First Bob Woodward claimed that the Great Sequester was all the fault of the Administration. Now he wants us to believe (on rather iffy evidence) that White House aide Gene Sperling threatened
him. David Plouffe
has offered a memorable response:
"Watching Woodward last 2 days is like imagining my idol Mike Schmidt facing live pitching again" he tweeted. "Perfection gained once is rarely repeated."
This comparison is too kind. I don't understand why Woodward still commands the respect he maintains, and I don't know why so many Democrats and Republicans continue to cooperate with him.
His 1987 book Veil
concludes with a scene in which Woodward pays a visit to CIA chief William Casey's deathbed -- a visit that almost certainly never happened
. At the time, Ronald Reagan condemned the book as containing "an awful lot of fiction."
Amusingly, Republicans who claim to revere Reagan now speak of Woodward as if he were unassailable.
Of Woodward's work during the Clinton years, Brad DeLong
It is certainly true that nothing Bob Woodward writes can be fully trusted without very, very careful, careful checking.... For the full Woodward treatment, read his The Agenda, then read his Maestro, contemplate how one and the same person could use the Third Person Omniscient to write both accounts of the making of Clinton economic policy, and collapse to the floor in helpless laughter...
In his 2004 book Plan of Attack
, Woodward made no serious effort to counter the Bush administration's big lie about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. The book attempts to portray Dubya as a man pushed into a war he never wanted. The book was so helpful to the neocons that the Bush forces pushed it on his re-election campaign website
But Woodward rarely calls Bush to account. Throughout, in fact, Bush controls his part of the story, and Woodward dutifully repeats what he has been told.
Bob Parry's view
of Woodward-during-the-Dubya-years deserves more attention than it has received:
However, in the two years since publication of Plan of Attack, other evidence has emerged suggesting that Woodward was acting less as an objective journalist than as a stenographer taking down the preferred history of Bush’s inner circle.
As Parry notes, there is much evidence to counter Woodward's assertion that CIA Director George Tenet used the infamous term "slam dunk" to describe the WMD proof. Woodward's entire Iraq war project seems designed to absolve Bush of blame by claiming that the President merely acted on the basis of his intelligence.
But the Downing Street memo and other documentation clearly indicate that the intelligence was being fixed around a predetermined policy -- a policy set by Bush himself. The distinction is crucial.
Rather than the reluctant warrior, as portrayed in Woodward’s book, Bush appears to be hell-bent for war, according to the contemporaneous record which is now public.
Another leaked British document recounted an Oval Office meeting between Bush and Blair on Jan. 31, 2003 – a little more than a month after the “slam-dunk” meeting. Bush again was scheming to find excuses for invading Iraq, even as he was publicly telling the American people that he viewed war as a “last resort.”
Despite Bush’s record of deception, Woodward still treated Bush in Plan of Attack as a credible figure who was concerned about the evidence and went to war only after an ironclad assurance from his intelligence chief.
Even Woodward's most famous work -- All the President's Men
-- has been questioned, primarily in its depiction of Woodward's source, Deep Throat.
Although Mark Felt of the FBI came out as Throat in 2005, most serious Watergate students believe that Woodward used "DT" as a catch-all term for multiple sources. John Dean's 2005 piece
on the Felt mystery deserves a re-reading. Dean outlines a number of items ascribed to Felt that Felt could not have known -- and other items that Felt should
have known but got wrong.
Felt retired from the FBI five months before this last contact during the first week of November 1973. As a result of the conversation, Woodward (breaking his prior agreement not to quote Felt directly) uses his words in the Post story, which told of gaps of "a suspicious nature" in Nixon's secret tapes that "could lead someone to conclude that the tapes have been tampered with."
How did Felt, no longer in the FBI, get information that "one or more of the tapes contained deliberate erasures"? And when reporting this story in The Washington Post, on November 8, 1973, why did Woodward quote Felt as an anonymous "White House source"?
Ed Gray, author of In Nixon's Web
, has conclusively established that some "Throat" information actually came from a Woodward interview with Justice Department official Donald Santarelli; see here
All the President’s Men is today accepted as a factual recitation -- and often the factual recitation -- of how Nixon and his “men” were driven from office. Until Woodward and Bernstein sold their notes to the University of Texas there was no way to test the book’s claim of historical accuracy. Those verifiable documents have provided the previously unavailable key. “Deep Throat” was a myth. So, therefore, is All the President’s Men.
I'm particularly proud to have posted this 2005 contribution from Jim Hougan
, which argues that a key sources for Woodward's "Throat" material was Robert Bennett of the CIA. All the President's Men
bends over backwards to keep the CIA out of Watergate, even though the Agency played a key role in the ouster of Richard Nixon. The under-appreciated Lukoski Memo establishes Bennett's secret relationship with Woodward (himself a former Naval Intelligence officer).
Now one of the most powerful men in the U.S. Senate, Bennett was President of the Robert R. Mullen Company in 1972-3. This was the CIA front for which Howard Hunt worked. (It was also the Washington representative of the Howard Hughes organization.) As I reported in *Secret Agenda*, Bennett's CIA case officer, Martin Lukoskie, drafted a memo to his boss, Eric Eisenstadt, reporting on his monthly debriefing of Bennett after the Watergate arrests. According to Eisenstadt, Bennett told him that he, Bennett, had "made a backdoor entry to the Washington Post through Edward Bennett Williams' office," and that he, Bennett, was feeding stories to Bob Woodward, who was "suitably grateful." (Williams was the Post's attorney, and attorney, also, for the Democratic National Committee.)
Woodward's gratefulness was manifest in the way he kept the CIA, in general, and the Robert R. Mullen Company, in particular, out of his stories.
Perhaps we now have an answer to Dean's inquiry: "How did Felt, no longer in the FBI, get information that 'one or more of the tapes contained deliberate erasures'?" Hougan's book Secret Agenda
establishes that the CIA had itself bugged the White House, and thus had an independent method of checking the tapes. Woodward never mentions any of this in his book.
So why do so many people continue to confide in Bob Woodward? Why do so many buy his books?
I'm hardly Obama's greatest fan, and I agree with Paul Krugman
that Republicans and Democrats both deserve blame for this sequester nonsense. (The Republicans deserve the greater share of the blame, due to their refusal to raise the debt ceiling.) But if asked to choose between the credibility of this administration and the credibility of Bob Woodward -- well, I'll have to go with the administration. Albeit with a cringe, a grimace, and much facial redness.