Friday, November 18, 2005

NYT: Woody sees his shadow and goes back underground

The executive editor of The Washington Post said on Thursday that if other reporters at the newspaper independently discovered the identity of Bob Woodward's confidential source in the C.I.A. leak case, the newspaper might decide to publish the source's name.

Oh "might" they? The definition of "brave journalism" narrows with each day. The above is from Scott Shane and Katharine Seelye's "Post Editor Foresees Possibility of Naming Leak Source" in this morning's New York Times. There are two articles on the Woody fall out but we'll focus on Shane & Seelye's first.

1) "Mr. Woodward, an assistant managing editor at the newspaper and best-selling author, apologized on Wednesday for failing for two years to tell his Post bosses that he had learned from a government official about the C.I.A. officer Valerie Wilson."

Let's be clear, Woody didn't have the right to withhold. The Post frowns on confidentiality agreements that leave editors out of the loop regarding whom the source is, but that regards the name of the source only. Is Woodward an employee of the Post or not?

2) "But the newspaper, bound by Mr. Woodward's promise of confidentiality, has not shared the source's name with its readers."

That is simply not correct. (I'm not calling Shane & Seelye "liars!" I'm saying they were told something false.)

The position of Downie, publicly, is that they are bound by Woody's promise. That's not the reality. By all accounts, Woody made his promise for A BOOK he's writing. He didn't have the power or the right to speak for the newspaper or other reporters at it. The claim that he did is part of what's fueling the rage inside the Post at Woody (and Downie who is seen as continuing to "prop up" Woody at the expense of the paper).

The guidelines for sources, for the paper, promise no such nonsense. Since Woody's claim is that he discovered the information while researching for a book, the paper is not bound by any agreement he made with a source. Nor is any other reporter at the Post bound to an agreement Woody entered for a book or for an article by Woody in the paper.

As one reporter at the Post noted on a phone call this morning, to allow such a promise to apply to all reporters would mean that each and every "scoop" would have to first be vetted by Woody. It would give him approval over every article that appeared in the paper. That is not the way the paper works, no matter what spin Downie puts on it.

3) "Having revealed Mr. Woodward's involvement in the case in an article and a statement from Mr. Woodward on Wednesday and two follow-up articles Thursday, Mr. Downie said he no longer believed that The Post was 'in a bind or a dilemma' simply because it had not published the source's name.
" 'There are often things we know that our readers don't know,' he said. 'Sometimes it's for reasons of national security or public safety. Sometimes it's because we don't have it confirmed to our satisfaction. It takes us time to get information into publishable form.' "

The above was read to me over the phone by two at the Post and it was alluded to by all who phoned this morning. The best comment can't be posted here due to language guidelines (we try to be work environment friendly here) but I'll sum it up as "What the hell does that have to do with Woody?"

They are "in a bind or a dilemma" and Woody's secrecy has nothing to do with "reasons of national security or public safety"; nothing to do with a lack of confirmation "to our satisfaction";
and nothing to do with time required "to get information into publishable form."

Downie's spinning and people at the Post are enraged.

They're also very angry that Downie tries to bring in Walter Pincus to provide cover for Woody. Pincus reported on the outing of Valerie Plame. The feeling is that Pincus is being smeared "by association" and that it's yet another sign that these days the Washington Post exists not to report the news but to prop up Woody's book sales. (Remainder bins are the ultimate destination for Woody's books, by the way. Rebecca spoke to various friends who had helped promote his books over the years. She said she was in no mood for Woody and I could toss that tidbit out here. It's no surprise to anyone who's ever checked the remainder bins at any book store.)

Walter Pincus did also testify to the grand jury, Downie's correct on that. But that's all the people calling feel that Downie is correct about. They see no relation between Pincus, trying to cover the subject of the outing of Valerie Plame, and Woody, trying to conceal -- for two years -- that he had any knowledge of the outing of Valerie Plame.

Michael Getler gets high praise this morning on the phone for his "clear headed" statements:

"Leonard has to have a much more precise set of ground rules with Bob," Mr. Getler said, "or it may be that Bob's relationship with the paper should change. It's essential that the newspaper be first, that the credibility and reliability of the newspaper is paramount, as opposed to the situation of one reporter."

The other article in the Times this morning is Douglas Jehl and David Johnston's "Not Since Deep Throat Has a Woodward Source Held So Many." Jehl and Johnston provide a listing of potential suspects for the source to Woody. One reporter at the Post noted Judith Miller's statement (and didn't believe the sincerity of it but noted it was correct), that when a reporter is the news, there's a problem. (That was one reason Miller has offered for her departure from the paper.) It was felt that Bob Woodward feels he can hide away until "this blows over, but it's not going to blow over."

In this article, you learn that Downie, on CNN, offered the excuse that information on Valerie Plame was revealed as "a very brief part of a much longer interview." To which callers from the Post this morning asked, "What does that have to do with anything?"

Nothing. It has nothing to do with anything. That's akin to saying that Woody interviewed Jane Smith about her prize roses and, during the interview, she casually mentioned that she stole $50,000 from a company that she worked at.

By that "logic," Smith's theft isn't anything that needs to be followed up on. It's those minimized details, I'm paraphrasing one caller, that you need to most follow up on it -- the things offered casually. "That's what a reporter does."

We'll note the final paragraph of the article:

In interviews, Mr. Woodward and Mr. Downie have suggested that Mr. Woodward was hurrying to finish the book in June 2003, but t its publication 10 months later suggests that it may have been delayed.

That's led to people making the point that this information is not being used for a book and that if it was being used, it would have popped up in 2004's Plan of Attack. The feeling is Downie needs to "shut up" and let Woodward fight his own battles. It's also felt that Downie's "afraid" to take on Woodward.

"What would you like to see happen?" is the question I asked five this morning. They want Woodward to apologize to the paper and the reporters for "embarrassing" them. They want Woody to decide whether he's a reporter or an author. They want to see Downie take the same hard line with Woody that he would with "any of us."

Today's Democracy Now! addresses the issue of Woody. And before Keith e-mails asking what song they play either before or after that segement, it's Sly and the Family Stone's "Let Me Have It All." A song that more or less seems to sum up the attitude of Bob Woodward. Main topic today is Wal-Mart, by the way.

Keesha e-mails to note Arianna Huffington's "15 Questions for Bob Woodward" (The Huffington Post):

1. If you didn't tell your editor, Len Downie, about the CIA leak because you were so afraid of being subpoenaed, why did you supposedly tell Walter Pincus? Did you trust Pincus but not Downie?
2. Why were you afraid of being subpoenaed in 2003? Subpoenas of reporters
didn't begin until 2004.
And how would telling Downie lead to your being subpoenaed?
3. What are your ground rules for your books? Since Plan of Attack was published, weren't you free to use the material from your source?
4. Why did you
come forward to Len Downie in late October to reveal your source? This was supposedly before your source approached Fitzgerald, so what motivated you? Did the source call you or did you have sudden pangs of conscience? Why didn't this occur to you in 2003 or 2004?

Ben e-mails to note this from (and note, I'm almost positive I read something at Danny's News Dissector recently about talk of a podcast as part of the "Tell The Truth About the War" campaign):

Tell The Truth About The War Video Compilation
MediaChannel has been sent three video's in response to our "Tell The Truth About The War" campaign. You can watch them by clicking on the links below.
1) Catapult (the Propaganda)
2) Did You Ever Wonder What 2000 Looks Like
3) Tears for Soldiers Lost in Iraq
4) NEW: Fallujah - The Hidden Massacre

Cindy e-mails to note this KPFA sponsored event tonight:

Award-winning Foreign Correspondent Robert Fisk
Friday, November 18th

King Middle School Auditorium

781 Rose St
celebrating his new book (lecture & book-signing) The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East
Tickets $25
Special Reception at MECA,
Friday, November 18th,
901 Parker Street, (at 7th),
Berkeley, $75;
ticket includes preferential seating at lecture
More info and tickets

By the way, Dallas found the link (thank you, Dallas) for the 60 Minutes story on Woodward and Plan of Attack. You'll see that he shared the transcripts and tapes to some interviews with CBS for that report.

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