The youngsters among you might not appreciate the irony of Bob Woodward’s recent feud with the Obama administration. You really had to be there back in the early ‘70s, those halcyon days of the Watergate scandal when the Woodward legend was born, to fully savor its deliciousness.
Woodward was a superstar back then, famed as the late night cop reporter for the Washington Post who covered a third-rate burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters and teamed with Carl Bernstein to doggedly pursue it all the way to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The left reviled Nixon with a red-hot hatred that is difficult to describe today, although it might be likened to Bush-hatred exacerbated by an all-out culture war between the hippies and squares, and thus Woodward was revered with an equal passion by the left for his heroic role in bringing in at long last bringing down their favorite villain. “All the President’s Men,” Woodward’s and Bernstein’s account of the Watergate scandal, became a runaway best-seller. The hit movie starred the famously handsome Robert Redford as Woodward. A Pulitzer Prize and other plaudits were lavished on the duo, and Woodward and Bernstein both enjoyed a celebrity that had never before been attained by mere newspaper scribes. Journalism schools saw a sudden surge in enrollments, and a generation of reporters set out to win the same kind of scandal-driven fame.
Like all legends it was rather overblown, ignoring the role that other reporters and especially the congressional investigating committees played in forcing Nixon’s resignation, and subsequent revelations about the identity of the anonymous sourced dubbed “Deep Throat” have given rise to a revisionist account about his motives. Still, it was true to the extent that Woodward had done an impressive job of reporting, and Woodward would henceforth be referred to as a “journalistic icon.” He continued to do solid work over the decades, focusing on his daily duties as a Post editor and his meticulously researched books about the passing administrations while the rest of the press tried to duplicate his past glories by digging up the hot scandal, and although he would sometimes uncover something embarrassing to a Democrat or flattering to a Republican he retained his reputation as a reliably liberal reporter.
Until now, at least. While meticulously researching “The Price of Politics,” a book about the Obama administration’s dealings with the congressional Republicans over budget matters, Woodward learned from his sources that the idea for a “sequester” had originated at the White House. The revelation attracted little notice at the time of the book’s publication, but now that President Barack Obama is jetting around the country to blame the Republicans for the impending budget cuts that have resulted the claim is suddenly the source of much controversy. Woodward stood by his story even after an indignant White House denial, then further offended the administration by insisting that the earlier deal struck by the administration did not include the tax hikes the president now insists on. White House press secretary Jay Carney went so far as to call Woodward’s allegation “willfully wrong,” the most serious allegation that can be made against a journalist. Not backing down, Woodward has become increasingly critical of the president’s handling of the sequester issue, even going on the left-wing MSNBC network’s “Morning Joe” program to describe Obama’s budgetary threats to withdraw an aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf as “a kind of madness I haven’t seen in a long time.”
This presents a dilemma for the press, which much choose between two heroes, but we suspect that most reporters will opt for Obama’s version. That story features villainous Republicans, and besides, Watergate was a long time ago and Obama has done more for their side lately.
Woodward’s latest scoop probably won’t bring down another presidency, we’re sad to say, and certainly won’t make its way to the silver screen, where Woodward would undoubtedly be portrayed by a more homely actor, but it does seem to have complicated Obama’s efforts to blame the latest mess on his opponents. For that Woodward deserves another round of applause, this time from the right, and perhaps some grudging acknowledgment that his earlier work was more about a pursuit of the truth rather than just partisan politics.
— Bud Norman