Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bob Woodward deserves more respect


Kash Kheirkhah

Background of the story: On November 14, 2005 Bob Woodward gave a two hour deposition to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald regarding the Valerie Plame affair. The deposition was reported in the Washington Post's November 16th issue, in which it was stated that an unnamed senior official in the Bush administration told Woodward that Plame was a CIA analyst in June 2003, prior to any other known disclosure of the information by a government official making the initial revelation to Woodward the seminal event in the crime. Prior to the November 16 article, Woodward did not publicly reveal that he had any special knowledge about the scandal. Mr Woodward was forced to make a public apology to the Washington Post, the paper's editor and readers for his conscious concealment of crucial information about a major federal scandal but maintained he was only standing up for the principle of confidentiality in his reporter-source relationship.

Bob Woodward, the most famous reporter in America whose Watergate reporting along with Carl Bernstein's eventually led to the downfall of Richard Nixon administration, is still under ferocious attacks not just over not informing his executive editor about his valerie Plame conversation (for which he apologized) but now for the very style of investigative journalism he has conducted since Watergate.

Ariana Huffington continued to blast Woodward on Sunday for his refusal to reveal the identity of his source, calling him "the purest distillation of what journalism has been reduced to in Washington":

the thirst for access -- not to better serve the public, but to better serve the journalist. Access as an end, not a means, access resulting in little details ("dressed casually in a handsome green wool shirt") that make the reader feel part of history and, even more important, make the journalist sound like part of history, with all the perks that flow from that -- book contracts and TV appearances and speaking engagements. This is the access that validates the journalist as player rather than the journalist as truth-seeker.
"The administration plays along with this by giving him some juicy details in service of the larger effort to make Bush look like he walks on water," wrote Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect. "Bob is the willing enabler of that, and it's shameful. Bob has it both ways -- he's the court biographer and he keeps intact his reputation as an investigator."

But in my opinion, shameful are such short-sighted comments which are directed at a true American hero-reporter whose only sin is protecting his source.

Mr Woodward is protecting his source in the Bush White House the same way he did "Deep Throat" in the Nixon White House and 33 years afterwards. The people who now accuse him of playing both ways can't have it both ways themselves, lauding him for protecting a source who helped bring down the Nixon white house, yet lambasting him for refusing to reveal a source whose secret identity helps rather than hurts the Republican administration this time around.

This is sheer hypocrisy.

Bob Woodward's style of reporting depends on confidential sources. That's investigative journalism 101. He talks to his sources and then, in return for what they tell him, guarantees that he would never reveal their identity. Very simply put, that's how Woodward broke the Watergate and how he has continued to provide the public with his first-hand accounts of secret decision-making process in Washington. Woodward's' highly-acclaimed book "Plan of Attacks' in which he first exposed the deep friction between then-Secretary of State Collin Powell and Vice president Dick Cheney over the Iraq War and the term "slam dunk case" which the then-CIA Director George Tenet used on the weapons intelligence in making a case for the invasion of Iraq is anything but a favor to the Bush administration. Some of the information in the book were damaging enough to the white House to be used by the Kerry campaign in 2004 election and some of the same armchair critics who are now questioning Mr Woodward's motives and his journalistic ethics.

Another big factor in what's driving some of these critics to turn loose their baseless attacks on Bob Woodward is jealousy as Jeff Leen, Washington Post's assistant managing editor for investigations tells Howard kurtz in Monday's Post: "People like to see the king fall. . . . There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks who couldn't carry Woodward's shoes but are weighing in on whether he should keep his job."

Bob Woodward has not been covering up another Watergate, nor has he breached any journalistic rules of ethics by protecting his source. He is why hundreds of thousands of people like me want to be in journalism. He is the true embodiment of American journalism and deserves much more respect for the service he's done to Journalism and the free press.