This is an archive, please visit for current posts.
PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
Recent Entries
Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

Syndicate this site:

XML Summaries

XML Full Posts

December 9, 2005

Grokking Woodward

"Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk."

“I think none of us can really understand Bob’s silence for two years about his own role in the case,” said David Broder of the Washington Post on Meet the Press, Nov. 27. Broder—an elder in the church of shoe leather reporting—had been asked about reactions at the Post to Bob Woodward’s confession and apology for keeping secrets about the leak investigation from his editor.

Eugene Robinson, a columnist and editor at the Post, was on the program with Broder. He said there was “consternation” in the newsroom, plus “a certain amount of embarrassment” that Woodward would keep the Post in the dark. “And, you know, the fact that we can’t understand why Bob did what he did.”

About the “why” Woodward said that when he received the leak a special prosecutor later took to investigating, he “didn’t attach any great significance to it.” It was casual, offhand, just chatter.

Jane Hamsher, a lawyer and writer who is tracking the case at firedoglake (I read it every day) found this plausible: “Because sadly, I don’t think Bob did understand the significance of what they were telling him. Matt Cooper tipped to it instantly, but whoever told Woody was just a smidge too ‘casual’ about it and dogged, simple Bob just didn’t get what was going down. Still doesn’t.”

True. The best thing I read about Woodward not telling us what he knew was Nora Ephorn’s post at Huffington’s, What About Bob? “It’s hard to sit by and watch the man be unjustly attacked by people who don’t understand the most fundamental truths about him,” she wrote. The fundamental things that to her apply:

  • Woodward doesn’t lie or make things up.
  • True, he can’t see the forest for the trees (“That’s why people love to talk to him; he almost never puts the pieces together in a way that hurts his sources.”)
  • His professional life is not like anyone else’s professional life (Tina Brown says it’s the weirdness of being a “human brand.”)
  • If you don’t talk to Bob you’ll regret it. (That’s power.)
  • He’s so far inside he could easily miss the story, just as the beat reporters covering the Nixon White House missed the story of Watergate, giving the younger Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein their chance.

“They were outsiders, and their lack of top-level access was probably their greatest asset,” she writes. It’s an asset Woodward conspicuously lacks today, but he seems not to realize it. His editor, Len Downie, told Washington Post readers that “Woodward’s access to the inner corridors of power” has for “over three decades of extraordinary reporting, beginning with Watergate,” produced “a great public service for our readers and all Americans” by revealing, more than any other journalist has, “how our government works— and holding it accountable.”

Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn’t have such access, and this probably influenced—for the better—their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn’t broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk. The more experienced White House reporters didn’t think much of the story. Nor did they get wind of the extraordinary abuses of power that were going on at the time.

Once married to Carl, Ephron has an insider’s take on Bob. About Woodward’s disputed claim that he mentioned what he had been told about Joseph Wilson’s wife to another Post reporter, Walter Pincus, in June 2003, she writes:

One of the things investigative reporters like Pincus and Woodward do is to rub up against one another and say things like, “I had that story last week.” This is the sort of remark that is not so much informational as testosterone-driven, and it seems to me it could easily slip your mind.

That would be the mind of Walter Pincus. She’s saying Woodward probably did mention it, not because he wanted to inform anyone at the Post but simply to show another reporter who’s the man. The worst thing I read about Woodward’s secret-keeping is just as Ephron says: testosterone-driven, eager to tell us who The Man is. William Powers in the National Journal— Getting Bob. (Sub. required.)

Powers discloses that he and Woodward are close friends. Woodward gave him his first job: research assistant on The Commanders in 1991. Powers agrees that Woodward screwed up by keeping his editor in the dark. But the criticism coming from peers (like David Broder and Eugene Robinson) is just professional jealousy.

You see, Bob is bigger than everyone in journalism, way, way bigger. And more right too. His critics are small men, small women, with small minds and small scoops compared to Woodward’s amazing record. Big, big, big. This is his entire theory of the case. “Woodward hasn’t changed at all,” says Powers. (Really? Still that guy on the Metro Desk?) “He’s where he always is, somewhere close to the center of the big Washington story, and that’s what really drives other media people crazy.”

To say Woodward is where he always is (at the heart of things) denies that there’s any price to access. It asserts—falsely, I think—that if something as bad as Watergate were happening in Washington today Woodward would be the one uncovering it. I don’t buy a word of what Powers is selling about his friend and benefactor, but then I didn’t enjoy jock culture, either. That’s what “Getting Bob” reminds me of: the twelth guy on the team bragging about the star player. And I don’t think Bob Woodward is going to uncover what really happened during the two terms of George W. Bush.

If he were trying to uncover what really happened during the two terms of George W. Bush he would have talked to everyone on this list: The Fallen Legion: Casualties of the Bush Administration by Nick Turse. Forty two men and women “who were honorable or steadfast enough in their government duties that they found themselves with little alternative but to resign in protest, quit, or simply be pushed off the cliff” by Bush forces. (That’s Tom Englehardt, who published the list at TomDispatch.) They may not be well-connected or inside the action any longer, but these people certainly know a lot about “how our government works.” They can tell you what the current White House is capable of.

If Woodward were trying to find out what really happened he would make sure that every person in the Fallen Legion catgeory (and it’s way more than 42) was found and interviewed; that assistants on the third floor of his home (where Woodward, a rich man, runs his reporting operation) were cross-checking and piecing together the individual stories; that insiders still in the government were aware that this harvesting was going on; that others who had similar things happen to them, or a story to tell, were encouraged to come forward and talk, and not only tell what happened, but suggest places to look, questions to ask, people to confront for explanations.

And then, in addition to informing Stephen Hadley “I’ve already talked to four people who were in the 8:00 am meeting with you” (the Woodward way) he would let the entire Bush team know: the Fallen Legion will be speaking through me, so get ready to answer for what happened to them, and what I’ve figured out with their help. Now that would be “accountability journalism” (Downie’s term) but it is not Woodward’s way.

And so he will not be the reporter who uncovers what I see as the untold story in Washington these days. Not the missing weapons of mass destruction, or misleading the nation into war, or bungling the job in Iraq, or getting D’s and F’s in protecting the country from another day like 09/11, but something larger: the retreat from empiricism throughout the government (so that the general who tells you how many troops you’ll need is forced into retirement), and the emergence of a President who is not to be questioned (as when Bush spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations this week: no questions permitted.)

Faith-based policy-making needs to “fix” the facts, and this means it must cut off disagreement or kill it, even among friendlies. The Bush Bubble protects the President from the consequences of trying to drive empiricism—and professionalism—out of government. How did these fantastic things happen? Why are they necessary? Where did they come from? Have they helped Bush with his agenda or hurt it? Woodward could try to find out. But he won’t. He’s inside the bubble now; the only journalist who gets to interview the President for hours at a time.

Woodward the reporter is a singular, not a type; Powers and Ephron agree on that, and so do I. But whereas she sees the greatness of Bob’s method and the absurdity of it (“He knows everything. What’s more, he has no idea what it adds up to….”) Powers knows only Woodward the Great, a man of awesome truthtelling powers who bats away rivals like flies:

Imagine the agony of other hardworking Washington reporters. They’ll toil away for years on a big beat — the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, the White House, the CIA — and feel they’ve done a bang-up job. After all, they broke some news, scored big interviews, revealed the “inner workings” of government. Then Woodward comes along, spends a year on the same subject, and launches the news equivalent of an atomic bomb: a week’s worth of jaw-dropping headlines that obliterate everything the regulars have done.

Watch out Landy and Strobel of Knight-Ridder. Watch out go-getter Murray Waas. Woodward’s gonna obliterate you! You’ll be crushed like a paper cup when his next book comes out. Powers thinks we’re “in giddy celebration of Woodward’s fall” because when a giant is brought down by his own mistakes we all feel a little bigger for it. Tina Brown tried this too:

…When Woodward hears political gossip it’s not a couple of lowly hacks at the office water cooler — it’s a transaction between one Big Beast at the heart of the power jungle and another. He hoarded the info for some larger reportorial purpose because that’s what Big Beasts do. They don’t waste time fiddling around with the quotidian crumbs from the dish of the day when they’re aiming to haul in the big, fat story we’ll all be chewing on for months.

For Powers it’s “a week’s worth of jaw-dropping headlines.” For Brown “the big, fat story we’ll all be chewing on for months.” Woodward’s the king of the jungle. Those who are baffled, angry, or dismayed by his recent actions: field mice! Brown shows off her listening skills:

Woodward works from home! Sometimes Woodward’s editors don’t hear from him for months! Woodward gets to write books without taking a leave! Woodward knows everybody! Everybody knows Woodward! Time to send Woodward to the woodpile! It must be the crowning irritation to smaller woodland animals that once again the Big Beast knew the name of a prime leaker before anyone else — and that, once again, he wasn’t talking till he was good and ready.

The best thing ever written about Woodward is nine years old, but its fundamentals still apply. It is Joan Didion’s portrait, “The Deferential Spirit,” published in September, 1996 by The New York Review of Books (subscription required.) It’s a character study disguised as a book review, and concentrated on Ephorn’s “Truth #2: Bob has always had trouble seeing the forest for the trees.”

Didion’s piece is especially valuable because it was written during the Clinton years, and so it illuminates Woodward’s method and “spirit” in their constancy from White House to White House. Among her observations is a single theme: Woodward can’t think, or won’t; and he knows better than to try. To think too deeply would bring him into conflict with his sources.

She refers to “Mr. Woodward’s rather eerie aversion to engaging the ramifications of what people say to him.” She talks of his “refusal to consider meaning or outcome or consequence.” More vividly: “this tabula rasa typing…” Or: “this disinclination of Mr. Woodward’s to exert cognitive energy on what he is told.”

About an attempt to supply the necessary “why” paragraph that explains why the book was written and what it’s about: “That these are questions with which he experiences considerable discomfort seems clear.” Again: “Woodward has crashed repeatedly when faced with the question of what his books are about, as if his programming did not extend to this point.”

Woodward says he’s known for being fair and doing his homework, and that’s why people talk to him. Didion says “fairness” is here abused. It means “a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.” Those who talk to Mr. Woodward can be confident “that he will not feel impelled to make connections between what he is told and what is already known.”

Thus: “The very impulse to sort through the evidence and reach a conclusion is seen as suspect, something to be avoided in the higher interest of fairness.” And in a final flourish she calls his book writing “political pornography.” How’s that? It exposes what’s hidden without showing what’s real.

In Howard Kurtz’s man-in-a-storm profile, David Gergen, the consummate White House insider, calls Woodward “one of the most seductive individuals in the whole world.” I talked to Kurtz for that profile, and I advised him to read Didion to understand why Woodward’s seductions don’t work on everyone. He said he would. (Arianna and Frank Rich did.)

“Woodward for so long was a symbol of adversarial journalism because of the Watergate legend,” Rosen says in Kurtz’s “The Man With the Inside Scoop,” Nov. 28. “But he really has become an access journalist, someone who’s an insider.” I put it better in the Q and A I did with readers (Nov. 22):

In theory we send these people out to report back to us. Some of them penetrate the secret worlds of national security and government policy-making on our behalf. But if they keep going into the secret world they can come under the gravitational pull of another planet— the people in power, the secret-makers themselves. They’re still sending back their reports, but have “left” our universe, so to speak. I think this definitely happened with Judith Miller, who is very far gone by now. It may have happened with Woodward too. The mysterious part is you never know exactly when that point is reached.

There were many Post readers who wanted to know if Woodward should be fired for keeping the paper in the dark. They thought yes. I said no. Woodward is technically an employee and Downie is technically his boss; in reality, the Post has an alliance with the sovereign state of Woodward, which has independent power because Bob is a best-selling author with a long track record who gets millions of people to buy his books because they do have “inside” revelations in them. On balance the alliance is probably good for the newspaper. But it’s absurd for Downie to say about Woodward: “There is only one of set of rules for everyone working in our newsroom.”

Different fundamentals apply to him. Woodward is richer, more famous and will be in power longer than almost anyone he interviews. This means that no situation where he’s the reporter is a “normal” one. Frank Rich had it right (Dec. 4):

Mr. Woodward knows more about the internal workings of this presidency than any other reporter. He has been granted access to all its top officials, including lengthy interviews with the president himself, to produce two Bush best sellers since 9/11. But he was gamed anyway by the White House which exploited his special stature to the fullest for its own propagandistic ends.

And it will probably happen again because among those grokking Woodward we do not find the big beast.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…


grok (grŏk)
tr.v. Slang., grok·ked, grok·king, groks.

To understand profoundly through intuition or empathy.
(Coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his Stranger in a Strange Land.)

Wowzer: (Dec. 13)

Howard Fineman, Newsweek’s chief political correspondent, said Monday night in the first program of a Drew University lecture series, that Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward had become a “court stenographer” for the Bush administration.

Standing before a crowd of nearly 300, Fineman, said Woodward went from being an outsider “burning the beltway”with his investigative work in the 1970s Watergate scandal under President Nixon to being, ” an official court stenographer of the Bush administration.”

Recommending this post, Jane Hamsher writes:

Entering “the club” seems to come at the price of perspective. For Plan of Attack, Woodward conducted 75 interviews, all of them anonymously sourced except for two — Bush and Rumsfeld. Nowhere in the book is mention made of, say, Richard Clarke. How are we supposed to evaluate the veracity of this information? Obviously the opinions of dissenters were not cultivated.

Atrios replies: “The reason Booby can get away with this is kind of thing has to do with the general culture of Beltway journalism in which Republican ‘senior administration officials’ are privileged over all else.”

Susie Madrak responds to this post at Suburban Guerilla:

As an editor, I often dealt with reporters (and editors) who had this very problem; they seemed utterly incapable of connecting dots, of telling readers what a story actually meant. (Many of them are still in journalism, by the way.)

These weren’t stupid people, either. I finally realized it was a fundamental personality flaw, at least for a journalist – they simply didn’t want anyone to be mad at them! They wanted to maintain easy access.

Christopher Fotos of PostWatch responds with Results-Based Journalism. “I am going to propose a radical idea: Bob Woodward doesn’t impose grand conclusions or Explain What It Means because he doesn’t think that’s his job. He thinks he’s a reporter, not a columnist or an editorial writer.”

Surprising developments on the presidential infallability front. From Peter Baker’s report in the Post (Dec. 8) about Bush’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations:

The address, the second of four in the days leading up to the Iraqi parliamentary elections Dec . 15, continued an effort to reach out to an increasingly disillusioned public with a more detailed and less triumphal portrait of the advances and setbacks on the ground. While still projecting confidence about the prospects for victory in Iraq, the speech included striking concessions for a president who has repeatedly avoided admitting mistakes out of the conviction that it signals weakness.

Meanwhile, on the Bush Bubble beat, patterns held. The president still judged himself not strong enough to take questions. The news was: the Council slimed itself by agreeing to that demand. Apparently members weren’t too happy about it. The CFR had to send out a last minute plea as it tried to fill the seats, according to Think Progress. (Read the e-mail: wanna bring someone? sure, you can bring someone… ) Certainly a low moment in that institution’s history, caused by a president who cannot be questioned.

If any sharpies in the DC press happen to be reading this post, get to Council boss Richard N. Haass first and ask him how he thought this week’s experiment in self-muzzling went, and how Council members responded to the opportunity to be good backdrop for Bush while hitting pause on the CFR mission, which is to be a forum for discussion. You know, back and forth, Q and A. Why did he do it? What was his price? Would Haass do it again? Then make your call list of Council members and you have a nice little story.

More bubble news: Newsweek’s Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe: Bush in the Bubble. “Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon.” (Dec. 11)

News on the retreat from empiricism front, science division— from a Noble Prize winner yet. The AP reports:

”There is a measure of denial of scientific evidence going on within our administration, and there are many scientists who are not happy about that,” said Roy J. Glauber of Harvard University, who shared this year’s physics prize with fellow American John L. Hall and Germany’s Theodor W. Haensch.

The guy just won the Nobel Prize for the US of A. And he sees “a measure of denial of scientific evidence” in the behavior of this White House. So if you can’t quite grok “retreat from empiricism,” it’s what Glauber is complaining about: beyond-the-norm evidence denial.

You can find these and other Bush-Cannot-Be-Questioned items (one press conference in six months…) at Dan Froomkin’s Indispensible White House Briefing. Where I got it all. Go there now for how the NAACP is down with the Bush bubble.

I’m telling you it’s a great story for the reporter who could put all the pieces together. Here’s your ur text. Also see PressThink: Rollback.

On October 21 I said I was switching from blogging to book and wouldn’t be posting until December, when I expected to be done drafting it. It’s December 8, I’m not done drafting it, but here I am.

In reply to my taking-a-break post, Daniel Conover, a regular in comments (also a journalist) said, “Why not find some experts, scholars and wise folk you trust to keep things going here during your hiatus?” His point was that PressThink in “forum” mode should continue, but it needs posts. (He also said, “You’re making a mistake if you read your creation at PressThink as being only what you write for it.”)

Made sense. So I asked a few people—wise folk—to fill in. Ron Brynaert, Jenny DeMonte, Lisa Williams, Steve Smith, and Liz George did an excellent job. (Thanks to each one.) It was a pleasure to read their posts, and see the reactions they caused.

The New York Times tells its staff: yes, we will have blogs. Read Jonathan Landman’s note about it:

Our bloggers will have editors. They will observe our normal standards of fairness and care. They won’t float rumors or take journalistic shortcuts. Critics and opinion columnists can have opinion blogs; reporters can’t.

Posted by Jay Rosen at December 9, 2005 1:27 AM   Print


Re Woodward, I'm reminded of what Truman Capote famously said about Jack Kerouac: "That's not writing, it's typing."

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at December 9, 2005 12:16 PM | Permalink

This boasting of "access to the corridors of power" is very troubling. We should access those corridors, true, but with cleansing flamethrowers of truth about how power is abused. Access just to hear what a serial power abuser has to say about things makes my skin crawl. It's enabling the thing we're supposed to be disabling.

My idea has always been that when the people in power won't talk to you, you go out and find those who are at the receiving end of their decisions. Readers can relate to the guy who lost his wife because heckuva-job Brownie couldn't get storm relief squared away. Check me when I go wrong here, but isn't that more interesting, more compelling, and more to the point than access to the sycophantic toads loafing around the power pool who are going to spoon-feed me spin, fluff and vitamin-enriched diddlesquat?

Enough rhetoric. I'm filling in for the editorial page editor next week and I'm getting my mojo going, I guess. But the point that Woodward was better when he was an outsider is dead on.

Bill Watson
Pocono Record
Stroudsburg, Pa.

Posted by: Bill Watson at December 9, 2005 1:05 PM | Permalink

Great job Jay. It's essential for folks to understand that the "big story" about this administration won't be written by Woodward, but rather by real journalists who haven't been sucked inside and cuckolded.

Posted by: Steve Soto at December 9, 2005 1:15 PM | Permalink

From Common Sense Political Thought: Grokking Journalism:

Dr. Rosen’s article criticizes Bob Woodward for becoming too much of an insider to really cover what he covers, but I think that it has missed one very important point: very few of today’s reporters are members of what he called “the church of shoe leather reporting.”

Posted by: Dana Pico at December 9, 2005 1:23 PM | Permalink

I recently heard a Juan Williams speech on the radio where he said it took him somewhere between five and ten years to get permission to interview Justice Thurgood Marshall because Marshall was so upset about the way he had been portrayed by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong in The Brethren. Williams says Marshall had not granted them an interview so this case would appear to support the "If you don't talk to Bob you'll regret it" thesis. In other words, Woodward does have a code by which he judges sources, but it appears to be grounded in respect for his authority and access rather than any larger concern for good policy, justice, or the welfare of the nation.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at December 9, 2005 1:24 PM | Permalink

You can fault Woodward for many things, but not for his judgment that the Plame leak is a piddling matter. It is. That's become glaringly obvious as the Fitzgerald investigation drags on.

It's the people who are flogging the significance of this trifle who can't see the forest for the trees.

It can be summarized like this:

Valerie gets Joe a trip to Niger.

Joe returns, rips the Bush administration.

Response: Don't take that guy seriously, he just got sent on a junket to Niger as a sop to Valerie.
Plus, damn near everything he says is a documentable lie.

Novak publishes Valerie's name.

Valerie suddenly becomes the most important spook in the history of the CIA.

Yadda, yadda.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at December 9, 2005 1:47 PM | Permalink

OK, you're kidding, right?

"Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access [...] Watergate wasn’t broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power"

This narrative arc being promulgated about Woodward -- youthful go-getting outsider slowly becoming corrrupted by the corrosive juice of the Beltway -- is flat-out wrong. And you've swallowed it whole.

The BERNSTEIN of '72-74 didn't have such access -- but Buffaloed Bob most certainly DID. Watergate was "broken by" Bob having access to the #2 guy at the Feeb -- Mark Felt, who was using Woodward far more than Woodward was using him.

Without Deep Throat Felt, Woodward and Bernstein would never have gotten as far as they did with the story.

Woodward's methods and predilections haven't changed a bit since the early '70s.

Posted by: The Confidence Man at December 9, 2005 2:44 PM | Permalink

Well, in the longer view, I think the retreat from empiricism, the amazing Bush Bubble, the doctrine of White House infallability, and a president too weak to be questioned in public are all more important than the leak investigation. I also believe they are bi-partisan stories because Republicans should realize how costly these practices have been to their own hopes for lasting hegemony. Oh, and the Fallen Legion is a bi-partisan list. (It's full of ex-Bush believers.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 9, 2005 2:49 PM | Permalink

Confidence man is correct in much that he says. But it's not just Woodward. Reporters who think printing whispers from insiders is the same thing as investigative journalism are quite common. The idea that wrongdoing leaves its own detectable traces, which can be discovered, analyzed and strung together to see a pattern, seems to not register with a whole lot of folks. To be fair, Woodward and Bernstein did use the whispers simply as a starting point to find out more. The problem is a lot of folks think the whispers are the beginning and the end.

Posted by: Bill Watson at December 9, 2005 3:54 PM | Permalink

Confidence Man is being crude. On the whole, Woodward and Bernstein lacked sources inside the White House (the focus in my post.) Felt for purposes of the Watergate story was not "inside the White House" but well outside-- seen as an adversary by Nixon, who didn't trust him. No one's denying that Woodward had Deep Throat. Point is: They "got" to Watergate from the outside in. Watergate was a criminal courts story when it started. Nobody on the White House beat was interested in it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 9, 2005 4:24 PM | Permalink

I have to disagree that Woodward should not be fired -- not because he didn't tell his editors some significant per se, but because as an editor he has a responsibility to the Post that he failed to fulfill -- and he acted in a manner that jeopardized the Post's legal position on two fronts.

First and foremost, Woodward was doubtless aware that the Post lawyers negotiated the agreement by which Walter Pincus testified under oath --- Woodward believed that Pincus remembered being told about Plame by him, yet did not disclose that conversation to Downie while negotiations were ongoing.

Fitzgerald doubtless would have established (either under oath, or informally during negotiations) that the first person who told Pincus about Plame was the source about whom Pincus testified. When Woodward went to Downie and said "I knew, and I told Pincus before he heard it from anyone else" he was placing both the Post and Walter Pincus in serious legal jeopardy.

(as an aside, I believe that the reason Pincus testimony is never mentioned in the Libby indictments, and indeed why Rove and/or Hadley were not indicted, was because of Woodward disclosure on October 24th to Downie. Because of the Post's involvement in the Pincus negotiations -- and, as with Woodward, Post lawyers were probably present during Pincus' deposition as well -- the Post was required to immediately notify Fitzgerald that there was a serious question regarding Pincus' testimony. Because Fitzgerald did not have time to fully investigate this before the Grand Jury expired on October 28th, he had to disregard everything derived from Pincus' testimony, and was forced to "improvise" the Libby indictments.)

Secondly, Bob Woodward was acting with the tacit authority of the Post when he agreed to keep secret the fact that he had been notified about Plame. Because of the sequence of events, it appears that Woodward actively conspired with his source to obstruct justice while acting as a Post reporter/editor -- implicating the Post itself. Woodward twice went to his source twice (in 2004 and 2005) to ask permission to "spill the beans before he was finally granted permission after indictments were handed down. And Woodward went to Pincus and requested that Pincus "keep [Woodward's] name out of his reporting" under the assumption that Pincus remembered being told by Woodward about Plame.

Its possible that Woodward's source forgot about his conversation with Woodward when he first spoke to the FBI and/or testified under oath. But when Woodward reminded his source, twice, about a conversation about which his source had obviously not testified, his source was obligated to correct his testimony immediately -- and the failure to do so probably constitutes obstruction of justice. Woodward's agreement to keep the conversation secret (and his request to Pincus) made him a conspirator in that obstruction.

Both of these infractions should be firing offenses -- at the very least, Woodward should be removed from his Associate Editor position.


BTW, there is a glaring contradiction in Woodward's story. Woodward knows that Pincus would have been required to tell Downie everything relevant to the story, especially because of the involvement of the Post's lawyers. So, if Woodward really thought that Pincus knew about Plame from him, he knew that Pincus would have told Downie about it, right?

Thus, if Woodward had told Pincus, it would not have been a secret from Downie, and there would have been no purpose in Woodward not telling Downie about the conversation....

Posted by: ami at December 9, 2005 6:01 PM | Permalink

Woodward is a mouthpiece who's easily manipulated, like Judith Miller of the NYT. You cannot trust the information he passes on, because he's being used. He got a lucky break as a cub reporter, and has since been corrupted by wealth and fame.

Posted by: GDAEman at December 9, 2005 6:16 PM | Permalink

Nice piece, Jay, and welcome back.

"Retreat from empiricism" pretty much describes the phenomenon that governs how we are governed.

As for Woodward, I don't believe he intentionally lies. He knows exactly what he is -- a transcriber -- and in a strange sort of way he's proud of it. His explanation of his role is exactly the one that Judy Miller adopts -- "I only told you what they told me."

His attachment to that role, and to not taking it to the next level -- asking his sources only "what, when and where," but never "why" --has paid off very well for him. For his readers ... not so much.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at December 9, 2005 8:04 PM | Permalink

Jay, yes, I was being crude.

But I'd still argue that my crude statement is more accurate than your refined one (I don't see a qualifier preceding or immediately subsequent to it framing it as W&B not having access to WH sources). If Mark Felt doesn't qualify as a man who trod "the inner corridors of power," I don't know who does.

In any event, the "Woodward narrative arc" is but a tangent to the main thrust of your post, which is right on.

You're certainly correct in that the WH wasn't leaking to W&B during Watergate.

Where I'd argue the situation has changed to the present day is that Bush and Rove have operationalized virtually the entire Administrative Branch (and, under Frist/DeLay/Hastert, the Legislative as well) as a tightlipped extension of the WH. The over-politicization of the bureaucracy has cast a chill over anyone like Felt who would ordinarily speak to reporters (on the record or not).

Posted by: The Confidence Man at December 9, 2005 8:50 PM | Permalink

Your comment about Woodward having been swayed by the "gravitational" pull of power is the best description of the invisible but real forces which color all actors in Washington. And Ephron is naive and even disingenuous, I would think, in her defense of Woodward (that he's too stupid to put it all together.) It's true that Woodward is of middling intelligence, which might leave him clueless while events at a fast speed. But he had plenty of time to think and figure - two years - before he finally came forward under duress. He "got it" - and we know he "got it" because of the agressive mocking statements he he made about the Fitzgerald investigation. He was knowingly using his own "bully pulpit" to play a knowing defense for himself and his sources, to keep Fitzgerald at bay. Woodward's notion of privilege (and Miller's) is: I should be able to do whatever I please, whenever I want, because I am so famous and competent. Hogwash

Posted by: Wm Wilson at December 9, 2005 9:27 PM | Permalink

As a nonjournalist it seems evident that Bob Woodward is emblematic of the media in general. He is anonther victim of the corporate raiding of the media and the country. He has two ex wives and needs the cash that the access to the White House provides. He, Colin Powell and so many others can comiserate on the price of truth and integrity. The scarce few that now control the media use a tsunami of information to wash away the few bits of truth that washes up on the barren shores of the public. It seems to me that the U.S. public would see a more realistic view of what is really going on in "their" country if they only saw the stories that were completely blocked from there view. How about Sidel Edmunds or the stories of the NYFD firefighters that are gagged or the GAO report on election irregularities. How can anyone say that investigative journalism is not dead in this country when we are ranked 44th in the world rankings of freedom of the press. The current administration has told so many lies and contradictions that it will take a super computer to track them all. They are surviving, for now, because "the lie is too big." However, if the country cannot wake up to the fact that a 757 airliner can't fit into a 16' hole and that Pat Roberts is one of the architects of the cover up not an investigation, shame on us. So it seems that from Ephrons' remarks "deep throat" must have given Woodward a crayon diagram to put enough together to out the "Watergate" scandal. Thanks for the good work then Bob, but now it seems you've been outed as another fallen hero in the junk pile of ruined lives created by the corporate, military and pharmecutical complex that has G. W. Bush as the clown in the center ring.

P.S. America, be patriotic, stop watching "Desparate Houswives", instead investigate and question your government.

Posted by: G Keel at December 9, 2005 9:33 PM | Permalink

Man, I missed your Ass! Thank You, Thank You Thank you! You are to my brain what pop rocks are to my tounge. BLAM! Or perhaps to some a fine Cab.You are now my favorite Grokking delivery system.
The Grokka mister, The Grokka a lama,.....

Posted by: The Fly-Man at December 9, 2005 10:30 PM | Permalink

I believe the Edward Jay Epstein thesis that Woodstein's role in Watergate and the resignation of Nixon was greatly exaggerated. It was the Senate committee that really got the good stuff.

Woodstein opened the small crack in the dam that eventually crumbled.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at December 9, 2005 11:38 PM | Permalink

I know of no serious historian with an interest in that era who thinks the press was responsible for digging up Watergate. They would say it was not even the lead investigator. Deep Throat is colorful, they would say, but James McCord's letter to Judge Sirica broke Watergate open. (It told of the cover-up going on.)

The historians of the Nixon era whom I know would not deny Woodstein credit for many big revelations and disclosures, but they would emphasize how the case was being investigated by the government--FBI, Courts, Congress--with combined fire power far in excess of what the press lent to the cause of finding out.

But we are dealing with two different things. 1.) The legend of Watergate in journalism. 2.) What happened in America and Washington and the White House during the series of events called Watergate. Journalists sometimes make statements about what happened that are really moves in the game of maintaining the legend.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 9, 2005 11:56 PM | Permalink

After the Woodward part of this broke, I came to PressThink looking for a discussion. But due to Jay's hiatus there was, alas, none. My fingers were ready to type something about the consequences of the "Great Reporter's" admission: One being to prove Judy Miller's chief misdeed in the Plame affair was, simply, not being Bob Woodward. (I softened this by saying that surely Bob would take some heat but much of the same establishment that condemned Miller would rise up to give him a break.) I think that's been borne out. Miller was "amok." Woodward, as Jay's great summary shows, just can't see the forest for the trees. I suppose, though, the consensus is that on some level both have been co-opted by power-there own (illusory or actual) and that of others.

The reason they are getting nailed over this particular story is entirely political, however. I believe that.

I disagree with Jay's bubble and other comments about Bush on multiple levels--not that I think Bush is without flaw. Far from it, of course. He is human; he's in the Presidential terrarium that all Presidents reside in; under the most powerful media microscope in history. and under enormous pressure. One would expect a plethora of flaws, breaking out like sweat on overheated cheese. (Submission for worst sentence of the year is now complete.)

But I do not think the flaws are hugely exceptional or necessarily doom invoking. Regarding Bush and science... I think Jay is too smart to misunderstand the difference between science and politics: science's job being to comprehend and study phenomena, not to make policy decisions. Now, of course, some may believe that certain scientific "truths" practically dictate the related policy decisions. For example: 'World heating up due to greenhouse gases? Must sign Kyoto treaty.' However, the first is a scientific "truth" (to some degree), while the second is a policy decision. It is not to deny science to nevertheless make a different policy decision for any number of reasons. I think Bush makes it easy to think he is a dunder-headed science denier but I also think the story is more complex than Jay portrays.

Posted by: Lee Kane at December 10, 2005 12:58 AM | Permalink

Ps. "their own..." not "there own"

Also, 'The reason they are getting nailed over this story is entirely political.' Meaning: of the many illegal leaks of classified government information to reporters over the past few years, only this one is being investigated by Special Prosecutor and has been so politicised and has brought out the partisan knives.

Posted by: Lee Kane at December 10, 2005 1:04 AM | Permalink

Jay, I'm glad you took a break from your book to write this post. We missed your voice.

Your responses to readers’ posts in the comments section were a special treat. Now get back to work... it's publish or perish!

Posted by: Neil at December 10, 2005 2:48 AM | Permalink

when the story is for sale booby will sell it...why worry about the truth when you are writing the victory goes to those that count the votes booby believes that history is made by those that write it...alas, poor booby, we hardly knew ya...booby
skated for so long on the waterbug tip that we forgot to ask him what's new???well there's no question anymore...he has sold out and drank the kool-aid...fuck'm...

now what about mccain???stumps for actually worse than bush...seems cool but he isn't really...another stealth goper
with aspirations to phony as

Posted by: romanwalls at December 10, 2005 3:07 AM | Permalink

In 2001, just before Bush's first presidential installation, Seth Mnookin wrote in the now defunct Brill's Content that those who reported on Bush's campaign would become members of the White House Press Corps.

From the Brill's Content website, posted on 1/19/01, "Roundup: Dubya's Press Posse" (The link I have doesn't work, of course, but the Brill's Content articles may still be available on Lexis-Nexis.)

New administrations bring myriad changes to the Washington landscape, and not just for the thousands of political appointees who populate the capital. The fourth estate has a traditional changing of the guard as well; as rising stars get assigned to the White House, once-frenetic campaign correspondents return to filing placid metro briefs, and political reporters mine a newly ascendant set of sources.

For Bush II, some reporters will be better positioned than others. A handful of scribes insinuated themselves so well into George W. Bush's presidential campaign that they're already angling for scoops and prime background clatter. Foremost among those is Thomas DeFrank, the Washington bureau chief for the Daily News of New York, a man referred to in Bill Minutaglio's Dubya biography as one of the president's "favorites." DeFrank's ties extend deep into the Bush-family coterie: He wrote a book with Bush adviser James Baker and has been close to Vice-President Dick Cheney since the seventies, a relationship DeFrank parlayed into the vice-presidential nominee's first newspaper interview after being selected for the Republican ticket.

I am not now nor have I ever been a journalist, and at the time I had been involved in politics for less than a year, but below was my response:

Did I miss something? Was there a part of this article that didn't make it to the website? Where's the outrage that people who call themselves journalists but who have financial relationships with close advisors of the president-select will report on him? How in the world can we expect those people to be objective?

Not to mention all the reporters that Dubya sweet-talked during the campaign, giving them such cute nicknames. Just palsy-walsy, right? Those people never asked George Bush the questions he should have been asked about his SEC violations for which anyone else would have gone to jail, how he miraculously turned a $600,000 investment into $15 million, the accusations of influence peddling while governor of Texas, and his possible perjury in a case where he is being sued. They should have been fired, not made members of the White House press corps.

Here was the real story of the 2000 campaign: The mainstream media fell hook, line, and sinker for every one of the lies that the Bush "oppo" team told about Al Gore, and did not ask George Bush the questions he should have been hounded to answer.

I expected you, of all magazines, to give the media grief over the way they covered the 2000 election. I am sorely disappointed.

No wonder Brill’s Content failed. Like Woodward, its editors missed the most important part of the the most important story of the new millenium.

Carolyn Kay

Posted by: Carolyn Kay at December 10, 2005 8:28 AM | Permalink

It's not that reporters (i.e. Woodward) are too stupid to connect the dots - they have an underlying emotional commitment to avoiding anything that might cause them social discomfort. To not recognize this fact is to ignore the dirty little secret of journalism, which is that many if not most of the practitioners are simply psychologically unsuited for the job. They like the perks but they don't want to assume any risks - which means they're not committed to the actual work.

They remind me of those who only become teachers in order to get summers off.

Posted by: Susie from Philly at December 10, 2005 8:41 AM | Permalink

Woodward's failure to interview the members of the Fallen Legion was not due to myopia or habit, it was a calculated decision.

One thing he actually did (does) understand is what would have happened to his "access" if he had done so.

If he had so much as honestly investigated whether there was a legitimate counter view, this administration would have cut him - and his access - off at the knees. He knows any form of dissent (or even an acknowledgment that dissent may be legitimate as a concept) is treason to these people. Merely talking to the dissenters would have blown up his deal.

Posted by: a guy at December 10, 2005 8:49 AM | Permalink

Hi Jay. It's so great that you're back with this post.

It's the myth of the journalist at issue here. Woodward, in his fancy house with a gaggle of assistants, operates outside the boundaries of his newsroom, and with their blessing. And that situation inevitably leads to one in which his interests conflict with the newsroom's interests. He's an entreprenuer, not part of the newsgathering business for a daily newspaper.

I'm trying to remember the representations of reporters throughout the last century...the movies, books, etc. There was Citizen Kane, lots of movies with guys who had press cards in their hatbands racing for payphones. Then there was All the President's Men. And then you get Broadcast News and Shattered Glass.

The myth of the journalist may have gone into full bloom with Woodward and Bernstein, but clearly Hollywood started to poke at it within ten years of the the Watergate movie.

My hunch is that the creation of the myth actually punctured it. The minute reporters had the opportunity to become mythical beings, was the same minute they lost their power to be truthtellers. Woodward became a powerful myth, and thus joined the group he used to report on. And other journalists emulate this.

I remember the first time I saw this, when I was assigned to cover a party at Malcolm Forbes country estate, which happened to be in my beat in rural New Jersey. Tons of reporters from television and print were there, all dressed to the nines. In the press tent, we ate cold crab and other good food. There was free booze. I met Liz Taylor. I got the sense that there was more to being a journalist than just reporting, that sometimes it was necessary to hang around with rich people and dress up and look nice. Perhaps this work was more pleasant than digging through property records and government documents.

I doubt I'm the only reporter to every have that idea.

Posted by: JennyD at December 10, 2005 11:47 AM | Permalink

Oh stop it! Woodward has been paid off in one way or another or thinks he is going to be. Or maybe he just thinks living in a police state might be fun for a change.

Hopefully he will be forced to retire and drink himself to death right away as all traitors deserve.


Posted by: dancindog at December 10, 2005 11:58 AM | Permalink

Thanks, everyone. It's good to be back.

I recommend Susie's Madrak's reflections on this post at her blog.

There was a revealing part of William Powers's terrible "boys club" column that I didn't quote:

Of course, the reality of journalism is that everyone has to suck up -- request the interview, make the small talk, form the connection, try to pry out the bits of information that journalists sausage into news. It just happens that some of us -- or rather, one of us -- is a lot better at getting news, news so fresh and inside it astounds even the insiders.

Woodward's a better suck-up, he seems to be saying. (And everyone does it.) I think it's interesting--and very much a part of the story--that the columns on Woodward with the most perspective were written by women.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 10, 2005 1:09 PM | Permalink

One thing that we haven't touched on is that the "spin culture" of denying any facts and attacking the motives of people talking about facts is that it's not limited to the White House.

Entire regions of the country have become, in effect, fact free zones, with their own selected versions of "the truth" and an approved list of people to listen to and people to hate.

A lot of ink has been spilled on handwringing pieces about a future in which people don't watch the news and don't read books or newspapers. But the dystopia we've already got is not a nation that's tuned out, but a nation of cut-rate Crossfires playing out over dinner tables and at bus stops. A world of mutually exclusive and impenetrable thought bubbles where no one ever changes their mind.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at December 10, 2005 1:16 PM | Permalink

Mishandling of the CIA Leak Story is Not a First for Bob Woodward
Woodwardgate: Still Protecting the Right Wing

Recent headlines charge that Bob Woodward has withheld information on a major national story. Nothing new there. Thirty-three years ago, Woodward was in the same business.

That story was a tale of espionage and treason carried out at the highest level of the United States Military, against President Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. When the story finally did break in newspapers other than the Washington Post, it forced the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold hearings to determine exactly what had taken place.

In January 1974 reporters James Squires and Dan Thomasson published, in their respective Chicago newspapers the Tribune and the Sun, the story of what would become well known as the "Moorer/Radford affair."

Woodward knew this story well, for it involved several individuals he had worked for and with during his five year tour of duty in the US Navy.

In 1970, Admiral Thomas Moorer, newly-appointed Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, was frustrated by the JCS being cut out of the loop on important international negotiations by Nixon and Kissinger. To obtain information critical to the security of the country, Moorer decided to set up an espionage ring whose immediate target was the National Security Council--the vehicle being used by Nixon and Kissinger to circumvent the usual ways of communicating with foreign powers. Prior to this time, Woodward--then a lieutenant--was a briefer for Moorer--someone who monitored an important secret communication channel, briefed top brass, and was sent to the White House to repeat such briefings. During 1969-1970, Moorer sent Woodward to the White House to brief Colonel Alexander Haig, Kissinger's assistant on the NSC. Moorer confirms Woodward's role as a White House briefer!

Woodward had resigned from the Navy by the time Moorer had fully set up the espionage ring. But it involved another admiral for whom Woodward had previously worked, Admiral Robert O. Welander, the commander of Woodward's second ship in the Navy, the USS Fox. Welander was the head of a small liaison office in the White House, and an ex officio member of the NSC. His yeoman, named Radford, stole thousands of documents--a "library" of them, Radford would later claim--and Welander passed these secret documents to Moorer for over a year until the spy ring was discovered and shut down. The triggering incident for its discovery was a leak to columnist Jack Anderson in December of 1971

Read the entire spy ring story at:

In May of 1973, just as the Senate Watergate Committee hearings were getting under way, Woodward asked for and obtained a meeting with Welander at the Marriott Hotel--the same hotel in which Woodward has written where he met Mark Felt, whom Woodward has identified as Deep Throat. At this meeting with Welander, Woodward revealed to his former skipper that he knew a great deal about the still-secret spy ring story.
In an interview for Silent Coup excerpted below, Welander speaks to me concerning Woodward's early knowledge of Moorer-Radford.

Interview with Admiral Robert O,. Welander [excerpt]
by Len Colodny--March 28, 1987

COLODNY: Bob also told me that you saw Woodward after he left the, the Navy for the first time, you saw him in, in May of '73.

WELANDER: That was about it, right, yes.

COLODNY: Was that the meeting you had at that Marriott, and that's where Woodward tells you he knows about Moorer-Radford?


COLODNY: Did, he give you any hint as to where he got it from?

WELANDER: A that time, no.

COLODNY: Did he at any point tell you where he got it from?

WELANDER: Well, I told Bob, many years later and everything else, he referred to the fact that Ehrlichman, was the one who had, tried to make a major issue out of the whole thing.

Woodward clearly knew of this important story eight months before it broke in the news, but did not write anything about it. He did, however, hint at it in a story published in the Washington Post on October 10, 1973 on page A-27,which said: "A low level assistant to the NSC had his phone tapped in an investigation of news leaks in late 1971," and went on to state that an unnamed source had said this was "in connection with a 1971 probe of the leak of secret documents to Jack Anderson about US Policy in the India-Pakistan War."

Woodward did not write another word on the subject until the day after the Squires and Thomasson story broke. Then Woodward wrote a front page story, complete with a photo of Admiral Welander--a story that downplayed the espionage as no big deal. There is no mention in this story of the fact that Woodward had worked for Welander. Keeping such information from the public is a violation of the public's right to know.

The story continued in the headlines, but not in pieces by Woodward; he yielded that beat on his paper to Michael Getler. The Chicago papers and Seymour Hersh of The New York Times continued to press the issue.
Woodward suggested to Welander that Ehrlichman had been his source. Ehrlichman told me he that he wasn't the source. Moreover, only someone with inside knowledge of the affair could have detected a hint of it in Ehrlichman's testimony to the Senate in mid-1973, when he invoked executive privilege in regards to a partially-blacked-out document that was presented to him for review. Ehrlichman would not publicly mention the issue again until he was preparing for his trial in 1974. This all took place after Woodward's meeting with Welander.
It seems that Woodward was protecting his past, and I believe his future military associates by first withholding the news of Moorer-Radford, then down playing it when it did surface, and finally by distancing himself from further investigation of it--all of this while not disclosing to his readers his conflict of interest occasioned by a close relationship with Admirals Moorer and Welander.

Withhold the news, then downplay it when it appears elsewhere, and not disclose his inherent conflict of interest--even, supposedly, to his editors at the Washington Post. In the recent Valerie Plame identity leak story, the circumstances are somewhat different than they were with Moorer-Radford, but Woodward's methods and those he is trying to protect by these methods, his right-wing and militaristic sources in the government, remain the same.

For more information see:

Posted by: James Rosen at December 10, 2005 1:26 PM | Permalink

There was Citizen Kane, lots of movies with guys who had press cards in their hatbands racing for payphones. Then there was All the President's Men. And then you get Broadcast News and Shattered Glass.

Jenny, you forgot the granddaddy of "reporter movies" -- The Front Page.

I'd also add Network and Natural Born Killers, both of which include major subplots in which "reporters" become an active participant/conspirator in the "news" they are supposed to cover. Indeed, I'd suggest that the Robert Downey character in NBK is simply an "over the top" version of Woodward.

Posted by: ami at December 10, 2005 4:25 PM | Permalink

I was glad to learn that Jay had come back to write about Woodward, and I'm fulfilling my duty by tellin' ya what I think. Full item at PostWatch,
but here's the gist:

...Rosen's guideposts raise the question whether Woodward's main defect is that he hasn't properly assaulted President Bush.

Thus we are pointed to the "indispensable" online columnist Dan Froomkin, a nonstop anti-Bush snark machine; Jane Hamsher at firedoglake, who pronounces this administration is the worst one ever! above another item portraying Joseph Lieberman as Bush's lap dog; and Nick Turse at The Nation Institute for his "Fallen Legion" of abused former government officials. That honor roll, for starters, cannot even accurately report the circumstances of Gen. Shinseki's departure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and characterizes State Department officials as heroes for having resigned when they realized they couldn't support the Iraq War. Well, I didn't vote for them, so bon voyage...

I am going to propose a radical idea: Bob Woodward doesn't impose grand conclusions or Explain What It Means because he doesn't think that's his job. He thinks he's a reporter, not a columnist or an editorial writer. You can figure out on your own damn time what it means. That's much better than the "Analysis" and "For The Record" and other assorted maneuvers used by the Post to editorialize in the A section. If a modern American reporter can get all the way through a book without telling me what I'm supposed to think about the facts he's uncovered, well hell, I should reserve a room with an open bar and throw a party.

So when Rosen talks about "Faith-based policy making" and locates a lack of "empiricism" in the Bush Administration while giving us a Downing Street Memo riff about "fixing" the facts, well, that's your right, Jay, but please recognize where you feel at home. You already know what story ought to be told. From where I sit, it's not exactly an untapped narrative.

Posted by: Christopher Fotos at December 10, 2005 10:35 PM | Permalink

> "Bob Woodward doesn't impose grand conclusions or Explain What It Means because he doesn't think that's his job. He thinks he's a reporter, not a columnist or an editorial writer."

So once again, the only page upon which anyone is permitted to Explain What It Means is the one that has no code of ethics and is stacked with payola pundits.

This is not going to produce well-informed readers.

Posted by: Anna Haynes at December 11, 2005 1:10 AM | Permalink

Lee writes: I think Bush makes it easy to think he is a dunder-headed science denier but I also think the story is more complex than Jay portrays.

Have I over-simplified the picture? I'd be interested to know how, if you would care to complexify for us.

You say: "I disagree with Jay's bubble and other comments about Bush on multiple levels--not that I think Bush is without flaw."

It's not Jay's bubble. I take questions at my appearances. I don't allow into PressThink only my supporters, those already in agreement with what I will say. It's the Bush Bubble. It's his practice of not taking questions at speeches intended as policy statements and acts of public persuasion.

Don't believe me? Tough. The Bush Bubble is not a construction of mine. I believe the author is Andrew Card and you know where his orders come from. It's a matter of public record, also a policy of the White House: we want to speak to your group and persuade it, but will take no questions from it. We want to come to your town and speak to the people there but don't bother if you're people from the other side. Because that is our idea of persuasion.

The Bush Bubble. What I can't figure out is: who is it designed to help?

As I'm sure you know, Lee, Bush had been speaking to military groups only for a while. It's a step beyond speaking to the converted: speak to the commanded. No questions from them, either. Lastest bubble headed host: the Council on Foreign Relations. He humiliated them. Humiliated himself, as I said above: The president still judged himself not strong enough to take questions. If I was a distant cousin of W.'s, and rooting every step of the way for him, I would be furious at Rove and Card for not getting George out of the bubble policy. They're making him look weak. They're isolating him.

Lee, one more question: are you in favor of the Bush bubble? Good policy for W., or misguided?

I don't think you realize it, but there is now and will be more in the years ahead a split in the Bush coalition over the very issues I tried to summarize as the retreat from empiricism across the government. If you think it's just another way to bash Bush that's sad, because you are not listening. I'm talking about things that also divide the Republican elites, and knowledgeable insiders.

Finally, "some" may well say that Bush should sign the Kyoto treaty because scientific truth demands it. And they may well be stupid enough to believe that their position is pure because it's scientific and only Bad Bush has politics going on.

They of the Left may vex and annoy you with this and equally vapid reasoning on a host of subjects. I haven't written a word about Kyoto. And I haven't made any arguments for why it should be adopted.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 11, 2005 2:01 AM | Permalink

Nora Ephron: "Woodward doesn’t lie or make things up."

Anyone who's read Woodward's books about William Casey and John Belushi would beg to differ. This is especially true of "Veil," the Casey one -- in which Woodward claims to have snuck into Casey's hospital room night after night to interview the brain-damaged ex-CIA chief (where he managed to hear Casey's death-bed confession as to why he'd fucked up so badly: "I believed") despite the fact that the family members who'd actually been there swore that they'd never seen him, and that it would have been impossible for him to have done so.

Woodward doesn't lie? Ha.

Posted by: Patrick Bishop at December 11, 2005 11:54 AM | Permalink

To aver that Woodward wouldn't lie or make things up and, more laughingly, to assert that this is one of the "fundamental truths" about him is just plain nonsense.

One doesn't reach the his self-proclaimed airy status currently being defended by his starry-eyed Bob worshiping colleagues without a massive degree of deceit and ruthless ambition.

Posted by: sarah at December 11, 2005 11:55 AM | Permalink

Bonus link: Newsweek's Evan Thomas (briefly conservative bloggers' hero for saying--ludicruously--that press bias is worth 15 points to Kerry) and Richard Wolffe: Bush in the Bubble. "Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 11, 2005 11:57 AM | Permalink

Les Kane said:
I think Bush makes it easy to think he is a dunder-headed science denier but I also think the story is more complex than Jay portrays.

Jay's partisan hatreds cannot deal with complex stories.

Posted by: Spotted Howell at December 11, 2005 3:50 PM | Permalink

"Jay's partisan hatreds cannot deal with complex stories."

Wow ! Three nasty qualities -- crazed by partisanship, consumed by hatred and unable to deal with complexity -- all attributed to one human being in just eight words.

Now that's economy of language.

It's also further evidence (as if any were needed) that true partisans cannot imagine that there exists a whole vast class of citizens motivated by neither partisanship nor hatred.

You might say they're the new silent majority -- except for the occasional Jay Rosen who periodically pops up to speak eloquently on their behalf.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at December 11, 2005 4:33 PM | Permalink

Jay, Welcome back!

Thanks for your forest view of insider Woodward's operation in the Bush Bubble.

Some corrections for the post:

"so that the general who tells you how many troops you’ll need is forced into retirement"
Did you mean the Secretary of Army that agreed with Shinseki was fired (which is the USA Today article linked)? Certainly you're not perpetuating the debunked myth that Shinseki was forced to retire?

You might also want to include:

The White House was not allowed to hang its usual slogans, such as "Plan for Victory," behind the presidential lectern. At the same time, Bush refused to honor the council tradition of taking questions from the audience, as Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have done. Haass, the council president, said he decided it was worth making an exception as Bush became only the second sitting president to address the council. [emphasis added]

Posted by: Sisyphus at December 11, 2005 5:06 PM | Permalink


Haass, the council president, said he decided it was worth making an exception as Bush became only the second sitting president to address the council. [emphasis added]

Who was the first president to address CFR, and did he take questions? (emphasis added). If he didn't, they you have a point. If he did, then Jay's own point is reinforced.

Of course, Bush might have allowed questions if CFR had permitted Bush his security blanket "Plan for Victory" banner....

Posted by: ami at December 11, 2005 5:28 PM | Permalink


Clinton was the first sitting President to address the council and, according to the transcript, he did not take questions when President. Clinton did take questions in 2002.

Posted by: Sisyphus at December 11, 2005 5:41 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Sisyphus (Tim).

I was imprecise in what I wrote, and therefore wrong. I should have said the army secretary who tells you how many troops you need in Iraq is pressured to retire. Shinseki is on the Fallen Legion list, but not because he was forced to retire. He retired when his term ended.

See USA Today: "Ex-Army boss: Pentagon won't admit reality in Iraq."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 12, 2005 1:27 AM | Permalink

Jay, imprecise? You lied.

Posted by: Spotted Howell at December 12, 2005 1:48 AM | Permalink

I said earlier in the thread: "One thing that we haven't touched on is that the "spin culture" of denying any facts and attacking the motives of people talking about facts is that it's not limited to the White House."

Looks like we'll get a demonstration without even having to leave this web page. And it starts with a completely classic gambit. First move: attack the person whose opinion you disagree with? No. Much better to attack someone with a mild criticism for not being hard enough on the person; Kills two birds with one stone: enforces party discipline and forces all participants to the extremes.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at December 12, 2005 3:10 AM | Permalink

Shinseki is on the Fallen Legion list, but not because he was forced to retire.

Then why is he on the list?


Eric Shinseki: After General Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, told Congress that the occupation of Iraq could require "several hundred thousand troops," he was derided by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Then, wrote the Houston Chronicle, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "took the unusual step of announcing that Gen. Eric Shinseki would be leaving when his term as Army chief of staff end[ed]." Retired, June 2003.

I don't know what else this is supposed to convey other than Shinseki being shunted aside after his public comments.

Posted by: Christopher Fotos at December 12, 2005 1:21 PM | Permalink

Jay's false assertion ( spun to perfection) that "Bush refused to honor the council tradition of taking questions from the audience..." when Bill Clinton didn't take questions either when he was President, has made me think about all the things that Presidents have done in the past that never caused press (or opposition party) comment or condemnation, but now elicit hysterical denunciations. This is just so pathetic.

Here are just a few examples:

1. Has anyone in the press called Bill Clinton and the "environmentalist" Vice-President Al Gore to account as to why they didn't do more to get Kyoto passed when they actually had the power to do something? Kyoto went down in flames in the Senate 98-0 (about as non-partisan as you can get) in l998. Why didn't they do more when they could? Why hasn't anyone in the press asked them, as they both continue to denounce Bush for what they didn't have the political courage to do themselves?

2. A while back, the Times-Democrat attempted to gin up a scandal about GWB not attending military funerals. Anyone who thinks about this for 5 minutes will know why a President would not so do. But, nevermind, Bill Clinton (or any other President, ever, unless the family of the fallen was personally known) never attended the funerals of those killed in Somolia (and other places) but the Times-Democrat didn't denounce Clinton for not attending military funerals, now did they? I wonder why.

3. The public service announcements that Armstrong Williams did have been done for decades. Did the press object when Clinton, and previous Presidents, did them? Uh, no. In fact, I've seen a WH briefing by Mike McCurry, where the reporters question Clinton's use of paid advertisers, but McCurry, says, "hey, it's OK, it's for a good cause." (I think this was an anti-drug thing), and the reporters said sure, we believe. When GWB does this, it's the end of the First Amendment as we know it. Gimme a break.

To tie into the subject of the current thread; for some, reporters only began bending over and grabbing their ankles for the Bush Administration. Uh, no.

Those of us who weren't born yesterday remember that what was OK in previous administrations, has now become unique and evil. Is it any wonder that press credibility is around 28%? Uh, no.

In an attempt to further the conversation in this thread, I'm sure everyone knows by now that Vivaca Novak also didn't inform her editors at Time that she was involved in the Plame game. Viveca is no journalistic superstar like Woodward. I wonder if there is much more "freelancing" in the elite press than we know? What other journalists are hiding from Fitzgerald? My hope is that the lawyers defending Libby will blow the top off all the press perfidy so we can finally have an honest press. OK, I can dream.

It seems that the national press thinks it's mission to gin up scandal----some real, some not. Can we please have an adult press?

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 12, 2005 2:39 PM | Permalink

I guess no one wants to say whether they're in favor of the Bush Bubble or not. I take it your position is that there is no such thing? Or am I mistaken? Too bad, I was looking forward to hearing some able thinking on the matter.

I believe there are arguments justifying the Bubble; though I don't share them, I am interested in what they are about, how they might be stated. I also think the Bush Bubble could represent a sea-change in how presidents communicate with the country-- a revolution in message control, even. Of course if you think it a policy unwise for Bush to have adopted that too would be of interest.

Time and Newsweek have both written about Bush's isolation lately. You say in reply it's an urban legend, and Clinton did it too?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 12, 2005 3:06 PM | Permalink

Meanwhile, of interest to many here will be how some of the Washington Post political writers have objected to Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing. They say it's an opinion blog (liberal, anti-Bush, I guess) and it hurts their credibility because the title and placement on the site makes it sound like he's a reporter on the White House beat for the Post. Here's Froomkin's reply.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 12, 2005 3:20 PM | Permalink

Really Jay, don't insult our intelligence. The Newsweek piece was a classic piece of "reality-based community" journalism. I slogged my way through the whole dreary 4000 word piece, and this is what I found: 4000 words and only a hand full of sources going on record. Much more "reporting" quoting "unnamed sources". I realize that the reality-based community likes it's information unidentified, and unaccountable, but when 90% of any "reporting" is unnamed, some of us are skeptical.

Anyone thinking that Time and Newsweek know the mind of the Bush Administration, should realize that Evan Thomas, Eleanor Clift, et. al explaining GWB is as accurate as a pig explaining Descarte.

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 12, 2005 3:23 PM | Permalink

A pig explaining Descarte sounds very very unlikely indeed. We'll put you down for: Bush bubble a myth, purely a media creation. By the way, Brian Williams asked Bush about it today in an "exclusive" interview. The President had the same answer you did, "nah, nothing to it." No references to European philosophers, though.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 12, 2005 3:32 PM | Permalink

Don't try to put me in a box Jay, the Bush Bubble is a construct of the reality-based community. If said community wants to prove what it believes to those of us who are skeptical, they will have to get more people on record. I don't think the "reality" based community realized how unconvinced we are by quotes by those who choose to be "anonymous".

Let those who believe in the "Bush Bubble" come forward. Surely they should have the same courage as those who stated that "everyone lies about sex" during the Clinton administration. As a discredited journalist once said: Courage.

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 12, 2005 3:52 PM | Permalink

Geez Jay, do you really believe that Brian Williams is the alpha and omega of journalistic thought? If true, how pathetic.

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 12, 2005 4:04 PM | Permalink

"And then.... he would let the entire Bush team know: the Fallen Legion will be speaking through me, so get ready to answer for what happened to them, and what I’ve figured out with their help."

And if you had access to the Bush team, you could do it that way yourself, couldn't you? But you don't, do you? Not likely to get it either, are you?

Posted by: JM Hanes at December 12, 2005 4:25 PM | Permalink

Brian Williams is the alpha and omega of journalistic thought? If true, how pathetic.

Huh? Where are you getting this stuff. I said Brian Williams raised the issue with Bush today and gave readers a link. No alpha no delta no sigma chi, no omega anything. Williams asked Bush about it, here's the link. That means look for yourself: think for yourself.

I think it's very much to their discredit that more who worry about the Bush bubble and the revolt against empiricism have not come forward, so to that extent I agree with you. The stories relying on officials like that--yes, he's dangerously isolated, no I won't tell you who I am--are inherently weaker. But on-the-record descriptions of the Bush Bubble and related patterns are available from Paul O'Neill and Richard Clark to Thomas White and Lawrence Wilkerson; and there are others.

You may choose to disbelieve these accounts. I find they have great weight. The author of the Bush Bubble policy is Andrew Card. It's his idea, under orders and with assistance of other officials on the inside.

Anyway, my point in raising it in this post was to get readers to picture Woodward as the journalist who is let inside that Bubble and becomes a part of it. Thus

And if you had access to the Bush team, you could do it that way yourself, couldn't you? But you don't, do you? Not likely to get it either, are you? on the mark. No, I am not likely to get it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 12, 2005 4:25 PM | Permalink

Personally, I don't know if Bush is in a bubble or not. But I sure as hell will not believe anyone who cannot come forward on the record and say so.

You mention Richard Clarke---it appears you are ignorant of the fact of what Clarke said under oath is radically different from what he said in his book and his appearance at the 9/11 hearings. Yeah, I know, you're a proud member of the Realty Based Community.
As for the others you name, like Al Gore and Bill Clinton , they had their chance when they had the power and they blew it. No matter, the reality based community will always give credence to those who reinforce their "reality", whether true or not.

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 12, 2005 4:56 PM | Permalink

I'd like to turn this discussion on its head.
I'd like for someone (Kilgore, that's your cue) to give me any evidence -- any scrap will do -- that Bush is not in the bubble.
Although, for the record, I consider the word "bubble" a rather pathetic description for what is more like a solid steel, Kevlar-insulated, Gortex-swathed isolation chamber designed by its own captive.
We're talking about a Kryptonite-free zone here.
Forget the notion of inviting opposing points of view into the inner conversation -- as Eisenhower did, as Bush Sr. did, as Clinton did. (Hell, Clinton sought them out at 3 o'clock in the morning, just so he could joust with them.)
Entertaining opposing points of view are way beyond the pale here. We're talking about a guy who turns a deaf ear any time even a loyalist (O'Neill, Clarke, Powell) raises a skeptical hand.
In a way, working for Bush is an easy gig. Question nothing offical, endorse everything official, and you're home free. Nothing could dislodge you short of the rare display (see Michael Brown) of gross incompetence in front of the eyes of an astonished nation.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at December 12, 2005 7:54 PM | Permalink

Bush spoke and took questions at the Philadelphia World Affairs Council today. The video is at C-SPAN.

Not that I expect it will sway much the Bush Bubble theorists' ideology.

Posted by: Sisyphus at December 12, 2005 9:10 PM | Permalink

Don't try to put me in a box Jay, the Bush Bubble is a construct of the reality-based community.

Its not a construct. Its a meme. A convenient way for describing what is happening.


oh, and Jay, IMHO, the Froomkin dustup deserves its own post!

To me, what appears to be happening is that WP online is coming in conflict with the traditional role of the Washington Post (i.e. a "local" paper in a city with one big company, in which the affairs of industry are given comprehensive and generally "deferential" coverage (much like a Las Vegas paper would cover anything concerned with the gambling industry).

The Washington Post communicated with official Washington, while Froomkin communicates with a far wider audience. Communication is a two way street, and Froomkin's efforts to place all reporting on the White House in a larger context is perceived as in conflict with the traditional role of the Post as the newpaper in a one-company town.

Posted by: ami at December 12, 2005 9:13 PM | Permalink

Abusive comments are deleted. That's two. One more and you are out.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 12, 2005 10:05 PM | Permalink

Transcript of Bush's speech at the World Affairs Council.

Posted by: Sisyphus at December 12, 2005 10:16 PM | Permalink

Prof. Rosen,

Really, sir, what president of the United States -- starting with Nixon -- hasn't lived in a "bubble?" It's impossible for the president to keep in touch with the street, even if he does go jogging in public every so often and stop at McDonald's while he's doing it.

The Time and Newsweek claims that Bush is living in a bubble can be rephrased this way: He doesn't pay attention to what we, the dominant media, say about the job he's doing. So, therefore, he's out of touch. That's ridiculous.

You've written about this in the past with perceptiveness -- that Bush has decided there's no signal in the media noise worth noticing, and that trying to keep up with all the gibberish is a waste of time, and causes one to lose one's focus. Plus, the president -- and politicians generally -- have many communications options that weren't available to his predecessors.

I think there's a compelling logic to that, especially in a world where the dominant media is busying itself mostly with the latest police-blotter news from Iraq, who's been subpoenaed by Fitzgerald, and what conclusions can be drawn from some 20-year-old memo written by Alito, or Roberts, or whoever. Can anyone who has diligently tried to keep up with every wrinkle in the Plame/Fitzgerald/Miller/Cooper/Woodward tale honestly say their time has been well spent on something important?

It's analogous to saying that someone who doesn't read all the comments on this blog is "in a bubble" about what the blog is about.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at December 12, 2005 11:39 PM | Permalink

To me, what appears to be happening is that WP online is coming in conflict with the traditional role of the Washington Post (i.e. a "local" paper in a city with one big company, in which the affairs of industry are given comprehensive and generally "deferential" coverage (much like a Las Vegas paper would cover anything concerned with the gambling industry).

The Washington Post communicated with official Washington, while Froomkin communicates with a far wider audience. Communication is a two way street, and Froomkin's efforts to place all reporting on the White House in a larger context is perceived as in conflict with the traditional role of the Post as the newpaper in a one-company town.

This is way too complicated. I think the Washington Post reporters are annoyed at Froomkin for the reasons they told Howell they were annoyed:

They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, "The title [White House Briefing] invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column "that we would never allow a White House reporter to write."

Froomkin is a liberal columnist who bashes Bush. He has a strong fan base who enjoys that. Have at it, but that's a different occupation than being a beat reporter.

I laugh a little at the offense against "objective reporting" given what I read every day by the news staff, but that only highlights the point: If the Posties think Froomkin has crossed the line, he has really crossed the line.

And he has. No serious political reporter would write the way he does, as Post political editor John Harris says in his reponse to Froomkin's amusing response to the criticism. Harris:

The first issue is whether many readers believe Dan's column is written by one of the Washington Post's three White House reporters. It seems to me--based on many, many examples--beyond any doubt that a large share of readers do believe that. No doubt there are some who enjoy the column for precisely this reason. If I worked outside the paper, I might presume myself that a feature titled "White House Briefing" was written by one of the newspaper's White House reporters.

Given that there is such confusion, the question is whether this is a problem. For me it is a problem. I perceive a good bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and adversarial purpose. Dan does not address the main question in his comments. He should. If he were a White House reporter for a major news organization, would it be okay for him to write in the fashion he does? If the answer is yes, we have a legitimate disagreement. If the answer is no, there is not really a debate: should change the name of his column to more accurately present the fact that this is Dan Froomkin's take on the news, not the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to cover the news....

Posted by: Christopher Fotos at December 12, 2005 11:46 PM | Permalink

I love Dan Froomkin...but I've always thought the title of his column should be changed. Not because he's violated any sacred sanctity or anything but just because it's confusing.

It's especially confusing because hardly anything "newsworthy" happens in the White House briefings these days - for reasons explained eloquently in umpteen posts at Press Think - and, yet, Froomkin's White House Briefing often delivers news that no one else in the MSM will deliver.

(and speaking of "no serious political...etc." get a load of the last line in John Harris' response linked above:

"The confusion about Dan's column unintentionally creates about the reporter's role has itself become an obstacle to our work."

Is that satire?)

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at December 13, 2005 12:50 AM | Permalink

Jay it does seem to me that denials of the Bush Bubble are like the denials of the existance of a Mafia in the 1950s & 1960s. "Come on, a crime syndicate controlling large parts of the city? How would that even work? Get real! That ain't happening."

I just got my copy of Newsweek and I'm eager to see their take on it. But I'm curious if you think the Bubble hurts you IF YOU'RE BUSH. I mean, aside from the idea that you might possible pass bad legislation, govern poorly with bad information, you're the 'effing President! Mistakes will be made but your life goes on. There's some speculation that this bubble is effecting his poll numbers (only speculation) but they've rebounded a tiny bit lately. And to "break" this bubble idea in the press all Bush has to do is ONE press conference or one speech where he takes questions and that's it, cycle of Bush Bubble newstories is over. "Look he took hostile questions ONCE, isn't that enough?"

Posted by: catrina at December 13, 2005 8:56 AM | Permalink

That is one of my main points, cat. The Bush bubble has been a disaster for Bush and for those who want him to succeed. (It's also a humiliating policy for a President.) White House infallability has been a disaster for Bush and those who care about his agenda. Punish your own team's truthtellers has likewise been costly. The responses...

* What Bubble?
* Clinton did it too and you didn't blog about that!
* All presidents live in the bubble.
* Infallability? Bush would never make that mistake!
* Truthellers? These people have all been discredited!

are actually part of the Bubble, in my opnion.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 13, 2005 9:40 AM | Permalink

But Jay where's the cost to Bush? I see the cost to the bad governing. But that's not the same thing as a cost to Bush. Unless you believe that not passing Social Security reform was a direct effect of being in a Bubble.

In Bush's world, he's still popular, he gets what legistlation he wants (mostly), and while his poll numbers are down, its hard to say that its because he's so isolated. I'm just saying, if YOU personally were Bush, would you say this bubble thing isn't to your benefit?

Posted by: catrina at December 13, 2005 10:58 AM | Permalink

At the risk of enduring withering mocking by our genial host, I still stand by my statement that the Bush Bubble Bit is a press construct. Here's why I think this: when Bill Clinton was President, there were all these reports (again mostly by the "unnamed") saying that his style was harmful to his goals because 1) soliciting the opinions from everyone from heads of state to the janitor provided "too many" POVs and therefore led to paralysis in Clinton's decision making. There were so many "on the other hands" that he couldn't sort through them and was incapable of weighing which were useful and which were not. 2) The all hours all the time bull sessions that Clinton was so fond of wasted valuable presidential time and nothing was accomplished.

Then, as now, I have no idea whether these criticisms were valid or not, just as I don't know if the Bush Bubble Bit is true. What I'm saying is that it seems every President has his detractors as to his management style, with dire predictions resulting. The press will always find something to criticize and will round up the appropriate "unnamed sources" to back them up and reinforce their narrative---whatever it may be. This type of story is written before the reporting is done.

Personally, I don't really believe the Bush Bubble Bit as it's spun by the press. My guess is that Bush is using the management skills he learned at Harvard, and he is therefore more efficient in using his time to further his goals. Unfortunately for him, government isn't business, and a major part of politics is---politics. Some see him as isolated because he isn't personally doing the inquiring. He evidently doesn't realize, or he discounts the notion that people in the government (including his own employees) and press need to be smoozed. Bush is thinking as an executive, not as a politician. It would be nice if he could do both at once, and maybe he will try harder to make others feel useful and important. But Clinton didn't do both well either (he did improve some when he brought Dick Morris on board) and he was also castigated by the press and assorted "unnamed sources" as well.

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 13, 2005 12:07 PM | Permalink

Does anyone else find it amusing that Kilgore's attempted defense against the "Bush bubble" accusation has its opposite effect?

My guess is that Bush is using the management skills he learned at Harvard, and he is therefore more efficient in using his time to further his goals....

is really an admission that Bush doesn't want information that conflicts with his goals or his means of achieving them. He demands a bubble, in other words --- so when it becomes obvious that the "intelligence" on which the primary argument used to justify the administration's case for war was deeply flawed, it didn't matter. Bush had a goal of invading Iraq, and whether an invasion was actually justified was irrelevant -- all that mattered to him was "intelligence" that could be used to sell the war.

Posted by: ami at December 13, 2005 12:42 PM | Permalink

Newsweek's Howard Fineman joins the chorus:


MADISON -- Howard Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent, said Monday night in the first program of a Drew University lecture series, that Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward had become a "court stenographer" for the Bush administration.

Standing before a crowd of nearly 300, Fineman, said Woodward went from being an outsider "burning the beltway"with his investigative work in the 1970s Watergate scandal under President Nixon to being, " an official court stenographer of the Bush administration."

"He's a great reporter,"Fineman said of Woodward, "but he's become a great reporter of official history."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at December 13, 2005 1:03 PM | Permalink

You misunderstand me, ami. I am not a Bush apologist. I am being nonpartisan here,but I am not buying the press spin whole, either, since it appears that the press run these little management style critiques on every president.

I understand some don't approve of some or all of the Bush policies, but all this hysteria about "bad governing" when you just don't agree with the policy and calling the bubble "a disaster" are a little far-fetched.

And ami, as far as the "bubble" explaining the war, you'll also have to include Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry, Maddy Albright, Wm. Cohen and the UN among others as being in the bubble. All thought Saddam had WMD and was a threat to the region----but you just rock on with your bad bubble-self, ami.

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 13, 2005 1:09 PM | Permalink

These conversations will almost always bog down because there's just no common frame of reference on which we can stipulate "facts" these days.

Jay talks about the administration's retreat from empiricism -- which I hear about regularly as a guy who interviews scientists -- and it turns into an argument about epistemology. Kilgore has his evidence, and to him it adds up to an untrustworthy narrator. Others argue back, but it doesn't really matter. If Kilgore isn't a defense attorney, he should consider a career change: he does a great job of deconstructing every assertion by the prosecution. He's not arguing for or against the bubble -- he's arguing against the media.

I don't think I could ever convince him otherwise, and to me he's not making a compelling case for anything but cynicism. Which is ultimately the problem: Point-by-point, context-free deconstruction of credibility doesn't add anything to civic discourse. It just bogs it down. So this is where we wind up: Two sides, each speaking a different language, based on completely indepedent ideas of what's going on, shouting at each other ... while a few people in the middle haggle over arcane points about credibility, all of which require so much research to confirm independently that normal people just give up and go watch "Survivor."

We need to create some kind of new information tool that helps us manage these situations, so that basic facts can be established and stipulated. If we don't trust the government and we don't trust the media and we don't trust each other, how can we get anywhere? We know how to build websites and blogs and news wires ... but how do build trust in the 21st century?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at December 13, 2005 1:59 PM | Permalink

And ami, as far as the "bubble" explaining the war, you'll also have to include Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry, Maddy Albright, Wm. Cohen and the UN among others as being in the bubble. All thought Saddam had WMD and was a threat to the region

yes, Kilgore, but none of those people made the decision to invade and occupy Iraq --- and none of them chose to ignore the fact that most of the intelligence on which they based their opinions had been completely discredited because they authorized an invasion and occupation....

That is the key difference. Lots of people thought Saddam had WMDs, but also knew that the intelligence upon which those beliefs were based was not solid enough to justify an invasion. Bush was the only person who was in a decision making position when inspections revealed that that "analysts" had been dead wrong regarding just about everything.

And, I suspect that every one of the people that you cited clung to their belief that Iraq had WMDs because Bush and his subordinates were remained absolutely adamant about the fact that they existed, despite the discrediting of every accusation that could be checked out. (Hell, even I believed there had to be something there, because I assumed at the time that Bush was not quite craven enough to completely disregard the fact that all the "evidence" that had been presented publicly was turning out to be BS.)

Posted by: ami at December 13, 2005 2:03 PM | Permalink

OK ami, you win, even though some of the people I mentioned said what they said when Bush was governor of Texas, but whatever. Further, I respectfully decline to fight the war all over again (still). Most of us will be dead by the time the appropriate information is released. Information has just recently come to light about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and that was over 60 years ago. I don't think I can hold on that long to find out what really happened with Iraq. In the mean time, count on various "memos" being pulled out of the Everest size mountain of information concerning Iraq, leaked by one side or the other, crowing that "this" memo is the "real" story. Not even close.

I am frankly embarassed about being pulled into such a useless debate.

I agree totally with Conover. As we've seen time after time on this board, there seems to be at least two different streams of information, and never the twain shall meet. I don't really hold out any hope of establishing common ground, but hey, miracles can happen.

But on to something entirely different. I'm wondering if Woodward is really a force in journalism any more. Or even a journalist. Aside from his role as icon/hero/mythical figure, what has he actually contributed to the practice of journalism? It's my understanding that he hasn't done any reporting or even editing at WaPo for years, maybe decades. I wonder if he's really worth all the hand-wringing and denunciations lately about his knowledge about Plame? I don't really get why so many are upset by his not telling Downie---Vivaca Novak didn't tell her editor either. Is it just a case of a journalistic hero being exposed as having feet of clay?

My guess is that there are many more elite reporters keeping their heads down hoping not to get caught in Fitzgerald's net. All bets are off when Libby goes to trial and demands to see reporters notes and logs. We'll get to see how the sausage is made, whether the press wants us to or not.

Posted by: kilgore trout at December 13, 2005 4:03 PM | Permalink

> "If we don't trust the government and we don't trust the media and we don't trust each other, how can we get anywhere? ... how do build trust in the 21st century?"

Now that becomes an interesting topic. How do we build up the civic immune system to withstand attacks by those who'd benefit by its erosion? How do we identify those individuals who do perceive and report accurately, so as to give them more of our attention and the off-in-the-weeds guys less?
And would these be tasks for the press? (if it were a public trust)

Seems to me the research described in Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? points out one way.


(and it might be interesting to try a "constructive comments only" post/discussion on a topic like this, purely as an experiment, to see what could come out of it.)

Posted by: Anna Haynes at December 13, 2005 8:37 PM | Permalink

new to this discussion: please pardon my ignorance.

looks like common humanity to me:

nobody likes it when the truth gets in the way of what they want.

so if it looks like it will, we turn away from looking.

given this, bush bubble and woodward not connecting dots seem oh so likely. much more likely than, say, sainthood, that is, no pride, no need to be right, no love of being lauded.

but innocent until proven guilty, i guess. which is why we're all drowning in fact and counter-fact here.

me, i'd rather distrust (all) political power. and its friends.

Posted by: nobody at December 14, 2005 10:13 AM | Permalink

I know Kilgore's identical twin. Dismantling is his skill, "they're all the same" and "we can't know anything" are his mantras.

Trouble is, when those are your core beliefs you'll be the last to see the increasingly glaringly obvious, which makes you look increasingly foolish, which is exactly what you formed these beliefs in order to avoid.

It's not a comfortable position. The longer you stay there, the more unpleasant the climbing out will become.

Maybe it's already too late.

(which reminds me, a crude sociobiological hypothesis: that the gender gap in Bush support will have widened appreciably since Katrina, since women can change their minds with less of a 'hit' to the ego)

And 'nobody', that was a good point, on estimating likelihoods (you may have a future in analytical thinking with the CIA)

Posted by: Anna Haynes at December 15, 2005 12:47 AM | Permalink

From the Intro