Bob Woodward, Fox News, And How Gates' Memoir Got "Hijacked"

Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates destroyed the right-wing narrative that his memoir attacks President Obama's approach to the war in Afghanistan, a narrative instigated by Bob Woodward and subsequently perpetuated by Fox News.

Gates' memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, caused widespread controversy preceding its January 14 release because of how Gates characterized the Obama administration's handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a January 13 interview on NBC's Today with co-host Matt Lauer, Gates explained that "what has been lost in the news media is that I actually agreed with virtually every decision President Obama made on Afghanistan." Gates opened the interview lamenting that the "book has sort of been hijacked by people along the political spectrum to serve their own purposes, taking quotes out of context and so on."

Following the release of excerpts from Gates' memoir, media figures seized on the selective quotes to attack President Obama. On January 7, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, a vocal critic of the Obama administration, characterized Gates' memoir as a damning critique of Obamathat "unleashes harsh judgements about President Obama's leadership" in Afghanistan. But Woodward's own accounts of the book's contents -- he acknowledged later in the piece that Gates believed "Obama was right" on each of his decisions regarding Afghanistan -- undermined his article. 

Fox News personalities quickly followed suit. In a January 8 op-ed on, Fox national security analyst K.T. McFarland used Gates' memoir to claim that Obama committed troops to a strategy he didn't believe in, saying, "Obama had concluded early on that the surge was a lost cause, but he went ahead anyway," a fallacious conclusion in light of Gates' comments.

In a January 13 column on, New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin echoed Woodward, claiming:

The former defense secretary offers the most devastating critique to come from an Obama insider. He paints the president as estranged from the very Afghan military surge he ordered and suspicious of and hostile toward top leaders of the armed forces.

On the January 13 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox military analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane claimed Gates' memoir showed "President Bush wanted to win and President Obama, simply put, wanted to get out."

Despite Fox's attempts to "hijack" his memoir, Gates continues to praise Obama and highlight that he agreed with his strategy in Afghanistan. In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Gates explained that Obama was consistent with his belief in the Afghanistan strategy:

MR. INSKEEP: Have you been surprised by the strong response to the early reviews of this book, which - you haven't said everything that's in the book, but have noted your criticism, in some cases, of the president, the vice president and others?

MR. GATES: Well, frankly, I guess the thing - the only thing that has really troubled me a little bit is that some people who have a narrative on Obama and the war got out there early with their take on my - on what I've written, and I think shaped their discussion of the book to support their narrative of what had taken place without taking into account some of the more measured and counterbalancing discussion that's in the book. The book is about a lot more than just Afghanistan and about the Obama strategy in Afghanistan, although obviously, the wars both in Afghanistan and Iraq are central to the book itself.

MR. INSKEEP: Well, you do write -

MR. GATES: I think that - I think that as the days since those first stories came out - and frankly, other journalists, I thought, had a more balanced and nuanced approach to discussing the book, and I think as the days have gone along, some of that nuance and balance is beginning to come into the reporting.

MR. INSKEEP: You're talking about the fact that you wrote that you felt the president lacked passion about the war in Afghanistan. Is that the comment you think was seized upon?

MR. GATES: No, I think - I think it was - I think it was more focused - was the reporting that I - that I felt he came to have doubts about whether his own strategy could succeed, and I think that some of the early reporting suggested that he made the decision in December or November of 2009 believing it wouldn't work. I don't believe that for a second. President Obama would never do that, in my view. I think when he made that decision in November of 2009, he believed that strategy would work. 

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