There is a familiar reek of fiction masquerading as reality in the fusty atmosphere of the Swamp as Washington Post associate editor, Bob Woodward, attempts a comeback with his book Fear – the latest non-fictional account of a president in crisis. Or perhaps it is fiction – rumors, innuendo, water-cooler quarterbacking that seems plausible sourcing from a man whose mind is buried deep in the inner-workings of the shadow government.
Woodward has authored or co-authored 12 bestselling books since his debut with WaPo coworker, Carl Bernstein. All the President’s Men was the personal account of the two reporters covering President Nixon and the Watergate scandal. The book became a bestseller and was turned into a movie starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein. And the American public swallowed it all as factual and heroic.
Who wouldn’t be flattered and enticed into producing tome after tome of similarly styled and anonymously sourced content?
But this decade isn’t the 1970s and Americans refuse to be force-fed lies, half-truths, and wishful thinking as fact. That name-making book, and all he has scribed since, is now under the scrutiny of the general and increasingly divided public, who has access to the treasure trove of information known as the internet.
The times and technology have changed, Mr. Woodward. Legacy media and their sycophantic blathering of praise for Woodward’s attacks on Trump may come to bite the novelist in the ass.
An Equal Opportunity Hater
Woodward is, by all accounts, suspicious of everyone and everything in the highest echelons of the Constitutional Republic, and his record of poking his nose into emerging scandals has people wondering why he is always at the center of scandal. And for the most, it has paid off.
Woodward first claimed in 1996 that the Democratic National Committee was under investigation by the Department of Justice for accepting massive amounts of campaign donations from China, using the Chinese Embassy in D.C. to manage the transactions.
He interviewed George W. Bush for over 11 hours for his subsequent four titles dedicated to the Bush wars. And he was publicly adamant that there were, in fact, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’s possession, claiming to a skeptical caller on Larry King, “There’s just too much there.” Evidence, he meant – which of course was not there.
In 2003, Woodward accidentally leaked that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative and expert on weapons of mass destruction to a fellow journalist at WaPo. Plame was also U.S. Ambassador Joseph Clark’s wife – a critic of the Iraqi war. Woodward said he learned of the information in a “casual” and “offhand” manner from Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, denying he was used to “out” the spy. Oops.
And then there was the time he crossed Barack Hussein Obama. On February 22, 2013, shortly before the United States federal budget sequester took effect, Woodward wrote a column for WaPo, in which he criticized the Obama administration for the 2012 and 2013 blaming of Republicans for proposing the automatic spending cuts.
Woodward claimed his research showed that the sequester proposal had originated with the White House and that White House economic adviser Gene Sperling threatened him in an email about the proposed story. “I think you will regret staking out that claim.”
Woodward told other political reporters, “I’ve been flooded with emails from people in the press saying this is exactly the way the White House works, they are trying to control and they don’t want to be challenged or crossed.”
But he really hates Trump. And this early in the President’s administration, he has triggered his old critics into pondering his use and protection of anonymous sources.
Deep Throat or Throats?
Writers who pen fantastic accounts with illusory characters employ what is known as fictional composites: They use the personalities, appearances, and ideologies of several real people to create one individual character.
Longtime friends, allies, and coworkers of Woodward have their own ideas that Deep Throat of Watergate fame is not just one brave leaker, later identified posthumously as FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, but a multitude of people meeting Woodward in a variety of locations in the man’s illusionary world.
Ben Bradlee, former WaPo editor during Watergate, is on the list of folks who find Woodward’s storied relationship with Deep Throat disturbing. Unnecessary details, such as Woodward communicating with the source by placing a flag in a potted plant on his apartment balcony, or meetings in restroom stalls and cavernous parking garages, lent a bit of Hollywood to his writing.
In a 1990 interview with an assistant, Jeff Himmelman, taking notes for his future memoir, Bradlee confided:
“You know I have a little problem with Deep Throat. Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.”
Journalist and novelist Joan Didion wrote that Woodward lacked brain power. Scathingly reviewing his efforts, she noted that “Measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent,” and that his books after Watergate are notable for “a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.” She went so far as to call his work “political pornography,” which seems apropos given his anonymous source’s nickname.
David Frum, political insider, former George W. Bush speechwriter, and now senior editor at The Atlantic, perhaps says it best:
“From his books, you can draw a composite profile of the powerful Washington player. That person is highly circumspect, highly risk averse, eschews new ideas, flatters his colleagues to their face (while trashing them to Woodward behind their backs), and is always careful to avoid career-threatening confrontation. We all admire heroes, but Woodward’s books teach us that those who rise to leadership are precisely those who take care to abjure heroism for themselves.”
Woodward authored or co-authored 18 nonfiction books in these past decades. Each one has risen to national bestsellers and 12 of them have made the top spot for national nonfiction bestsellers – more than any other author of his time. He is iconic in his style, the creator of WaPo’s infamous anonymous sourcing, and untouchable in his own mind.
Despite his fame and reputation, he has never won the coveted Pulitzer Prize — although he has contributed to journalistic efforts by those who have. But he’s still trying.
Regardless, Woodward soldiers on, finding joy in scattering administrations to either prove his allegations or cover their collective behinds. Whatever is his end game, playing with the same rules afforded in the 1970s won’t cut it in the 21st century. Americans don’t take anything the legacy media pukes out without confirming the facts.
Oh, and Woodward hasn’t faced the likes of Donald J. Trump and the 62,979,636 people who jumped on the train in 2016.