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-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.