Readability

Bob Woodward and the Truth

Bob Wood­ward is the Moses of journalism.

Every few years, he comes down from the moun­tain with a list of “truths” that all must worship.

Unfor­tu­nately, Wood­ward has a lot of cracks in those tablets, which much of the media chooses to ignore.

After Water­gate, Wood­ward was the super­vi­sor of the writer of a story about “Lit­tle Jimmy,“an eight-​year-​old heroin addict who allegedly lived in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., who was pro­filed in The Wash­ing­ton Post. The story pro­voked a national out­rage that the nation’s cap­i­tal was doing noth­ing to stop the drug trade.

The 1980 arti­cle, writ­ten by Janet Cooke, won the Pulitzer Prize for fea­ture writ­ing. Wood­ward, then an assis­tant man­ag­ing edi­tor for DaPost, sub­mit­ted the story for the Pulitzer Prize.

The prob­lem was that Lit­tle Jimmy didn’t exist.

DaPost gave back the prize, Janet Cooke got fired, and Wood­ward went back to writ­ing books. Noth­ing stuck to his Teflon rep­u­ta­tion as the guy “who brought the Nixon admin­is­tra­tion down.” See https://​www​.com​men​tary​magazine​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​t​h​e​-​c​a​s​e​-​o​f​-​j​a​n​e​t​-​c​ooke/

Over the years, Woodward’s “truthi­ness” prob­lem sur­faced again and again.

Wired, the 1984 biog­ra­phy of actor John Belushi, appar­ently got a lot of stuff wrong.

There were cer­tainly things that he just got patently wrong,” Belushi friend Dan Aykroyd said. “He painted a por­trait of John that was really inac­cu­rate — cer­tain sto­ries in there that just weren’t true and never happened.”

Author Tan­ner Colby, in the course of research­ing and writ­ing his own Belushi biog­ra­phy, said he found many instances in which Woodward’s account was inaccurate.

The sim­ple truth of Wired is that Bob Wood­ward, deploy­ing all of the tal­ent and resources for which he is famous, pro­duced some­thing that is a fail­ure as jour­nal­ism,” Colby wrote in a 2013 Salon arti­cle. “And when you imag­ine Wood­ward using the same approach to cover secret meet­ings about drone strikes and the bud­get sequester and other issues of vital national impor­tance, well, you have to stop and shudder.”

Veil, Woodward’s 1987 book on the CIA, has long been a source of controversy.

Wood­ward claimed in the book that he was the sole wit­ness to a dra­matic deathbed con­fes­sion from for­mer CIA Direc­tor William Casey. Casey, as he lay dying in George­town Uni­ver­sity hos­pi­tal, jerked up in bed and con­fessed to Wood­ward that he knew about the Reagan-​era Iran-​Contra deal, Wood­ward wrote.

Peo­ple close to Casey at the time said he couldn’t even speak, much less jerk his head up. They said details of Woodward’s account, such as the posi­tion­ing of Casey’s hos­pi­tal bed, did not even remotely match Woodward’s descrip­tion. Casey’s daugh­ter said the encounter never hap­pened,” Tod Rob­ber­son, now an edi­tor at the St. Louis Post-​Dispatch, wrote in a 2013 Dal­las Morn­ing News col­umn.

The Casey dis­pute made a Politico list of six “Bob Wood­ward con­tro­ver­sies” in 2012.

Here are some of the oth­ers on that list:

–Woodward’s descrip­tion of Pres­i­dent Ronald Reagan’s recov­ery from an assas­si­na­tion attempt in 1981. Reagan’s doc­tor later said Woodward’s descrip­tion of a frail, frag­ile Rea­gan was entirely incon­sis­tent with real­ity, Politico noted.

–A dis­puted Wood­ward bomb­shell about for­mer Supreme Court Jus­tice William Bren­nan made the list as well. Bren­nan voted what he thought was the wrong way on a case in order to ingra­ti­ate him­self to fel­low Jus­tice Harry A. Black­mun, Wood­ward and co-​author Scott Arm­strong charged in The Brethren, their 1979 book on the Supreme Court. The late New York Times colum­nist Anthony Lewis, the acknowl­edged dean of Supreme Court reporters, dis­missed Wood­ward and Armstrong’s accusation.

It makes a seri­ous charge with­out seri­ous evi­dence — almost offhand­edly, in two pages. It gets facts wrong. It gives the impres­sion of rely­ing on a con­ver­sa­tion between Bren­nan and a law clerk that the law clerks of that term say never took place. If the pas­sage was not meant to rely on such, a con­ver­sa­tion with a clerk, then it grossly and delib­er­ately mis­leads the reader,” Lewis wrote.

But none of these errors make it into the main­stream media’s praise of Woodward’s anti-​Trump book. Moses wasn’t allowed into the promised land. Maybe Wood­ward shouldn’t get a pass either, or he should at least be held to account for his sins of omis­sion and commission.

Bob Woodward is the Moses of journalism.

Every few years, he comes down from the mountain with a list of “truths” that all must worship.

Unfortunately, Woodward has a lot of cracks in those tablets, which much of the media chooses to ignore.

After Watergate, Woodward was the supervisor of the writer of a story about “Little Jimmy,”an eight-year-old heroin addict who allegedly lived in Washington, D.C., who was profiled in The Washington Post. The story provoked a national outrage that the nation’s capital was doing nothing to stop the drug trade.

The 1980 article, written by Janet Cooke, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. Woodward, then an assistant managing editor for DaPost, submitted the story for the Pulitzer Prize.

The problem was that Little Jimmy didn’t exist.

DaPost gave back the prize, Janet Cooke got fired, and Woodward went back to writing books. Nothing stuck to his Teflon reputation as the guy “who brought the Nixon administration down.” See https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-case-of-janet-cooke/

Over the years, Woodward’s “truthiness” problem surfaced again and again.

Wired, the 1984 biography of actor John Belushi, apparently got a lot of stuff wrong.

“There were certainly things that he just got patently wrong,” Belushi friend Dan Aykroyd said. “He painted a portrait of John that was really inaccurate — certain stories in there that just weren’t true and never happened.”

Author Tanner Colby, in the course of researching and writing his own Belushi biography, said he found many instances in which Woodward’s account was inaccurate.

“The simple truth of Wired is that Bob Woodward, deploying all of the talent and resources for which he is famous, produced something that is a failure as journalism,” Colby wrote in a 2013 Salon article. “And when you imagine Woodward using the same approach to cover secret meetings about drone strikes and the budget sequester and other issues of vital national importance, well, you have to stop and shudder.”

Veil, Woodward’s 1987 book on the CIA, has long been a source of controversy.

Woodward claimed in the book that he was the sole witness to a dramatic deathbed confession from former CIA Director William Casey. Casey, as he lay dying in Georgetown University hospital, jerked up in bed and confessed to Woodward that he knew about the Reagan-era Iran-Contra deal, Woodward wrote.

“People close to Casey at the time said he couldn’t even speak, much less jerk his head up. They said details of Woodward’s account, such as the positioning of Casey’s hospital bed, did not even remotely match Woodward’s description. Casey’s daughter said the encounter never happened,” Tod Robberson, now an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatchwrote in a 2013 Dallas Morning News column.

The Casey dispute made a Politico list of six “Bob Woodward controversies” in 2012.

Here are some of the others on that list:

–Woodward’s description of President Ronald Reagan’s recovery from an assassination attempt in 1981. Reagan’s doctor later said Woodward’s description of a frail, fragile Reagan was entirely inconsistent with reality, Politico noted.

–A disputed Woodward bombshell about former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan made the list as well. Brennan voted what he thought was the wrong way on a case in order to ingratiate himself to fellow Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Woodward and co-author Scott Armstrong charged in The Brethren, their 1979 book on the Supreme Court. The late New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, the acknowledged dean of Supreme Court reporters, dismissed Woodward and Armstrong’s accusation.

“It makes a serious charge without serious evidence—almost offhandedly, in two pages. It gets facts wrong. It gives the impression of relying on a conversation between Brennan and a law clerk that the law clerks of that term say never took place. If the passage was not meant to rely on such, a conversation with a clerk, then it grossly and deliberately misleads the reader,” Lewis wrote.

But none of these errors make it into the mainstream media’s praise of Woodward’s anti-Trump book. Moses wasn’t allowed into the promised land. Maybe Woodward shouldn’t get a pass either, or he should at least be held to account for his sins of omission and commission.