Bob Woodward is not Judith Miller.

Media criticism.
Nov. 17 2005 10:11 PM

Bob Ain't Judy

But the similarities don't flatter Woodward.

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Even if Woodward is on the up-and-up, he still has much squirrelly behavior to account for. For instance, his justification for not helping his paper pursue the big Plame story is no more plausible, on its face, than Miller's. He claims to have tipped off fellow Post reporter Walter Pincus about Wilson's wife, but Pincus says it didn't happen. Miller claimed most recently in an e-mail to Times Public Editor Byron Calame that she suggested to Jill Abramson—then Washington bureau chief and now Times managing editor—that the bureau check out Wilson and Plame. Abramson tells me, "That is not so." I believe her.

Woodward shares other DNA with Miller, something he might not like to admit, considering the circumstances. Both are practitioners of "access journalism," ever seeking to cultivate sources higher and higher up the power pyramid. Miller gave this kind of reporting its ugliest face when she said in a 2004 radio interview:

My job was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of the New York Times as best as I could figure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction.

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Access journalists can also become incredibly controlling and possessive. While hunting WMD in Iraq with the MET Alpha team, Miller "intimidated" U.S. Army soldiers with the names of the powerful and famous back in Washington, namely Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his undersecretary, Douglas Feith. As the Washington Post'sHoward Kurtz reported, she battled with the Times Baghdad bureau chief over access to Ahmed Chalabi, whom she considered her chattel.

I can't cite any similar highhandness on Woodward's part, nor is he the sort to sluice the words of authorities directly into his journalism. But I wonder if he gets too chummy with his best and most powerful sources, as the recent controversy indicates. Slate columnist Fred Kaplan remembers Woodward emerging from the spectators' section to greet Colin Powell at Powell's 1989 confirmation hearings as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kaplan, who was covering the story for the Boston Globe from the press table, says Powell hallooed Woodward as if he were a long-lost frat brother. Woodward kept his standard reserve, but his wide grin telegraphed their mutual admiration.

What troubles me about Woodward's conduct in the Plame affair is his Miller-esque self-centeredness. Absolute vigilance in protecting the confidentiality of sources is wonderful, but not when it comes at the expense of finding a way to report the news.

Even though Woodward has publicly apologized to Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. for caching the Plame nugget rather than sharing it with the Post, I'm not convinced he feels that he's done anything wrong. To sit on such incendiary information for so long, especially while other reporters are being threatened with jail, is beneath the standards to which I thought Woodward subscribed. I can see him waffling for two months, six months, or nine months. But 29? If he owes Post editors an apology, surely he owes his readers one, too, and reassurances about what kind of reporter he'll be in the future.

******

Am I the only one who's noticed how pleased Downie seems to be at Woodward's trip to the doghouse? Downie wasn't gloating last night discussing the furor on Chris Matthews' Hardball, but he wasn't suffering, either. Pleased or gloating? Let me know what you think at slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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