Bob Woodward's questionable timetable.

Media criticism.
Nov. 16 2005 5:35 PM

Bob Woodward's Timetable

It's not a cover-up, but what the hell is it?

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Journalist (and journalism professor) Mark Feldstein points me to another troubling wrinkle in the Woodward episode. The Post reports that Woodward's "confidentiality agreement" with the official who was his Plame source allowed him to talk to the prosecutor about their discussion, but not publicly reveal the source's identity or crucial details about his testimony.

Agreeing to such tortured pacts with sources contradicts the views Woodward expressed on Page 204 of his 2005 book, The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat. There, Woodward debates whether he should approach Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, with a sworn affidavit to release him—Woodward—from the vow to keep Felt's identity secret. Woodward's lawyer, Robert Barnett, suggests that given Felt's wobbly mental state, he should also collect the signatures of Throat's doctor, Throat's lawyer, and a Throat family member to ensure a complete release. On Page 205, Woodward says to hell with releases. He writes:

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I had never signed an agreement with any source before, during or after I received information. Why start now? Would it set a precedent? Paper agreements exist when there is an absence of trust. Well, that pretty much defined the situation. But Barnett's standard—voluntarily, absolutely and competently—was impossible in this case. The "competently" was unattainable for sure. And what would "voluntarily" and "absolutely" mean in these circumstances? I abandoned the idea of a signed affidavit.

Has Woodward set a precedent with his recent confidentiality agreement? And is the source Vice President Dick Cheney? (Woodward always encourages journalists to go straight to the top for sources when reporting a story.)

I don't expect immediate answers to my questions, but I do expect Woodward to review his utterances on candor and openness in his July 17, 2005, appearance on Kurtz's CNN show, Reliable Sources, before he declines to speak. Said Woodward then:

Be careful what you say, particularly early in an inquiry, and what's the main lesson of Watergate in these sort of scandals? You know better than anyone, get the full story out completely at the start so they don't have to drag it out of you. And that's what we're in. We're in the dragging out phase.

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As long as I've got Mark Feldstein contributing to my column for zero remuneration, allow me to publish his other volunteered gem: He salutes Woodward's superior reportorial tradecraft, noting that he appears not to have left an identifying fingerprint for Fitzgerald to discover as Judith Miller did when she signed the visitor log on June 23, 2003, at the Old Executive Office Building for her Libby session. Fitzgerald, as the Post reported, only learned of Woodward's conversation with the source because the source … burned Woodward. Send your flaming e-mails to 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.