuff to write about to pass as facts will be held accountable.  Journalist are starting to catch on that the country's mood is changing and people's interest in tabloid writing is waning.  They want honest facts on things that really matter and the pressure is on for journalism to clean it's self up.

Bob Woodward always worked on leaks dropped in his lap. Whether those leaks were true never much concerned him, nor Washington. Fame has created an institution, and that institution must be supported and revered.

Then again, reporters were always amoral hacks, like politicians. "Fartblossom" was the most sincere descriptor, coming in the "he who smelt it dealt it" vein. Why'd we buy into the adoration? The targeted top secret leaks to Woodward from the BushHouse was a horrid precedent - now the White House thumbs its nose at Congress while leaking what it wants to whom it wants.

Newsbusters of all places reports David Gregory of NBC noting that the Washington Press Corps does not like the White House and the feeling is mutual. The statement was made on Friday's NBC "Today" show.

Yes, they hated Al Gore too, and loved George Bush, and Miss Manners-like squeamishness when Beltway etiquette isn't followed.

Frat boys with a pen, gotta love it. Of course by being media whores, they brought White House contempt to themselves. Meanwhile we still have little idea what government is doing.

Republicans are hyping the flap over Benghazi talking points by calling it “worse than Watergate,” a false narrative that Bob Woodward has helped along by ignoring new evidence connecting Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Vietnam War peace talks in 1968 to his political spying in 1971-72, writes Robert Parry.

http://consortiumnews.com/2013/05/20/does-woodward-know-watergate/

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