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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Taking On Woodward

by digby

I have taken a rather strong stand in this Plame case that the elite beltway reporters involved lost sight of their primary mission, which is to inform the public. I've even (unpopularly) criticised Tim Russert for not adequately explaining his involvement, even if Patrick Fitzgerald asked him not to. I don't think that reporters should not report things just because authorities ask them not to unless there is an immediate danger involved --- even if our friend the straight-shootin', Rove-killin' prosecutor requests it.

I'm glad to read a real, live credible investigative journalist make these points clearly and unambiguously. Sydney Schanberg writes:

He openly says that protecting his sources is his highest priority. Here's a response he gave to Howard Kurtz, media reporter for The Washington Post: "I apologized [to the executive editor, Leonard Downie] because I should have told him about this much sooner. I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's Job No. 1 in a case like this. . . . I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."

Again, something is missing. Reporters have lots of different thoughts and emotions when they come across an important story. In my life, and the lives of most reporters, "Job No. 1" is getting the story confirmed and into the paper quickly. Get it to the readers now, not two years from now, so they can assess it and act on it, if they choose. A second emotion: Get it to them before the competition gets wind of it.

I believe it's fair for a reasonable person, without being inside Woodward's head, to listen to his explanations and arrive at the notion that his main priorities are protecting his sources and protecting the exclusivity (and therefore marketability) of his next book. That wasn't true when he and Bernstein were prying open the Watergate story. He didn't have any book contracts then to muddle and infect the issue. In this instance, his explanations include no thoughts about writing an early story for his paper, no reservations about holding back information from the public.

No one is questioning Woodward's reporting skills or his intelligence. And I don't want to know the names of his sources. I believe in granting confidentiality when it's the only way to get a story out—and in going to jail if that's the consequence of refusing to identify a source or turn over notes. But when your modus operandi is to hold on to information instead of publishing it right away, then, in my opinion, you are not serving the public.

Yep. it wasn't just Woodward, it was all these guys, except for Cooper and Royce and Phelps who wrote in real time what they knew. Pincus and Kessler wrote some of what they knew, but at least they wrote something. Woodward, Miller, Russert, Mitchell and who knows how many others offered opinions, grilled others or sat on relevant information for years. I just don't see how that can be journalism.

Schanberg says something that I think is relevant to the Plame case, for you plamaniacs who are jonesing:

And also, in my experience, important conversations about important stories do not fade quite the way Woodward intimates they do when he says he doesn't recall whether Libby or Card brought up Wilson's wife. Reporters almost always remember such things.

This has bugged me from the first. Woodward doesn't remember if Libby or Card brought up Wilson's wife or if he brought it up with them. But that's not the problem. He does remember having "Joe Wilson's wife" written on a series of questions when he spoke to them. This is a huge gift to Libby's defense.

The indictment shows that Libby learned of and discussed Plame's identity from a bunch of people other than Woodward, so it doesn't change the fundamentals of the case. But they can put Woodward on the stand and grill him about whether he might have told Libby about Plame's wife and muddy the waters. If it can be believed that Woodward ever brought up Plame to Libby, it bolsters his "dazed and confused" defense.

I continue to wonder if Woodward didn't bring up his involvement just for that purpose.