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Profile: Leonard Downie, Jr.

Leonard Downie, Jr. was a participant or observer in the following events:

Walter Pincus.Walter Pincus. [Source: Publicity photo]By mid-March 2003, Washington Post journalist Walter Pincus is skeptical of Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003) and develops material for an article questioning Powell’s evidence. However, his editors are not interested.
Page A17 - But thanks to pressure from his colleague Bob Woodward, the Post runs his story on March 16, but only on page A17. The article reads, “US intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden….” It notes that senior US officials “repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. will later say, “In retrospect, that probably should have been on Page 1 instead of A17, even though it wasn’t a definitive story and had to rely on unnamed sources. It was a very prescient story.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
Follow-up - Two days later, the Post publishes another critical story by Pincus, this one co-written with Dana Milbank. It reads, “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week, it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged—and in some cases disproved—by the United Nations, European governments and even US intelligence reports.” However, this story only appears on page A13. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Third Story Held Until After Start of War - Around the same time, Post journalists Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung turn in a story that says CIA officials “communicated significant doubts to the administration” about evidence tying Iraq to attempted uranium purchases for nuclear weapons. But the story is held until March 22, three days after the Iraq war begins. [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
Post's Editors Did Not Want to "Make a Difference" - Pincus will later comment, “The front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are very important in shaping what other people think. They’re like writing a memo to the White House.” But the Post’s editors “went through a whole phase in which they didn’t put things on the front page that would make a difference.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Downie will later say, “Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Bob Woodward, Walter Pincus, Leonard Downie, Jr., Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

David Ottaway.David Ottaway. [Source: AAAS.org]According to the Oregon branch of the Islamic charitable organization the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Washington Post reporter David Ottaway receives a classified document that is evidence of illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency. The document shows that the NSA illegally intercepted telephone conversations and e-mails between Al Haramain officials in Oregon and Washington, DC. The document, dated May 24, 2004 and marked “Top Secret,” is accidentally provided to Al Haramain by Treasury Department officials that same month; Al Haramain quickly turns the document over to Ottoway, who is researching Islamic groups and individuals labeled as terrorists by the US government and are attempting to prove their innocence. Instead of reporting on the document, Ottaway will return it to the FBI when that organization demands it back in November 2004. In February 2006, Al Haramain will sue the Bush administration for illegally spying on it (see February 28, 2006) as part of its warrantless wiretapping program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005). The Treasury Department has been investigating the charitable organization for possible ties to terrorism, and designated the group as a terrorist organization. The FBI will approach the organization and then Ottaway himself, demanding that all copies of the document be returned and threatening them with prosecution if the contents are revealed. Ottaway will consult with Post editors and lawyers, who will conclude, according to Ottaway, “that it was not relevant to what I was working on at the time.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., will defend the decision, saying, “At the time we had this document, it was before we had any knowledge of the eavesdropping program. Without that knowledge, the document provided no useful information. At the time, all we knew was that this document was not relevant to David’s reporting.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Treasury, Washington Post, Leonard Downie, Jr., Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, David Ottaway, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler is interviewed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as part of Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak. Kessler has agreed to give a deposition concerning two of his telephone conversations with Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, on July 12 (see July 12, 2003) and July 18, 2003. Libby and other White House aides have signed waivers releasing Kessler and other journalists from any confidentiality agreements they may have concerning Plame Wilson (see January 2-5, 2004). Kessler tells Fitzgerald that Libby did not mention Plame Wilson or her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, during their conversations. He says that without the waiver he would have refused to testify; Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says the agreement to allow Kessler to be deposed was “reached in a way so that we are not violating any confidential source agreements, and we will never do so willingly.” Kessler’s deposition takes place in the presence of Post lawyers, at a law office, and not before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. [Washington Post, 6/23/2004; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Glenn Kessler, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Leonard Downie, Jr., Washington Post, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus testifies before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003 and August 9, 2004). Pincus refuses to divulge confidential sources, and refuses to divulge the name of the White House official who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent. He does, however, recount the substance of that conversation. [Associated Press, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 2006] In his deposition, Pincus says he agreed to be questioned by prosecutors only with his source’s approval. “I understand that my source has already spoken to the special prosecutor about our conversation on July 12, and that the special prosecutor has dropped his demand that I reveal my source,” Pincus says. “Even so, I will not testify about his or her identity.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2004; Associated Press, 9/17/2004] “The source has not discharged us from the confidentiality pledge,” says the Post’s executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr. [Washington Post, 9/16/2004] Pincus will later describe why he agreed to testify instead of go to jail to protect his sources. “I believed firmly that the sources controlled the privilege,” he will say. One of his sources had told Pincus, through lawyers, that since he had revealed his own identity, Pincus could testify but not name him publicly. Pincus will later say, “If their identity was known to [special prosecutor] Patrick Fitzgerald, what confidence was I breaking?” He agreed to testify if he could name his source in court, but protect the source’s identity publicly. Fellow reporter Lowell Bergman will later call it “a cute deal.” When Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter asks Bergman, “Can’t you make an argument that this was the pragmatic tactic to take?” Bergman will respond, “It is until you are the next reporter subpoenaed and you have no protection.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Pincus’s source will later be revealed as former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003).

Entity Tags: Leonard Downie, Jr., Bush administration (43), Lowell Bergman, Ari Fleischer, Washington Post, Jonathan Alter, Walter Pincus

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

After White House official Lewis Libby is indicted (see October 28, 2005), Washington Post editor and reporter Bob Woodward “realizes” that he was a recipient of the information that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see June 13, 2003). Woodward has been scathing in his criticism of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and staunch in his support of the journalists who outed Plame Wilson in their reporting (see December 1, 2004, July 7, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, July 31, 2005, October 27, 2005, and October 28, 2005). According to Woodward’s own recollections, he was asked by Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. to help report on the status of the investigation into the leak. Woodward will say that upon listening to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald tell reporters that Libby was the first White House official to reveal Plame Wilson’s name to a reporter (see June 23, 2003), he realizes that Fitzgerald is misinformed. Instead, Woodward had received that information from another Bush administration source 10 days before Libby. (Woodward’s source was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a fact that Woodward does not disclose to the media, and is not publicly revealed for nearly six months—see March 14, 2006). Woodward quickly telephones his source (Armitage), and will tell another reporter: “I said it was clear to me that the source had told me [about Wilson’s wife] in mid-June, and this person could check his or her records and see that it was mid-June. My source said he or she had no alternative but to go to the prosecutor. I said, ‘If you do, am I released?’” Woodward is referring to the confidentiality agreement between the two. The source agrees, but only for purposes of discussing it with Fitzgerald, not for publication. Woodward later says he tried twice, once in 2004 and once earlier in 2005, to persuade Armitage to remove the confidentiality restriction, but Armitage refused to budge. Woodward informs Fitzgerald of his contact with Armitage, as does Armitage. While Armitage has spoken to the FBI about his role in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity (see October 2, 2003), and to the grand jury investigating the leak (in which he failed to divulge his contact with Woodward—see September 22, 2004), Woodward has not spoken to Fitzgerald until now, though his name appears on numerous White House telephone and visitors’ logs during the critical period of June and July 2003. Woodward will say he is surprised not to have been contacted by Fitzgerald, and, in contrast to his earlier criticisms of Fitzgerald, will call him “incredibly sensitive to what we do. He didn’t infringe on my other reporting, which frankly surprised me. He said, ‘This is what I need, I don’t need any more.’” [Time, 11/18/2005; Washington Post, 8/29/2006] Woodward will soon give a deposition to Fitzgerald, and will write about his role in the leak for the Post (see November 14, 2005).

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Bob Woodward, Leonard Downie, Jr., Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: 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

The CIA announces that it has fired one of its officers, Mary McCarthy, who, it claims, “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence” with a newspaper reporter. McCarthy is alleged to have leaked information about the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. The Post recently published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories on the secret prison network; Priest was one of the main reporters for that series. McCarthy worked at the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which was investigating allegations that the CIA was torturing detainees at Iraqi prisons. The CIA claims McCarthy has admitted to the leaks, though it will not acknowledge that she was one of Priest’s sources for the prison stories. But McCarthy’s attorney, Ty Cobb, says that his client “emphatically denies she leaked any classified information and the facts would demonstrate that she would not even have access to any of the information attributed to her leaking to anyone.” She is “devastated,” Cobb says, that her long career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and that her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” Cobb notes that McCarthy is only 10 days short of retirement, and says, “Her hope had been to leave with her dignity and reputation intact, which obviously did not happen.” McCarthy has planned for some time to leave the agency and become a public interest lawyer. Her retirement process began well before the CIA began investigating the Post leaks. [New York Daily News, 4/22/2006; National Journal, 4/25/2006; Washington Post, 4/25/2006]
Aggressive Internal Probe - The CIA has conducted an aggressive internal investigation, administering polygraph tests to McCarthy and numerous other officials. “This was a very aggressive internal investigation,” says a former CIA officer. “[CIA Director Porter] Goss was determined to find the source of the secret jails story.” [New York Times, 4/21/2006] The agency has not asked the Justice Department to open a formal probe into the allegations against McCarthy, and resultingly, few expect that criminal charges will be filed against her or any others who may be accused of leaking information. [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] The Justice Department has already opened a probe of the leaks surrounding the Post stories, but no word of the results of that probe has been revealed. No reporters have been interviewed about the leaks: Post spokesman Eric Grant says, “No Post reporter has been subpoenaed or talked to investigators in connection with this matter.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says that he cannot comment on the firing, but “[a]s a general principle, obviously I am opposed to criminalizing the dissemination of government information to the press.” [New York Times, 4/21/2006]
McCarthy Often Spoke to Reporters - A former CIA official tells a reporter that part of McCarthy’s job was to talk to the press in authorized interviews. “It is not uncommon for an officer, when they are designated to talk to the press, to let something slip, or not report every contact.” Former Deputy CIA Director Richard Kerr says of McCarthy: “She was a very qualified analyst in a variety of jobs. She had strong views sometimes, but I don’t know anyone who would describe her as a zealot or ideologue.”
CIA Officials Often 'Ignored' When Attempting to Bring Up Issues - Kerr adds that if McCarthy did leak classified information to the press, she behaved wrongly and should be held accountable. “If she believed there was something morally wrong or illegal going on, there were mechanisms within the system to go up the line, or complain,” he says. “The other possibility for her or anyone else is to quit and speak once you are outside.” Former CIA analyst and State Department counterterrorism official Larry Johnson disagrees, saying: “During this administration, there have been any number of CIA officers who have brought up issues through channels internally. There have been intelligence officers who have brought up things within their own agencies, and even spoken to Congressional intelligence committees or presidential commissions. But they have found themselves completely ignored.” [National Journal, 4/25/2006] A former intelligence official who knows McCarthy says: “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken. That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2006]
Senator Praises Firing - Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s action. However, he is allegedly guilty of a far worse intelligence leak (see April 21, 2006).
Critics Claim Partisan Basis for Leaked Information - Some supporters of the Bush administration will claim that McCarthy’s leaks were politically motivated, and will point to the fact that in 2004, McCarthy contributed $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry (D-MA). [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] Columnist Melanie Morgan will accuse McCarthy of having “leftist ties,” and calls her a “revolting… liberal Democrat [sic] activist” who colluded with Priest, another “leftist,” to publish information that would “undermine America’s fight against terrorism.” She will also accuse McCarthy and Priest of working to help defeat Senator Curt Weldon (R-PA) in his 2006 re-election bid, and of having “suspicious” ties to Sandy Berger, the Clinton administration’s national security adviser, and former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. She concludes: “The Clintonites are so desperate to regain power that they are willing to sell out our national security to do it. And the reporters who serve as agents for this effort are rewarded for executing their role in the effort.… And the people who are hurting America are being rewarded.” [WorldNetDaily, 4/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Leonard Downie, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency, Eric Grant, Larry C. Johnson, Dana Priest, US Department of Justice, Washington Post, Sandy Berger, Ty Cobb, Melanie Morgan, Mary McCarthy, Pat Roberts, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Richard A. Clarke, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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