Like others in the ragtag alliance of bloggers, a few renegade journalists and other assorted "DFH"s back in the worst days of the Bush-era 2000s, I grew very disenchanted with journalist Bob Woodward. Whatever Woodward had been during the glory days of Watergate, the Beltway journalist seemed to have surrendered all power of critical thinking -- and fact checking -- in return for access to Washington's rich and famous. The books that resulted tended to be a form of stenography, not journalism.
My sense was that Woodward was moving back toward his roots in recent years, but nothing prepared me for the journalist's awesome takedown of the lies and deceptions of former Bush defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Washington Post stalwart carried out in the new issue of Foreign Policy magazine. Woodward held onto his notes and aggressively takes down the spin in Rumsfeld's new book.
On January 9, 2002, four months after 9/11, Dan Balz of The Washington Post and I interviewed Rumsfeld for a newspaper series on the Bush administration's response to 9/11. According to notes of the NSC, on September 12, the day after 9/11, Rumsfeld again raised Iraq saying, is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden?
When Balz read this to Rumsfeld, he blew up. "I didn't say that," he said, maintaining that it was his aide Larry DiRita talking over his shoulder. His reaction was comic and we agreed to treat it as off the record. But Balz persisted and asked Rumsfeld what he was thinking.
"Yeah," Rumsfeld finally told us. "I wanted to make sure that -- I always ask myself, what's missing. It's easy for people to edit and make something slightly better. But the question is, what haven't we asked ourselves? So I do it all the time. I do it here, I do it in cabinet meetings or NSC meetings. It was a fair question."
"I don't have notes," Rumsfeld insisted. "I don't have any notes." His memoir cites his personal handwritten notes dozens of time.
That's just one of several cases where Woodward chronicles Rumsfeld's ever-changing story lines. Concludes the author:
Rumsfeld is indeed a pro -- at ducking and weaving and dodging responsibility, a reflection of much of what is worst in Washington.
That is just beautiful. Your next assignment, Mr. Woodward, should you choose to accept: Taking down the Beltway BS machine....in real time.
Two years ago, Deborah Howell -- the late Washington Post ombudsman -- wrote a column responding to the reporting of Harper's Ken Silverstein which detailed how the Post's David Broder and Bob Woodward benefited from speaking fees despite a Post policy against such action and Broder having frowned on the practice in the past.
Silverstein wrote of Howell's column at the time:
Howell acknowledges that Broder and Woodward broke the Post's own rules and "did not check with editors on the appearances Silverstein mentioned." She extracts an apology from Broder, and says the Post "needs an unambiguous, transparent well-known policy on speaking fees and expenses. . . . Fees should be accepted only from educational, professional or other nonprofit groups for which lobbying and politics are not a major focus–with no exceptions."
But Howell goes very easy on Broder—who has been flagrantly dishonest with his own employer and with Howell–and Woodward, who is allowed to glide away from some very embarrassing matters. Also, Howell deals with only a few speeches by Woodward and Broder, even though Woodward gave dozens and Broder gave roughly a score. I understand that she could not deal with each instance individually (nor did I), but she could have mentioned prominently the fact that the two men, and especially Woodward, are regulars on the talk circuit and that the problem is not restricted to the few speeches she discusses in her column.
Meanwhile, Woodward told Howell that he turns down "lots" of speech requests and gives "many" for free. That's nice, but irrelevant, he's still broken Post policy by receiving payment for a number of the speeches he did accept. He also called Post policy "fuzzy and ambiguous." So why didn't he ask anyone at the paper to clear things up for him before accepting so many speaking appearances for fees that apparently top (easily) $1 million?
Finally, Woodward told Howell "all his speaking fees — which range from $15,000 to $60,000 — go to a foundation he started in the 1990s." He added, "It's a straight shot into the foundation that gives money to legitimate charities. I think that's doing good work."
St. Woodward can don his halo and gaze in the mirror all he likes, but he really shouldn't treat Post readers with such contempt. The facts are clear. He reaps significant tax savings by giving the fees to a "charity" that gives away a small fraction of its assets, and by far the biggest beneficiary of his foundation is Sidwell Friends, the elite private school sitting atop a reported $30 million endowment and attended by his own children.
According to a new report it looks like nothing much has changed. Silverstein writes this week that Broder and Woodward continue to take speaking fees despite the dust-up and eventual contrition from two years ago. Silverstein writes that Broder keynoted a conference last May sponsored by GenSpring Family Offices at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida:
Broder spoke at a dinner on the conference's first night, immediately after attendees had returned from a visit to the International Polo Club. The following day the conference offered a panel called "Uncle Sam Comes to Dinner: Washington's Increased Presence in the Ultra High Net Worth Family," during which the speakers analyzed "proposed and pending legislative agendas to assess how healthcare and tax reform might affect your family enterprise."
Among the panelists was Patricia Soldano, a lobbyist who heads up GenSpring's office in southern California and who is president of the Policy and Taxation Group, "an organization that educates on the destructive effects of the estate tax to families and their businesses." In other words, the conference Broder spoke at was not only hosted by a business with significant interests in Washington, but the group's lobbying agenda was a notable component of the event.
Broder writes about financial reform and tax policy with some regularity. Last July, two months after the GenSpring affair, he wrote a column in which he cited a poll by a group called Third Way, which asked whether voters would prefer job creation programs that relied on new government investments or cutting taxes on business. "Cutting taxes on business won 54 percent to 32 percent," Broder wrote. "This sounds to me like Ronald Reagan returning to whomp Barack Obama. Maybe all the Republicans have to do is to reject the Bush label and bring Reagan back for an encore."
According to Silverstein's report, Woodward to continues to speak at groups with "big interests" in Washington:
A review of tax records shows that [Woodward's] foundation continues to give about half of its donations -- about $230,000 during the past three years -- to Sidwell Friends.
In November of 2009, he spoke to the Semiconductor Industry Association Award Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. Last month, he spoke to the Grocery Manufacturers of America at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (Jenna Bush was another keynoter.)
Silverstein did reach out to Broder and Woodward for comment over email but neither have yet replied.
From the September 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the September 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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In an interview posted on PBS' Need To Know Voices blog and flagged by Politico's Patrick Gavin, former Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter turned novelist Lorraine Adams is highly critical of the evolution of reporting since the days of Watergate.
Responding to a question about a character in her new novel -- The Room and the Chair (Knopf, 2010) -- that resembles legendary Post reporter Bob Woodward, Adams offers up the following critique of "limousine reporting" that she says led to the Iraq War (emphasis added):
I think if you're a student of American journalism, Bob Woodward is an undeniably potent figure. I felt that if I was going to write about [Beltway] journalism, to not have him in it would be ridiculous… I thought adding a wife that was so obviously not his real wife added a little lightness, and Mabel helps us get at Woodward's practice. Most people in Washington don't talk about it. Joan Didion talked about it in the New York Review of Books, but it's obvious she didn't know him. I worked with him in passing at the newsroom, actually I worked with him on a few stories so I knew him better than that. I think he practices access journalism, which is different from what I did at the Post. [I] would talk to the people who have no power and who are affected by the people in power, and that gives a much more useful picture of the way policy affects the human soul. Woodward, who started as a reporter who did that, who knocked on doors and talked to people on the ground, became a celebrity. In becoming a celebrity, he invariably saw it as a much better deal for him, in terms of making money, to talk to other celebrities inside Washington: presidents, their chiefs of staff, vice presidents, their chiefs of staff. We have learned that Deep Throat was an FBI official, not an agent, an official. He was on, what we call, the 7th Floor. I think Woodward's capitulation to interviewing people in limousines, as opposed to people on the subway, is something I feel is partly responsible for the fact that we ended up in Iraq. Because so many reporters, Judith Miller is the most egregious of them, spoke to Scooter Libby and some other higher officials, and never spoke to intelligence people on the ground. They swallowed wholesale Colin Powell at the U.N., and [ultimately] their limousine reporting meant that 100,000 Iraqis lost their lives. I don't think anything can be so neatly drawn, but I think in this case it can be neatly drawn.
When The Washington Post's Thomas Ricks stated in a Time "roundtable conversation" that prior to the start of the Iraq war, "the chairman of the Joint Chiefs" told him that they didn't know where Saddam Hussein's purported weapons of mass destruction were located, Bob Woodward responded by saying that he "was not aware of" the claim at the time. But three days before the start of the war, a Post article to which Woodward "contributed" noted the lack of "specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden."