Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Editorial: Someone explain to Bob Woodward that a reporter reports

Just the facts Woody has puzzled a few over the years. There was Wired, for instance and people feeling their words were misrepresented. There was Janet Cook, as well. But if anything's come close to smudging the rep of Bob Woodward it may be his pooh-pahing of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame and Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into that outing.

Or maybe he just sounds like someone trying to cover his own ass?

Guessing the latter? Note Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig's "Woodward Was Told of Plame More Than Two Years Ago:"

In a more than two-hour deposition, Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.

Many have noted that while he was writing his last book on the Bully Boy, full of quotes that access and pre-arranged agreements produced, he somehow missed the big story -- the outing of Valerie Plame.

He didn't miss it. He apparently just either felt it wasn't news or he was covering up (either for the administration or for himself).

From CNN's Larry King Live, October 27, 2005:

KING: We're in Washington where things are hopping and we're going to follow up again tomorrow night. We're going to lead this round with Bob Woodward as we turn to tomorrow.But, Michael Isikoff whispered to me during the break that he has a key question he'd like to ask Mr. Woodward, so I don't know what this is about.
ISIKOFF: No, look, this is the biggest mystery in Washington, has been really for two years and now as we come down to the deadline of tomorrow the city is awash with rumors. There's a new one every 15 minutes and nobody really knows what's going to happen tomorrow. Nobody knows what Fitzgerald's got.
I talked to a source at the White House late this afternoon who told me that Bob is going to have a bombshell in tomorrow's paper identifying the Mr. X source who is behind the whole thing. So, I don't know, maybe this is Bob's opportunity.
KING: Come clean.
WOODWARD: I wish I did have a bombshell. I don't even have a firecracker. I'm sorry. In fact, I mean this tells you something about the atmosphere here. I got a call from somebody in the CIA saying he got a call from the best "New York Times" reporter on this saying exactly that I supposedly had a bombshell.
WOODWARD: Finally, this went around that I was going to do it tonight or in the paper. Finally, Len Downie, who is the editor of the "Washington Post" called me and said, "I hear you have a bombshell. Would you let me in on it."
KING: So now the rumors are about you.
WOODWARD: And I said I'm sorry to disappoint you but I don't.

Did the Post, as the Times did, ask their reporters if any had information on the outing of Valerie Plame? According to the article in the Post, he "never mentioned this contact . . . to his supervisors until last month."

Vanity Fair beat the Post to the scoop on Mark Felt. That was embarrassing for the paper. This is embarrassing as well.

It's made more embarrassing by the fact that Woody felt the need to critique the case (on Larry King Live as well as on NPR).

From the article:

Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward about the previously undisclosed conversation after the official alerted the prosecutor to it on Nov. 3 -- one week after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted in the investigation.

Woodward, weighing in for public consumption, never revealed his own conflict of interest while chatting & chewing. That's a reporter?

How ethical was it for him to weigh in on a case which he could be forced to testify on (and was forced to)? How ethical when he's not being upfront that he has his own conflict of interest?
When he's saying on national TV that he doesn't have a "bombshell," that he doesn't even have a "firce cracker"?

He had something but he sat on it. And he failed to disclose while repeating cloaking himself in the guise of "objectivity" and wrapping himself in the name of the paper.

Bob Woodward was always the lightweight of Woodward & Bernstein (think of him as the McCartney of the two), willing to play the access game and that's partly why he's had his long career at the Washington Post and why Carl Bernstein moved on to other things.

Now Woody, of the dipthong and "calcium in the backbone," is exposed as a party to something that resulted in a criminal investigation. He weighed in on that investigation. He never told the public that he was involved.

How ethical was that?

It gets better. From the Post article:

Citing a confidentiality agreement in which the source freed Woodward to testify but would not allow him to discuss their conversations publicly, Woodward and Post editors refused to disclose the official's name or provide crucial details about the testimony. Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until last month, and the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling in the summer of 2003 does not recall the conversation taking place.

That's Walter Pincus. Once again, Woody has one version and Pincus another. (Think of Howie Kurtz's critique of the Post's coverage of the lead up to the war for another example of where Pincus and Woody's memories differ.)

Is that how it works? You can disclose to a grand jury but not to the public? Not if you're a reporter. If you're naming the source, you're naming it. If you're a reporter. Can you imagine what would have been said of Judith Miller if she'd tried that tactic?

Woody sat on a story. While sitting on it, he went around, identified with the paper, and weighed in on an investigation. Now Woody's has testified and named his source but wants to say that it's not the public's business.

It very much is the public's business. In June of 2003, he was a party to a conversation that was news but he elected to stay mum on the topic -- except when taking to the airwaves to attack Fitzgerald and to dismiss the issues involved.

When you name your source to the grand jury, you name it to the public. You can't name for a criminal investigation and then, if you're a reporter, say, "Oh well I won't name to the public."

Why? Because naming to the public is your damn job.

A reporter reports.

Confidentiality, like pregnancy, does not come in "bits." It's an either/or. Either you're pregnant or you're not -- either you do protect the confidentiality or you don't.

Woody needs to name his source.

The fact that he's taken to the airwaves to refute the importance of an investigation that he's now been drawn into only makes that more necessary.

He has outed his source to a grand jury. There is no more "confidentiality."

The press does not function behind closed doors. It is supposed to serve the public.

The Post should force him to make a public apology for offering opinions on a case that he was involved in without revealing his own involvement. He deceived the public.

He weighed in using his name and reputation (such as they are) in what can be seen as an attempt to sway public opinion.

The opinions he offered now seem far less than objective.

If Woody can't come forward with his information, the Post needs to place him on unpaid leave.

If Woodward owned stock in Enron and while the investigation into its practices was ongoing he took to the airwaves to say there was no Enron story, he would have deceived the public. His statements regarding Fitzgerald's investigation and the outing of Valerie Plame are deceitful because he did not disclose to the public his own involvement.

Is Woodward familiar with the ethics guidlines for his own paper? Is he familiar with this statement: "Our obligation is to serve readers, not sources."?

How about this statement: "Our reporting should be honorable; we should be prepared to explain publicly anything we do to get a story. "?

Bob Woodward did not go on Larry King's show as private citizen Bob Woodward. He went on as Washington Post journalist and book author Bob Woodward. The statements he made were pertinent not because he was a private citizen but because he was a well known reporter.

Pronouncing judgement on an investigation carried with it the implication that the opinions were coming from a well versed, knowledgable reporter.

Well versed and knowledgable does not include "party to the investigation." Bob Woodward deceived the public by failing to disclose his own involvement when he weighed in on Larry King's show. He could have stated he had no comment on the investigation.

Instead he elected to weigh in on the topic while refusing to disclose his own ties to the investigation.

One can argue, "Well Woodward didn't want to be called before the grand jury!" That's obvious.
But it comes back to the fact that non one forced him to offer opinions on a federal investigation.
He elected to weigh in.

There's not a great deal of difference beween his lack of disclosure and Armstrong Williams'.
Both benefitted from keeping something hidden. Both owed it to the public to disclose their own involvement.

The source has now been named to a grand jury in a criminal investigation. There is no more confidentiality for that source. Furthermore, the source contacted Fitzgerald's office and the Post knows this. An administration official contacting the a prosecutor regarding a criminal investigation is news.

The source is news. The Washington Post can no longer hide behind the confidentiality agreement. They need to name the source and Bob Woodward needs to be disciplined because there is no longer an impression of impartiality in his statements re: Fitzgerald and the case itself.

Had the source refused to give permission to be named in a grand jury investigation, we'd be dealing with different issues. But that's not what happened. The source waived confidentiality with regards to a criminal investigation. The paper is now in a situation where it's sitting on information that it has no right to sit on.

If Woodward had refused to testify based on his beliefs in confidentiaity, we'd argue for his right to protect his source. But a source is protected to prevent retaliation. The administration knows who the source is, the grand jury knows who the source is. The public is the only one left in the dark. That's not how the press works.

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