Monday, April 19, 2004

Bob Woodward's new book seems to be real popular with folks who judged the last one to be an exercise in mindless propaganda. The criticism then was that Woodward just seems to type up what he hears from the folks he interviews, without giving the reader enough information to judge who they are and what agendas they might have -- and that while he's famous for checking incidental facts, the accounts of closed meetings at the core of any of his recent books really can't be checked. And I've yet to see a reason why that critique doesn't apply just as much to this book as to the last.

Which, in a way, shows the limits of the critique. We're already hearing Condi deny some of the more sensational stories in the book -- among them, that Colin Powell only heard about the Iraq attack plan after Dubya's old family friend, the Saudi ambassador. And Woodward could surely have gotten those denials out of Dubya's crew on the record, had he asked for them. Instead, he printed what everyone assumes to be Powell's charges pretty much unaltered -- and forbade Sixty Minutes to interview anyone else in its double segment on the book, to make sure that the story they broadcast would be his story, with the elements he picked.

So, it's not just that Woodward's books may reflect the bias of his sources. It might also be that Woodward is choosing sources whose bias reflects whatever story he wants to tell.

But Woodward is a reporter, a prominent member of an American press that prides itself on its objectivity, on simply mirroring the truth as they find it. Might he have an agenda of his own? Perish the thought!


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