In one of his recent college classes, Al Gore apparently told his students that he had never spoken to Bob Woodward about a particular meeting between Bill Clinton and himself which appeared in Woodward’s book The Choice. Gore told the students that it was his understanding that Clinton hadn’t spoken to Woodward either.
The implication being of course that Woodward had reconstructed the conversation rather than basing it upon one of the participants’ first person accounts. According to one of students present, Gore “found it of concern that a prominent journalist would reconstruct a meal and a conversation.”
As the Times recounts the story, Woodward responded thus …
Mr. Woodward, however, said last week: “It is not fictional. He talked.”
Twice, the journalist said, he met with Mr. Gore for interviews in April 1996. Of Mr. Gore’s remarks to the class, Mr. Woodward said: “It is very sad. But it teaches you to never put away your Al Gore file.”
In other words, based on the accounts of Gore’s remarks as related by students present, Woodward said that Gore had talked to him, and Gore was lying.
Let’s assume that Gore did talk to him. Was Woodward within his rights to respond in this way? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for him to say that he stood by his account and that he was relying on a first person recollection — thus leaving the identity of that person unspoken, and preserving his confidence? This would cover his journalistic integrity and his responsibility to his sources.
Of course, this entirely leaves aside the possibility (which I’m more inclined to believe) that Gore is telling the truth. And that Woodward is tossing aside the rule book to cover his own ass.