The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Uncle Bob Woodward and the anonymice

I haven't read Woodward's Plan of Attack, so I'm certainly not going to review it.

But the improbably named David Folkenflik has a useful piece (April 25) in the Baltimore Sun on the question of Woodward's terminal addiction to anonymous sourcing.

Which, so far as I'm aware, has been the guy's MO right back to Watergate days, if not earlier. No surprises are being sprung. It's just that we're all rather more sensitive to the iniquities of the practice.

He's free to publish, and we're free to treat it as fiction. Big Boys Rules.

The disturbing aspect is the relationship of the Woodward book-writing enterprise with the Washington Post. As Michael Getler pointed out (April 25), he's a fixture on the front page (ten pieces in sixteen months) - and an assistant managing editor to boot. The book gets serialised in the paper. He doesn't get book leave.

Woodward, WaPo and his books are all melded.

Instinctively, I feel there ought to be some kind of Glass-Steagall Act in operation here.

Getler also addresses the issue I raised on April 20 about Woodward keeping back the good stuff for his book that otherwise would have gone into the paper.

He quotes Executive Editor Leonard Downie:
Those interviews would not have taken place otherwise. We would never have had this at all were it not for the book, never have known the full story.

Downie explains Woodward's MO:
Woodward's "method" is to keep going "back and back and back to people and to gather more and more documents as he goes along. He doesn't always have a clear picture, and so it would be difficult to stop suddenly and do a story based on where he was at the moment. Further reporting sometimes convinces you to look at something another way. The whole purpose was to produce a coherent narrative, not a series of incremental steps.

Keep drinking the Kool-Aid, buddy...


Carl Cannon, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, has another angle on Woodward's book (USA Today April 25):
once this White House tells its story to Bob, it thinks the story's been told and there's no need to talk again.

Cannon implies that, if Bob hadn't been there, the White House would have spilt their guts to the regular Joes in the press corps. Another Kool-Aid aficionado, methinks.


The St Louis Post-Dispatch rounds up opinion on the Woodward book from hacks and historians.

The WaPo's Downie told the P-D (emphasis in the text)
-It is consistent with our guidelines
on anonymous sourcing.

Downie's piece launching the guidelines (March 8) suggested they weren't worth the paper they were written on: that he thinks Woodward's book conforms with them rather confirms it.

The historians say footnotes are a downer with the popular audience.

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