I just gave another close read to Bob Woodward’s statement about his deposition in the Fitzgerald investigation. And I wanted to go back through the statement, the accompanying Post story and whatever else we might know to think through what, if anything, Woodward might have done wrong.
Let’s start with the first fact. Woodward knew key information about the leak and was probably the first person to receive the leak. And yet this is the first we’re hearing about it, more than two years later.
I can’t see where there’s anything wrong with this. Woodward was told something in a confidential conversation with a source. He didn’t write an article based on it, as Bob Novak did. So I don’t see where he needs to tell the public about the conversation. He could have chosen to write about the leak story itself, using the insight he gained as the target of one of the leaks, as Walter Pincus did. But I don’t think he was under an obligation to do so.
Then there’s the fact that Pat Fitzgerald didn’t know about it until quite recently. I don’t see where this is a problem either. Woodward was maintaining a confidence and I don’t think he had any affirmative obligation or necessarily any right to step forward and tell the investigator what he knew. Whatever you think about Judy Miller, Matt Cooper fought Fitzgerald’s investigation for some time — and I don’t know anyone who thinks Cooper got into any ethical jams in his part of this story. In his case, I think with all the other journalists, they got pulled in when Fitzgerald’s investigation led him to them. None of them just came forward on their own, at least as far as I know.
Where he gets into trouble I think are on two points.
First, he didn’t tell his editor, Len Downie, anything about this. Downie’s legendary predecessor Ben Bradlee told Editor & Publisher today that he doesn’t see anything wrong with that. “I don’t see anything wrong with that. He doesn’t have to disclose every goddamn thing he knows … He’s got his finger in a lot of pies … Woodward never has ‘no involvement’ because he is who he is. He’s always poking around the White House because he’s always writing a book about the White House. So it doesn’t surprise me that he knows a lot about that.”
I really don’t think that cuts it.
This isn’t just any pie. This is a story that has embroiled Washington for more than two years, as much as a media and media ethics story as a legal and national security story. The Post’s chief rival for the status of national political paper of record, The New York Times, has been involved in a debilitating entanglement with the case for more than a year. And one of its most renowned reporters has now, in effect, been fired, in large part, over her messy involvement in this case and her failure to come clean with her editors about the nature of that involvement.
This isn’t just another pie Woodward had his finger in. Given the context and everything that surrounds this case, not telling Downie amounted to concealing it.
My big question is: did Downie really never ask? Seems hard to imagine. The Times asked their reporters. And Woodward would have been a very obvious person to ask.
Second, what he told the public. As I’ve said, Woodward had no obligation to discuss this publicly and in most respects probably no right. But he has been an aggressive critic of the investigation itself, challenging the premise that there was any underlying wrongdoing in this case. By becoming a partisan in the context of the leak case without revealing that he was at the center of it, really a party to it, he wasn’t being honest with his audience. I don’t see much way around that.
Now, his antipathy toward the investigation seems much easier to understand.
These are preliminary impressions. And I’d be eager to hear your views. I had intended to discuss this at a bit more length. But it’s just been brought to my attention that a few minutes ago Howie Kurtz published an article in the Post in which Woodward apologizes to the Post. So I’m going to read that and follow up with more impressions later.