7:19 PM CST, March 4, 2013
Bob Woodward has been in the news lately for a silly flare-up over his self-aggrandizing misrepresentation of an innocuous email sent by Gene Sperling regarding the sequester. I won’t re-litigate the whole mess here (and if you want a solid recap, read Gawker’s John Cook on the whole stupid thing). But I realized this would be the perfect opportunity to tell the story of how I met Woodward in 2005 and thought the guy was mostly an idiot.
He spoke at Miami University, and members of the Honors program (which, despite my alcohol intake, I was a part of) got to go attend a private lecture with him. Yours truly was selected to introduce the esteemed speaker to the small group of students and faculty for a Q & A session that would proceed Woodward’s speech that night.
I threw together a couple of autobiographical details, a few quick jokes (one about “Deep Throat” [naturally], one about being less handsome than Robert Redford [of course]—the usual Bob Woodward crowd-pleasers). Yet from the moment he opened his mouth following my introduction, Woodward ascended straight to my Shit List.
Here are the four reasons that Bob Woodward is on my Shit List:
1) Most of Woodward and the group’s discussion that day in 2005 centered around the obvious questions of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. Despite questions from the group about the clearly failing policy of Bush administration and the quickly deteriorating situation on the ground, Woodward stuck to the, “History will be the true judge” theme, and clearly was an awed fan of the President, referring again and again to his ultra-exclusive interview wherein Bush granted him complete access to ask any question he wanted (the italics on “interview” are meant to convey that Woodward used the word the same way a woman tells a man to spank her).
As I sat there, however, listening to the man deftly side-step any actual reckoning of Bush’s actions in the Middle East, I grew frustrated. Finally, I raised my hand and asked the following:
“Okay, but clearly Bush can’t just go on like he’s doing now in Iraq. The place is a mess and it’s only getting worse. Eventually he’s going to have to do something because people are going to get sick of watching American kids get blown up. And you talk about history? What’s history going to think if he leaves this mess for the next guy in office? Eventually he’ll start thinking legacy and he’ll have to do something.”
Woodward looked at me with a bemused smile. “I don’t know if that’s the case,” he said. “President Bush is not someone who cares about his poll numbers, about what people think of him. He does what he does out of conviction. I sat across from him for 2 hours,” (this was the like the ninth time he’d dropped the amount of time he’d spent with Bush; like they had time to get acquainted with each other’s teets). “I got a look at him,” he said, in that moronic way people do when they sit across from someone famous and claim this allows them some special insight. Hell, it’s what Bush famously said about Vlad Putin.
“And do you know what he said to me when I asked him how he thought history would judge him?” Woodward asked us. “He shrugged and said, ‘Who knows? We’ll all be dead.’”
Woodward smiled at me as if to say, “Huh? Pretty good, right? Bet you’ve never met someone who’s met the president, huh little boy!”
I stared at him, hoping there was a punch line. There was not. “Don’t you think that’s something of a profound statement?” he asked the group.
“Did you just call George W. Bush profound?” I asked, and everyone in the room grew uncomfortable, including myself. But “who knows, we’ll all be dead” is the opposite of profound when you’ve sent a few hundred thousand troops to occupy a tinderbox of a country for shady reasons. Or maybe I missed the part where we wanted a seventh grader's cut-rate interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche making policy. He pointed to another hand, and I was left to mull who was the bigger dipshit: George W. Bush or acclaimed journalist Bob Woodward. All of which brings me to my next point:
2) Less than a year after I introduced Woodward, he published his third book on the administration of George W. Bush and its invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The first two in the series, “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack” were largely flattering; if not hagiographies than a mere step back. Their narratives portrayed a strong, convicted leader intent on fighting terrorism and tyranny wherever he saw it, of spreading freedom as far as he could with the time God had given him. Woodward’s third book, “State of Denial,” offered a complete contrast.
Heavily critical of the Bush White House, it portrayed a group of political hacks in over their heads, a fractured group of ideologues dragging the country ever deeper into a morass. It was a “cough” Bob Woodward simply sways with the political wind, writing books that pretty much reflect the president’s poll numbers at the time they hit the press “cough” kind of thing. Not that I think Woodward sees a simple profit motivation. He’s just a stupid, craven man. All the errors and missteps of the Bush administration were readily available for intrepid reporters during the lead-up to the invasion and certainly after the occupation. Excellent journalists like Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post and Rajiv Chandrasekaran managed to bring much of the dreck to the surface in their books Fiasco and Imperial Life in the Emerald City. In other words, while Woodward was interviewing President Bush mid-orgasm, there were others out there who decided not to buy the administration line. Of course, a year after Woodward told me that George W. Bush was profound, the American public had clearly turned on him and his war, leaving the president to mull various options—including withdrawal or a troop increase, either of which would perfectly match my admonition that eventually Bush would have to do something.
3) During the discussion my professor, Pat Haney, asked Woodward’s opinion on the Judith Miller controversy, Miller being the reporter for The New York Times who refused to give up her source on the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. At the time, Woodward brushed aside the question, claiming he did not know much about the case but that it remained imperative that journalists be able to protect their sources. Someone followed up with an opinion that largely mirrored my own: That there exists a difference between a reporter protecting a whistleblower from identification or harassment and a reporter covering for his or her buddies within the government whose intent was to inflict personal damage for political gain. Judith Miller was an abysmal hack who planted stories for the administration quoting “administration sources” who said they knew 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague. Then Dick Cheney went on “Meet the Press” to say, “Hey, you don’t have to believe me, even The New York Times says it’s true.” Thus the Bush administration created an echo effect without producing any actual evidence of this fantasy meeting. Again, Woodward claimed he had not followed the case closely enough to give an intelligent answer.
Of course, not a month later it would surface that Bob Woodward was so full of shit that had he sneezed during his lecture that night, he would have soaked the first three rows of the audience in frothing diarrhea. Woodward knew plenty of the Miller case because he himself had been privy to Plame’s identity. In other words, someone had leaked this little nugget to Woodward before Miller, likely the man who would go on trial for perjury, Cheney’s lap-dog, Scooter Libby.
4) Finally, proof that Bob Woodward must have lucked into the Watergate story because the man has the actual political IQ of a moldy avocado, during his lecture at Miami University all those years ago, he spoke and answered a slew of questions. When asked about the possible presidential candidates for 2008, he gave the usual stock answers of Hillary and McCain, but then surprised the audience with this prediction: The real candidate to watch from the Republican Party was none other than Vice-President Richard Cheney. He reasoned that Cheney was in a perfect position to declare a surprise run for the White House, and that we should all mark his words come 2008.
Given that Dick Cheney’s approval ratings were hovering near negative numbers, that he couldn’t open his mouth without lying about the situation in Iraq, and that he had the personality of a muttering dark sorcerer, it was more likely that the Republican Party would nominate Barbara Streisand. The very fact that Woodward was paid tens of thousands of dollars to stand up there and say something that any political science major with a functioning brain cell could tell was idiotic irked me plenty.
Given this experience with him, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that he would go “full wingnut.” In preparing this column I looked back at notes I’d written to myself in 2005 and this was the sentence that stuck out: “The guy should be wearing yellow suspenders, clown shoes, and a big f***ing cone on his head that says ‘Dunce.’”
Woodward is the prototypical example of why access will never equate to good reportage.
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