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Plamegate tarnishes Woodward's reputation
Toronto Globe and Mail


November 18, 2005

WASHINGTON - Ever since Robert Redford appeared on screen playing investigative journalist Bob Woodward in All the President's Men 30 years ago, a generation of journalists has viewed The Washington Post reporter as the epitome of how the profession should be practiced.

But that Hollywood image of the intrepid reporter searching doggedly for truth on behalf of the public is now under a cloud.

Woodward revealed this week that he was the recipient of a leak more than two years ago from a "senior administration source" about the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame and had not bothered to tell his own employer or the public as the Plame leak scandal unfolded. That has prompted another look at the man behind the myth.

Critics say that Woodward has abandoned the kind of fearless muckraking that forced president Richard Nixon from office in 1974 and has instead become a trusted confidant of the politically powerful, dutifully listening to their secrets and, in return, writing largely uncritical "insider" books.




"Hear that hissing noise," columnist Arianna Huffington wrote on her blog. "That's the sound of the air being let out of Woodward's reputation."

"What a career arc," she said. "From exposing a presidential cover-up in Watergate to covering up his role in Plamegate."

Nowhere is the disappointment more apparent than at the venerable Post itself, where the 62-year-old Woodward still carries the title of assistant managing editor, though he rarely comes to the office, instead spending most of his time working on his lucrative books.

Postings on the Post's confidential internal memo board after Woodward made his disclosure on Wednesday gave a hint of the bitterness among his colleagues.

"This is a big, influential newspaper, one of perhaps the half-dozen best in the world, but it will never be fully mature until it understands that the institution's interests take priority over any employee's," wrote veteran writer Jonathan Yardley.

But some observers say it's unfair to write off a brilliant career because of a single misjudgment.

"I think it damages his reputation but not substantially," said Robert Zelnick, chairman of the journalism program at Boston University. "I think over the course of a career, I've made misjudgments, and I don't have a record on breaking Watergate that Woodward does. Everybody makes mistakes."

Woodward's unique role at the newspaper has already prompted comparisons with Judith Miller, whose less-than-forthright dealings with The New York Times over her role in the Plame affair resulted in a series of attacks from her colleagues and the sobriquet Ms. Run Amok. She has since left the paper.

Jane Kirtley, a professor of media and ethics at University of Minnesota, said that Woodward's behavior was "symptomatic of a star system that seems to be in place in some of the major news organizations in the United States, where there's one set of rules for the rank and file and one set of rules for the superstars.

"What this illustrates is that as an institution, you can really have your reputation damaged when these individuals have very close relationships with sources in government and this has an impact on the reporting they're able to do for their primary employer."

It's been alleged that White House officials deliberately revealed that Plame was a CIA operative as a way of discrediting her husband, Joseph Wilson, who had made a damning assessment of the administration's pre-Iraq war claims that Saddam Hussein had been seeking uranium in Niger.

What's worse than Woodward's hiding of vital information from his employer, for which he has apologized, was the fact that he has frequently appeared in the media belittling the scandal and criticizing special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, while failing to disclose his own role in the case.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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