The Washington saga that has gripped journalism watchers for many months has taken another unexpected turn. Seems that storied scribe Bob Woodward may have been the first journalist contacted by the notorious Valerie Plame leaker. And he kept mum until this week. Brooke reflects on the transformation of Watergate Bob into White House Bob.
BOB GARFIELD:: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm BOB GARFIELD.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Just as Miss Run Amok exits the stage, having given up her anonymous source, enter Mr. Run Amok, chased by a bear, or at least a Wolf. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER AS CNN CLIP STARTS]
WOLF BLITZER: A well-known name has unexpectedly popped up in the CIA leak case, the journalist Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and Watergate fame. [END OF CNN CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Bob Woodward, arguably the nation's most famous reporter, is the current obsession of news outlets at a loss for a story since New York Times reporter Judith Miller lost her wrestling match with the special prosecutor investigating who leaked the name of a CIA operative. Woodward took sides in that struggle last July on MSNBC's "Hardball." [START CLIP FROM "HARDBALL"]
BOB WOODWARD: There's going to be nothing to it, and it's, it's a shame. And the special prosecutor in that case, his behavior, in my view, has been disgraceful. [END CILP FROM "HARDBALL"]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week Woodward testified before that same special prosecutor. It turns out he may have received the first relevant leak. He, like Miller, has loudly defended the rights of all reporters to protect their sources. But at the same time, he was very quietly protecting his own, even from his boss, Washington Post editor Len Downie, a journalistic felony. Here's Woodward last month with CNN's Larry King. [START CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE"]
BOB WOODWARD: Finally Len Downie called me and said, "I hear you have a bombshell. [LAUGHTER] Would you let me in on that?" - [OVERTALK]
LARRY KING: So now the rumors are about you.
BOB WOODWARD: It - and I said, "I'm - I'm sorry to disappoint you - [OVERTALK]
LARRY KING: [LAUGHS]
BOB WOODWARD: - but, but I don't." [END OF CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE"]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Downie declines to slam his in-house icon. In Bob's case, he told the Wall Street Journal, what's unusual about him is his access, his fame and what he produces. Here's Len Downie this week with Wolf Blitzer. [START CLIP FROM CNN]
LEN DOWNIE: The sanctity of these pledges of confidentiality are essential to the kind of reporting that Bob does, beginning with Watergate, continuing on through 9/11, and so on. [END OF CLIP FROM CNN]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ah, Watergate, the gift that keeps on giving. But aside from Woodward's access to well-placed anonymous sources, there's little resemblance between Watergate Bob and White House Bob. Watergate Bob used disgruntled mid-level bureaucrats to tunnel his way into the bowels of a White House scandal. White House Bob moves easily through closed doors and crafts meticulous narratives seen through the eyes of the powerful. As New York University professor Jay Rosen told the Washington Post, Woodward has, quote, "gone wholly into access journalism." He is, perhaps, its best practitioner, but mostly he offers intimacy without analysis. In Washington, access trumps analysis most of the time. Consider the coverage of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's statements on indicted leaker Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby's lawyer declared that Woodward's disclosure proves that Fitzgerald was, quote, "totally inaccurate" when he said at a press conference last month that Libby was the first leaker. But in his opening statement, Fitzgerald said Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter, though he dropped that crucial qualifier later on. Despite the ambiguity, Libby's lawyer's assertion was duly reported as fact by news outlets ranging from ABC, to the Associated Press, to the Washington Post, to NBC, to Fox News. Fox's Jim Angle. [START FILM CLIP FROM FOX NEWS]
JIM ANGLE: It is clear that the timeline the special prosecutor is using is a bit off and, of course, that leads people to wonder what other things might be off. [END CLIP FROM FOX NEWS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Professional insiders quote and wonder. Increasingly, it's the outsiders who do the close reading. This week, Pentagon officials acknowledged that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgents in Fallujah last November. First, the State Department denied it. Then the Pentagon admitted it but said it was used only to illuminate enemy positions at night. Now the Pentagon admits using it directly against combatants. Why these progressive admissions? Probably because a website called The Daily Kos got hold of the March edition of the Army's official field artillery magazine, which detailed the use of the weapon in Fallujah. Close reading. Access journalists leave that to the amateurs. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]