“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bob Woodward, the high government official said

LI has had a wonderful time watching the fall of the tinhorn journalist, Bob Woodward. If the D.C. clique of insiders carried cards, Woodward’s would certainly be platinum. As the much linked to opinion piece by Tim Rutten in the LA Times noted:

“There is something singularly appropriate about the fact that the Plame affair should involve Woodward, whose skillful and courageous use of the ur-voice among confidential sources virtually created a whole genre of Washington reporting. It's a journalistic strategy style dependent on the cultivation of access to well-placed officials greased by promises of "confidentiality." It's a way of doing journalism that still serves its practitioners' career interests, but less and less often their readers or viewers because it's a game the powerful and well-connected have learned to play to their own advantage.

Whatever its self-righteous pretensions, it's a style of journalism whose signature sound is less the blowing of whistles than it is the spinning of tops.”

Rutten’s own paper, on the day they published his article, published several routine articles that are sprinkled with anonymous sources. For instance, Ron Brownstein’s thumbsucker, “Democrats' War Opposition Not a United Front,” includes such winking-leading-the-blind passages as:
Although Democrats may be split on Murtha's specific proposal, his call for a clear break from Bush's policy is likely to strengthen those who want the party to offer concrete alternatives, many observers believe.

Many Republicans also see last week as a turning point. Bush allies believe that Murtha's declaration — following Senate Democrats' call for estimated timetables — will identify Democrats with a policy of "cut and run."

"I don't think the country has any doubt there are two positions: One is to stay and fight and the other is to leave," said one Republican strategist familiar with White House thinking.”

The proliferation of such fictitious cutouts has contributed mightily to the odd war over the truth about Iraq. If one cut out all unnamed sources from the runup to the War in Iraq, we would have had a much more informed debate about the War. It would have been about Iraq, for one thing, rather than about D.C. pocket pool, who said what to whom. Woodward’s style of journalism has lead to disaster after disaster, since it is used mostly for two things: to distort foreign policy choices, about which there is much exploitable ignorance in the American hinterlands (as in any nation -- no nation consists of people who are highly informed about geographic entities that impinge very little on them); and to destroy D.C. reputations. There’s no defense of citing a “Republican strategist familiar with White House thinking” to lay down such a howlingly obvious talking point. Enclosing the source in the heavy armature of description lends the source's words a spurious significance: we are supposed to take this as coming from the horse’s mouth, when it obviously comes from the orifice on the opposite end. If Brownstein’s promise of non-disclosure generates nothing more than political fortune cookie talk, why does he make it? Why does he quote it? What does it do to the credibility of a newspaper that prints these kinds of items day after day?

5 comments:

MnMnM said...

Grand Jury testimony of longtime Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, leaked by Rove-ing reporter (humor).

It is posted at: Bob Woodward Tells Grand Jury Who Leaked First

Bobbing and weaving, a tangled web we do. Book him, Danno.

Please keep my identity a secret. Double super Secret.
Middle-aged, Middle-of-the-road, Mid-Westerner

We can only hope that Fitz doesn't fizzle.
I think Mr. Fitzpatrick's motto should be: "If you do a white collar crime then you will serve blue collar time." Look where he lodged Judith Miller. A few months in a blue collar jail and she was ready to sing. Unfortunately, she says she forgot the words

Patrick J. Mullins said...

You'll remember Didion's piece on Woodward for NYReview of Books ended with 'it is also a way of writing political pornography.' The following week, whiny David Remnick wrote in The New Yorker 'I have to disagree. Despite his omissions, Woodward...etc.' Re Remnick: To paraphrase Capote on JC Oates: 'To see him is to loathe him. To hear him is to hate him. To read him is to absolutely vomit.' Remnick's tie on October 11, 2001 even looked a little baby-clothes-y. I don't know how he managed all that time in the USSR,etc. Appearances are so undeceiving, style is usually character, the Dunnes both said it always was, but I don't think always--or at least there are grey areas.

Canned food for David Remnick in the Soviet Union.

Stacy said...

The whole idea of anonymous sources has been so abused by the mainstream media that it no longer serves its original purpose, as you pointed out. To hear Woodward tell it though, democracy as we know it would end if the elites of today's journalism couldnt sprinkle their articles with talking points proffered by administration wonks granted anonymity.

My personal favorite use of the anonymous source is when some government hack gives his or her positive spin about their boss, like "a source within the bush administration tells cnn that the administration is focused and going about the nation's business without so much as a hiccup after the indictment of Scooter Libby...."

Why the hell do they need an anonymous source from within the administration to spread good news/spin about the administration? It's absurd.

Woodward stopped being an investigative reporter a long time ago and Washington Post is not served by having him hog up space in their newsroom while he uses every last bit of his long-gone credibility to pen his uncritical books about the government elite.

roger said...

Patrick, Joyce Carol Oates really said that about Capote? I reviewed Capote's letters last year, and read the Plimpton bio, and the short stories, including his ill fated ones in Esquire and came away with a lot of pity for the older Capote, and some respect for the younger Capote.

As for the use of those quotes, Stacy, I think there are multiple reasons for their use. That it is spin is one thing, but it is also laziness. Journalists who want to say x, and are bound by ersatz rules governing "neutrality", will say x by triangulating -- they will quote an unnamed source saying x. There's a malign synergy between the dictates of professional journalism and the dictates of public relations, and they meet in that anonymous quoting machine. Neutrality, of course, is not fairness -- it is rather a classic passive aggressive maneuver to ward off attack. And, uh, I can't spell maneuver today, for some reason, so I'm sorry for that.

Patrick J. Mullins said...

No, Capote said it about her, the 'him' was mine for David Remnick, who can present himself so pusillanimously.

I believe Capote's exact scream-off for Miss Oates was 'The most loathsome creature in all of America. To know her is to loathe her. To see her is to hate her. To read her is to absolutely vomit.'

I thought 'in all of America' was much funnier than 'in the world.' I wasn't quite ready also to say that Remnick was the most loathsome, etc., as there are so many competitors, even if you just limit it to writers.