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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bob Woodward, Esq. - Counsel for the Administration

The transformation of our most prominent journalists from reporters into Administration lawyers and spokespersons took a giant leap forward again last night with Bob Woodward’s appearance on Larry King. One quick and easy way to know if someone is really disseminating falsehoods is if they can’t even answer Larry King’s questions without falling into all sorts of internal inconsistencies and incoherent claims.


It is most ironic to listen to Woodward insist that he has not become too cozy with the Bush Administration as a result of the unique and lucrative access they give to him, while he simultaneously sounds exactly like an Administration defense lawyer shamelessly and vigorously defending both himself and Administration officials from every conceivable charge of wrongdoing concerning the Plame scandal. If Scott McClellan or Lewis Libby's lawyers had answered the same questions from King, it's hard to see a single answer which would have been different.


Ever since Woodward’s involvement in the scandal was revealed, Atrios has identified multiple Woodward claims which make absolutely no sense – either because they flatly contradict other Woodward statements or because his actions negate the truth of those statements. To that list, I add these observations:


(1) Woodward is selectively revealing the substance of his conversations with his source even though he claims that he is still bound by confidentiality.


Woodward’s self-defense for why he concealed over the last two years not just the identity of his source, but also the content of the conversation he had with the source regarding Plame's employment, is that his agreement with that source precluded him from disclosing anything at all about the conversation. And he claims that he has been under the same obligation all along -- and that he still is -- and therefore can't publicly reveal what was told to him.


But when it suits him -- and when he wants to show that the Bush Administration did absolutely nothing wrong by disclosing Plame’s employment -- he freely discloses carefully selected parts of the conversation he had with this source:


KING: OK. Your source, did the source indicate whether Mrs. Plame was an undercover agent or a desk analyst?


WOODWARD: Good question. And specifically said that -- the source did -- that she was a WMD, weapons of mass destruction, analyst. Now, I've been covering the CIA for over three decades, and analysts, except -- in fact, I don't even know of a case. Maybe there are cases. But they're not undercover. They are people who take other information and analyze it.


And so -- and if you were there at this moment in mid-June when this was said, there was no suggestion that it was sensitive, that it was secret.


KING: How did it even come up?


WOODWARD: Came up because I asked about Joe Wilson, because a few days before, my colleague at the "Washington Post," Walter Pincus, had a front page, saying there was an unnamed envoy -- there was no name given -- who had gone to Niger the year before to investigate for the CIA if there was some Niger-Iraq uranium deal or yellow cake deal.I learned that that ambassador's name was Joe Wilson, which was, you know, Wilson eventually surfaced...


KING: I see.


WOODWARD: ... I guess a few weeks later. So I said to this source, long substantive interview about the road to war. You know, at the end of an interview like this, after you do an interview on television, you might just shoot the breeze for a little while. And so, I asked about Wilson, and he said this.


KING: I see.



Woodward claims that his source still won’t allow him to disclose anything publicly about their conversation. But, here, Woodward is disclosing quite extensive information about the substance of his conversations with his source, which should mean -- since his source has not agreed to modify their confidentiality agreement in any way with regard to what Woodward can tell the public -- that he could have, and should have, told us this information all along. If he can tell us this now, why couldn't he have told us this for the last two years?


Woodward is plainly doing what his heroes in the Administration did with pre-war intelligence -- he is selectively releasing the information which bolsters his (and the Administration's) case, while invoking oh-so-lofty confidentiality principles in order to conceal the information which hurts his (and the Administration's) case. That's what lawyers, or PR flacks, are supposed to do – not reporters.


(2) Woodward can’t keep his Administration-protecting stories straight.


Last night, Woodward refused to say if he even interviewed Cheney at all when writing Plan of Attack, because whether he even spoke with Cheney or not is a big state secret which Woodward still can’t reveal:


KING: Did you meet with Cheney?


WOODWARD: Not in this period.


KING: Did you meet with him for the other book, though? It wasn't just rigid questions, or was it?


WOODWARD: The people who are on record for the second book, for "Plan of Attack," are the president and Rumsfeld, the secretary of Defense. All the other interviews are on background. So again, I'm not going to go parading a list of people I talked to.


But Woodward previously said that he did interview Cheney for that book, and the White House has said so, too:


GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the relationships of all these people who are decision-makers who are on the cover of this book. Rate them for us in terms of influence, starting with the president and working your way down.


BOB WOODWARD
: Well, one of the things that is clear to me from the reporting and discussions with the president, where I was able to go in for hours and ask him literally hundreds of questions -- kind of unprecedented, something his father would never let a reporter do, something, certainly, Bill Clinton would never let....


GWEN IFILL: And something Vice President Dick Cheney did not agree to.


BOB WOODWARD: Something Vice President Cheney was worried about, but now the White House has publicly said that I did interview Vice President Cheney for this.


Woodward -- like a good lawyer should be -- is now in a mode of protecting the White House so zealously that he just instinctively invokes confidentiality obligations in order to avoid having to tell us even innocuous information about the Administration, including things that both he and the White House have disclosed previously.



(3) Woodward’s over-arching confidentiality agreement with the Administration makes him a Government spokesman or lawyer, not a journalist.


The inconsistency at the crux of Woodward’s story is so glaring and fundamental that it defies belief that he can deliver it with a straight face. He cannot simultaneously claim that he had a rigid agreement with his source to maintain the absolute confidentiality of what he was told concerning Plame’s identity, but then simultaneously claim that the source gave him this information in such a breezy, casual, off-handed way that Woodward never even gave it a second thought and, to this day, can’t imagine that information which was so obviously unimportant could have been disseminated as part of some coordinated White House conspiracy.


Despite the obvious inconsistency, this is exactly what Woodward is claiming:


KING: Last week, the "Post" ombudsman, Deborah Howell, said, "Last week we found out that he (Woodward) kept the kind of information from Downie, the editor, that is a deeply serious sin not to disclose to a boss, that kind that can get a good reporter in the doghouse for a long time."


Why didn't you tell him?


WOODWARD: Because I was focused on getting the book done. You know, the significance of this is yet to be determined. And what's the good news in all of this is, when it all comes out -- and hopefully it will come out -- people will see how casual and off-hand this was. Remember the investigation and the allegations that people have printed about this story is that there's some vast conspiracy to slime Joe Wilson and his wife, really attack him in an ugly way that is outside of the boundaries of political hardball.


The evidence I had first-hand, a small piece of the puzzle I acknowledge, is that that was not the case. So I'm trying to find out and focus on immense questions about, are we going to go to war in Iraq? How are we going to do it? What is the nature of Powell's position? What did Cheney do? What was the CIA's role? How good was
the intelligence on all of this?


As others have pointed out, if, on the one hand, Woodward learned of Plame’s CIA employment in the casual, off-handed way that he claims, the source would not have, on the other hand, simultaneously insisted on an absolute, "deep background" confidentiality agreement with regard to that off-handed, unimportant information . . . unless . . .

Woodward, as appears to be the case, believes that he has a permanent, over-arching and on-going agreement of confidentiality with the Administration, whereby the unstated, universal presumption is that everything they tell him -- at all times, with regard to every topic, including even unimportant "gossip" -- will be kept secret from the public by Woodward, and he will not be permitted to disclose it, unless the Administration specifically and expressly permits him to disclose certain bits of information which the Administration wants Woodward to release, in which case Woodward then publishes it.


But if that is Woodward’s relationship with the Administration -- namely, that he is privy to all of their secrets but only publishes what they tell him to publish -- isn’t that even a worse reflection on Woodward’s relationship with the Administration than almost anything else? That arrangement describes precisely the relationship between a client and a lawyer, or a political official and a spokesman, but not a Government and a journalist. Or at least it never used to before Bob Woodward realized that he could make huge sums of money and generate lots of attention for himself by entering into exactly such a relationship.


Bob Woodward's own description of his relationship with the Bush Administration -- that they shared with him classified information, he agreed to keep everything a secret, and he would report whatever information they told him to report and only that information -- demonstrates as compellingly as can be imagined that Woodward and The Washington Post have been willingly serving as an in-house media and propaganda organ for the Administration. To anyone following our media's behavior over the last several years, that isn't a surprise, but it is nonetheless notable to see it so starkly and undeniably revealed.

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