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Context of 'November 28, 2005: Media Critic: Woodward’s Career Traced from Outsider to ‘Access Journalist’ in Plame Wilson Investigation'

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Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward publish the book All the President’s Men, documenting their 26-month coverage of the Watergate scandal. The Post will win a Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate reporting and the book will be made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name. Between the book and the film, All the President’s Men will become the touchstone for defining the complex, multilayered Watergate conspiracy. [Washington Post, 1996]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142] Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 250-251] Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” [New York Daily News, 10/19/2005] In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 357] In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 137]
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Nicholas E. Calio, White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin, Andrew Card, Craig Unger, James Bamford, Charlie Savage, Karen Hughes, James R. Wilkinson, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, provides classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward for use in his upcoming book Plan of Attack, which will document the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. According to his own later testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby is authorized to disclose this information to Woodward by President Bush. The information is from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which documented the purported WMD belonging to Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In 2006, other former senior officials in the Bush administration will add that Bush told others to cooperate with Woodward as well. One official will say: “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communications director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not cooperating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should cooperate.” It is unclear whether any other White House official provides Woodward with classified information. [National Journal, 4/6/2006] It is unclear whether Libby discloses this information to Woodward during two June 2003 meetings he has with the reporter (see June 23, 2003 and June 27, 2003), or at another, unreported meeting.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Dan Bartlett

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Critics of the Bush administration, and of the reporters who helped push its narrative regarding the Iraq invasion, lambast Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward for failing to reveal himself as a recipient of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see June 13, 2003, November 14, 2005, and November 16-17, 2005) while himself attacking the Plame Wilson investigation (see December 1, 2004, July 7, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, July 31, 2005, and October 27, 2005). Joshua Micah Marshall writes that while the story of Woodward’s involvement remains “sketchy,” it appears “that Woodward—who has long been publicly critical of the Fitzgerald investigation—has been part of it from the beginning. Literally, the beginning.… At a minimum, though, Woodward seems to have some explaining to do, at least for the fact that he became an aggressive commentator on the leak story without ever disclosing his own role in it, not even to his editors.” [Talking Points Memo, 11/15/2005] The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum calls Woodward’s behavior “bizarre,” and says, “I can’t begin to make sense of this.” [Washington Monthly, 11/17/2005] The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz asks, “Who was this Shallow Throat, and why is this the first we’re hearing about it?” [Washington Post, 11/16/2005] Liberal author and blogger Jane Hamsher is particularly caustic in her criticism, writing: “Woodward stopped being a ‘journalist’ in the true sense of the word long ago—when he decided celebrity status and book sales meant more than the truth. He has gone from being—well, whatever he was, to something much worse: an official peddler of lies told by powerful people to whitewash their criminal activities.” [Jane Hamsher, 11/15/2005] And John Aravosis of the liberal AmericaBlog writes: “It’s also beginning to sound a lot like Bob Woodward is becoming our next Judith Miller (see October 16, 2005). His repeated rants in defense of this administration, and against the special prosecutor, certainly take on a very interesting edge considering Mr. Woodward didn’t bother disclosing that he was quite involved in this story, and was hardly the impartial observer his silence suggested he was. Not to mention, he knew all along that HE TOO had received the leak, suggesting that a clear pattern of multiple leaks was developing, yet he still went on TV and said that all of these repeated leaks were just a slip of the tongue?” (Emphasis in the original.) [John Aravosis, 11/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Jane Hamsher, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), John Aravosis, Howard Kurtz, Judith Miller, Joshua Micah Marshall, Kevin Drum

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward acknowledges testifying in the Plame Wilson investigation (see November 14, 2005), and apologizes to the Post for failing to tell editors and publishers that a senior Bush administration official told him over two years ago that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA officer (see June 13, 2003). Woodward is a reporter and assistant managing editor at the Post. While speculation has been rife over which reporters knew of Plame Wilson’s identity, and which administration officials are responsible for blowing her covert status, Woodward has never admitted to being a recipient of the leaked information, and has repeatedly attacked the investigation (see December 1, 2004, July 7, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, July 31, 2005, and October 27, 2005). Woodward explains that he did not reveal his own involvement in the case—that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage informed him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—because he feared being subpoenaed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Woodward says he was trying to protect his sources. “That’s job number one in a case like this,” he says. “I hunkered down. I’m in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn’t want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed.” Woodward told his editors about his knowledge of the case shortly after former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005). [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Washington Post, 11/17/2005]
Woodward 'Should Have Come Forward' - Executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says Woodward “made a mistake.… [H]e still should have come forward, which he now admits. We should have had that conversation.… I’m concerned that people will get a mis-impression about Bob’s value to the newspaper and our readers because of this one instance in which he should have told us sooner.” Downie adds: “After Libby was indicted, [Woodward] noticed how his conversation with the source preceded the timing in the indictment. He’s been working on reporting around that subject ever since the indictment.”
Questions of Objectivity, Honesty - Woodward’s silence about his own involvement while repeatedly denigrating the investigation causes many to question his objectivity. “It just looks really bad,” says Eric Boehlert, an author and media critic. “It looks like what people have been saying about Bob Woodward for the past five years, that he’s become a stenographer for the Bush White House” (see November 25, 2002). Journalism professor Jay Rosen says flatly, “Bob Woodward has gone wholly into access journalism.” And Robert Zelnick, chair of Boston University’s journalism department, says: “It was incumbent upon a journalist, even one of Woodward’s stature, to inform his editors.… Bob is justifiably an icon of our profession—he has earned that many times over—but in this case his judgment was erroneous.” Rem Rieder, the editor of American Journalism Review, says Woodward’s disclosure is “stunning… [it] seems awfully reminiscent of what we criticized Judith Miller for.” Miller, a reporter for the New York Times, was accused by Times executive editor Bill Keller of misleading the paper by not informing her editors that she had discussed Plame Wilson’s identity with Libby (see October 16, 2005). Rieder calls Woodward “disingenuous” for his criticism of the investigation (see July 7, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 27, 2005) without revealing his own knowledge of the affair. Columnist and reporter Josh Marshall notes, “By becoming a partisan in the context of the leak case without revealing that he was at the center of it, really a party to it, he wasn’t being honest with his audience.” Woodward claims he only realized his conversation with Armitage might be of some significance after Libby was described in the indictment as the first Bush official to reveal Plame Wilson’s name to reporters. Armitage told Woodward of Plame Wilson’s identity weeks before Libby told Miller. Unlike Libby, Armitage did not release Woodward from his promise to protect his identity (see September 15, 2005). [Washington Post, 11/17/2005]
Woodward Denies Quid Pro Quo - Some time later, a colleague will ask Woodward if he were trading information with Armitage on a friendly, perhaps less-than-professional basis. “Was this a case of being in a relationship where you traded information with a friend?” Woodward will respond sharply: “It’s not trading information. It is a subterranean narrative. What do you have? What do you know? If you start making this a criminal act, people will not speak to you.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Eric Boehlert, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Jay Rosen, Leonard Downie, Jr., Valerie Plame Wilson, Washington Post, Richard Armitage, Robert Zelnick, Joshua Micah Marshall, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Rem Rieder

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz profiles Bob Woodward, the Post reporter and managing editor who has gone from trailblazing investigative reporter during the Watergate days (see June 15, 1974) to protecting Bush administration sources and lambasting the Plame Wilson investigation while concealing his own involvement as a leak recipient (see November 15-17, 2005 and November 16-17, 2005). “Three decades older and millions of dollars richer, Woodward still has plenty of secret sources, but they work in the highest reaches of the Bush administration,” Kurtz writes. “They are molding history rather than revealing Watergate-style corruption. Some have even used the press to strike back against a critic of their war by revealing the identity of a CIA operative. And the public is no longer as enamored of reporters and their unnamed informants.… In today’s polarized political atmosphere, Woodward’s journalistic methods have been assailed by those who view him as dependent on the Bush inner circle for the narratives that drive his bestsellers.” Kurtz quotes Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr. as saying that Woodward “has gone from being someone who was on the outside to someone who has such access, who’s famous, who’s recognized on the street, who’s treated by celebrities and very high officials as an equal.… [H]is access has produced a lot of information about the inner workings of this White House, the Clinton White House, the first Bush administration, and documents, actual documents, that nobody else has gotten.” Downie says that Woodward has admitted to withholding newsworthy information for his books, and has promised to write in a more timely fashion for the Post when he receives such information. But Kurtz then quotes journalism professor Jay Rosen: “Woodward for so long was a symbol of adversarial journalism because of the Watergate legend. But he really has become an access journalist, someone who’s an insider.” David Gergen, a Harvard professor and editor at US News and World Report, says of Woodward: “I do think that Bob’s politics have changed some over the years. He’s much more sympathetic to the establishment, especially the Republican establishment.” Mary Matalin, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, says: “There is a really deep respect for his work, and a deep desire by [President Bush] to have a contemporaneous, historically accurate account. The president rightly believed that Woodward, for good and ill, warts and all, would chronicle what happened. It’s in the White House’s interest to have a neutral source writing the history of the way Bush makes decisions. That’s why the White House gives him access.” [Washington Post, 11/28/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that “some of what Woodward wrote was ‘in the White House’s interest’ had to be the understatement of the year. Dubious cherry-picked intelligence from the Feith-WHIG conveyor belt (see August 2002) ended up in Plan of Attack (see Summer 2003) before that information was declassified.… No wonder Matalin thought Woodward had done ‘an extraordinary job.’ The WHIG gang had spun him silly.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: Howard Kurtz, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Clinton administration, Frank Rich, Leonard Downie, Jr., Washington Post, Jay Rosen, David Gergen, Mary Matalin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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