Wash. Post 's Woodward's misleading, disingenuous statements on Plame investigation

A November 16 Washington Post article revealed that Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward testified under oath November 14 that in June 2003, a “senior administration official” told him that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA. Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald is investigating possible violations of the law in connection with the leak of Plame's identity and has to date obtained the indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, on charges of perjury, obstruction, and making false statements. Media Matters for America has identified numerous instances in which Woodward -- without disclosing his involvement in the Plame affair -- criticized Fitzgerald's investigation and questioned whether an actual crime had been committed. Woodward's comments, some of which are inconsistent, raise questions about his conduct.

According to the Post, Woodward learned of Plame's identity one month before Libby allegedly disclosed Plame's identity to New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Woodward reportedly failed to disclose his involvement in the Plame controversy to the Post until last month and testified under oath on November 14. The Post further reported on November 16, in an article by staff writer Howard Kurtz, that Woodward apologized to executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. “for failing to tell him for more than two years that a senior Bush administration official had told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame,” noting that Woodward “held back the information because he was worried about being subpoenaed by Patrick J. Fitzgerald.” According to the Post: “Downie said Woodward had violated the paper's guidelines in some instances by expressing his 'personal views.' ” Kurtz wrote further: “Woodward said today that he 'had a lot of pent-up frustration' about watching Fitzgerald threatening reporters with jail for refusing to testify, while 'I was trying to get the information out and couldn't' because of his agreement with his administration source.”

While Kurtz refers to “some instances” in which Downie said Woodward violated the Post's guidelines, there were in fact numerous appearances on television and radio in which Woodward attacked Fitzgerald's investigation, defended reporters, or downplayed the significance of the alleged conduct of administration figures. Woodward described the investigation as an assault on First Amendment protections of the press. On the July 11 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, Woodward claimed Fitzgerald's investigation was “just running like a chain saw right through the lifeline that reporters have to sources who will tell you the truth, what's really going on,” and was “undermining the core function in journalism.” He also warned: “We better wake up to what's going on in the seriousness on the assault on the First Amendment that's taking place right before our eyes.” On the July 17 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Woodward said, "[T]he idea of the government and special prosecutors monkeying around with the relationship that reporters have with sources is a very, very bad thing."

Woodward's criticisms of Fitzgerald's “assault on the First Amendment” were primarily in response to the jailing of Miller for contempt of court after she refused to reveal who divulged Plame's identity to her. For example, during a taped interview on the July 13 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Woodward said: “Judy Miller should not be in jail. I think the judge and the special prosecutor in this alleged CIA leak case made a mistake. It's really vital to have confidential sources. I think Judy Miller is doing the right thing. And I think she should be freed and they should reconsider this.”

On the October 17 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, Woodward said of Fitzgerald: “And there's a lot of innocent actions in all of this, but what has happened this prosecutor, I mean, I used to call [Newsweek investigative correspondent] Mike Isikoff, when he worked at The Washington Post, the junkyard dog. Well, this is a junkyard-dog prosecutor, and he goes everywhere and asks every question and turns over rocks and rocks under rocks and so forth.” At no point did Woodward disclose that he, too, was a “rock” he did not want Fitzgerald to turn over.

Woodward also defended syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who originally made Plame's identity public in a July 14, 2003, column but has since refused to identify his source. Woodward was quoted in a December 1, 2004, Editor & Publisher article saying that “Bob Novak has taken a stand that is supported by many in the press,” adding, “He is protecting his sources. He has done nothing that is illegal or improper.”

At no point in making these comments did Woodward note that he had a specific and personal interest in Fitzgerald's inquiry: Even as Fitzgerald was subpoenaing reporters, Woodward knew that his testimony, in which he too would presumably be forced to reveal his sources, would have been significant to the investigation.

On several occasions, Woodward dismissed the controversy as much ado about nothing or opined that he saw no evidence of a crime -- again, without disclosing that he had a personal interest in the course the investigation took and in an ultimate determination that it was, in fact, “much ado about nothing.” On the July 7 broadcast of National Public Radio's Fresh Air, Woodward said: “There was no national security threat. There was no jeopardy to her life. There was no nothing. When I think all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great.”

On the July 17 editon of CNN's Reliable Sources, he said:

WOODWARD: Again, I'm not sure there's any crime in all of this. The special prosecutor has been working 18 months. Eighteen months into Watergate we knew about the tapes. People were in jail. People had pled guilty. In other words, there was a solid evidentiary trail. I don't see it here.


Well, it may just be politics as usual. I mean, [White House senior adviser Karl] Rove's defenders say, look, the evidence is, and the evidence is, that he was saying Joe Wilson, who was criticizing the administration on weapons of mass destruction really had an ax to grind and got his job because his wife had worked at the CIA and recommended him, so there's fuzziness to this.

As Media Matters has repeatedly documented, the assertion that Wilson “got his job because his wife had worked at the CIA and recommended him” has been disputed by senior CIA officials. More significantly, Woodward's claim that he saw no “solid evidentiary trail” was highly disingenuous, as it is now clear that he himself potentially withheld evidence by not disclosing he had discussed Plame's identity with a senior administration official. And Woodward's comment on what “Rove's defenders” claim was his motivation in disclosing Plame's identity leaves open the question: what was Woodward's source's motivation?

On the October 27 Larry King Live, he said:

WOODWARD: Now, there are a couple of things that I think are true. First of all, this began not as somebody launching a smear campaign that it actually -- when the story comes out, I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter, and that somebody learned that Joe Wilson's wife had worked at the CIA and helped him get this job going to Niger to see if there was an Iraq/Niger uranium deal.

For Woodward to say he “thinks” that Plame's identity arose through gossip is highly misleading because, as it turns out, he is in a unique position to “know” if that is in fact what happened.

Woodward has not always been consistent in describing the seriousness -- or lack thereof -- of the Plame matter. His comments on Reliable Sources and Fresh Air dismissing the seriousness of the Plame leak, and his defense of Miller and Novak for refusing to reveal their sources, stand in stark contrast to earlier remarks in which he played up the “risk” involved in outing Plame as a reason for journalists not to protect their sources. According to an April 2005 Columbia Journalism Review article:

Bob Woodward, perhaps the preeminent investigative reporter of his time, believes in supporting journalists who are protecting sources. Yet he sees the use of confidentiality in this case -- to hide the sources who identified Valerie Plame -- as a weak reed to lean on. “I use confidential sources more than most anyone,” Woodward concedes, “but it has to be worth the risk involved. I don't think outing Plame was worth the risk.”

Moreover, in the same edition of Reliable Sources quoted above, Woodward acknowledged the possibility that Plame's outing was a crime: “That they were involved in what? Involved in criminal disclosure of this woman's identity or involved in this free interchange? I admit, no one knows the answer to this. I don't even think the special prosecutor knows the answer to this.” Woodward's disingenuousness in asserting “no one knows” if a crime was committed is now apparent: He had evidence then that would have contributed to a determination of whether a crime had in fact been committed.

Media Matters had previously documented other false and contradictory statements by Woodward regarding the Plame matter. On the July 31 edition of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show, Woodward baselessly claimed that Wilson's 2002 report to the CIA on the purported sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq contradicted his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed, in which Wilson claimed it was unlikely such a transaction occurred. On the October 27 Larry King Live, Woodward claimed that the CIA completed a “damage assessment” of Plame's outing and found that no serious harm had been done, only to be contradicted two days later by his own paper, which reported that the CIA has done no formal damage assessment.