November 29, 2005

Four truths about Bob Woodward.

Her unique personal situation enables Nora Ephron to discern:
Truth #1: Bob is not a liar. ...

Truth #2: Bob has always had trouble seeing the forest for the trees. That’s why people love to talk to him; he almost never puts the pieces together in a way that hurts his sources....

Truth #3: Bob is not to be confused with other reporters.... He knows everything. What’s more, he has no idea what it adds up to. How could he possibly keep anyone, much less his editor, in the loop?...

Truth #4: If you don’t talk to Woodward, you’ll be sorry. I mention this not because it’s precisely true (look at me), but because it’s an operating truth in official Washington....

23 comments:

Dave said...

We're supposed to know who Nora Ephron is, right?

From a quick google search she appears to direct sappy movies.

She sounds like a real wit.

Ann Althouse said...

Dave, the link is there so you can read the article, where you'll find your answer.

Dave said...

Right. Just read her bio at the Huffington Post and saw the movies Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally.

Enough said. Sappy movies.

ALH ipinions said...

After effectively emasculating her ex-husband Carl Bernstein in movies and print, it seems entirely fitting for Ephron to take a whack at Bernstein's (journalistic) mistress, Bod Woodward.

Perhaps her wit is too subtle (or too inside the beltway) for some people but I think she cuts him down to size just right!

wildaboutharrie said...

ALH - agreed. Ouch!

And it sounds spot on to me.

Woodward's Plan of Attack is not a thrilling read - more like transcripts if a bunch of high-level meetings, so it's boring and devestating at the same time. And as I recall, Wilson's editorial is not mentioned.

erp said...

Is anyone else tired of women who have done pretty well in the large scheme of things and who continue to whine and cry, woe is me? Just what did she mean when in Truth #4, she says "look at me"?

Look at me, the little girl clamoring for attention from mommy and daddy, or look at me, I'm a victim of big bad men?

Either way, she's pathetic.

wildaboutharrie said...

What does her "look at me" comment have to do with the fact that she's a woman? She's saying she understands what it's like to be on the outs with Woodward.

This is a blog-type piece of writing. She includes her personal perspective.

I think you're projecting, though I not sure what.

Henry said...

What Ephron says jibes with what I've read elsewhere. There's a reason why both Republicans and Democratics give him access (see Truths #2 and #4 especially).

knoxgirl said...

wild--I agree, I don't get the "whiny woman" connection. But, Ephron does seem to imply that she's suffered somehow. When she's had major motion pictures made and novels published, it sort of begs the question, "what's she got to complain about?"

DEC said...

Woodward refers to himself as a "reporter." He is a great reporter. Reporters are supposed to report, writing information they have gathered in order of descending interest. They are not supposed to be essay writers with a point of view. As a former journalist, I consider most of Nora's piece quite complimentary.

DEC said...

Nora Ephron writes: "Bob has always had trouble seeing the forest for the trees. That’s why people love to talk to him; he almost never puts the pieces together in a way that hurts his sources."

The job of a good newspaper reporter is to gather leaves from trees, not to contemplate the forest.

When I was a young reporter, I chatted with author James A. Michener for a couple of hours. He told me to get out of the newspaper business before my 30th birthday if I wanted to become a novelist. (I chose a different career path.) Michener's point was that objective newspaper reporters eventually lose their ability to draw conclusions about the big picture because they spend so much of their work time as nonjudmental observers.

wildaboutharrie said...

Woodward is/was an investigative reporter. His job is to find the connections.

DEC said...

Not in this case, wildaboutharrie. Woodward wasn't covering the story for the Post, another reporter was. Woodward simply picked up some gossip in his daily work on his book projects. Under his employment arrangement, Woodward focuses most of his time on writing books, not on writing daily news stories. You seldom see Woodward's byline in the Post anymore.

Jonathan said...

I'm skeptical about Point 1. Woodward's account of his hospital conversations with the dying William Casey defies belief, at least for me.

Matt S. said...

In the afterglow of Watergate, Washington journalists' ever-growing reliance on anonymous sources left both reporters and editors vulnerable to manipulation. As editor of the Post's Metro section, Bob Woodward failed to challenge a promising young reporter who submitted a sensational article on an eight-year-old drug addict, based entirely on anonymous sources. After Janet Cooke won the Pulitzer Prize for "Jimmy's World" in 1981, an internal investigation exposed the story as fictitious. The Cooke incident derailed Woodward's rise within the Post's management and resulted in his nebulous position as assistant managing editor.

http://blog.oup.com/oupblog/2005/11/bob_woodward_an.html

wildaboutharrie said...

DEC, I'm actually taking issue with your comment that a reporter gathers leaves and doesn't worry about the forest. An investigative reporter (which is what Woodward was) looks for patterns and connections, he doesn't just report the bits.

But since you mention Plame, it's interesting - it was just a bit of gossip, perhaps, but when I read his book, I found it odd that he didn't mention Wilson at all. He did touch a little on the "sixteen words" but that was it. I had thought it was a bigger story than that, but I started to doubt myself.

Then he denigrated Fitzgerald (I don't think anyone else did) on TV. And then we find out that he had information on the leak (though I wouldn't argue he needed to tell anyone beyond his editor).

His downplaying the importance of the story does make me wonder about how he gets his access to his White House sources.

I guess I'll read his book again in light of what we know now.

DEC said...

Wildaboutharrie, we probably are in agreement. I view patterns and connections as leaves, not as "the big picture."

DEC said...

Wildaboutharrie, I probably should explain myself a little more. I view connections and patterns as leaves because daily newspaper reporters usually gather and write about them one at a time. They rarely have the luxury of putting the whole jigsaw puzzle together before they have to write about it.

On the subject of how Woodward gets his sources, politicans come and go in Washington, but Woodward stays. The real question for an ambitious poltician is: How can I get to Woodward?

wildaboutharrie said...

DEC got you.

Off topic, if you don't mind, about reporters not expressing a "point of view", how possible is this? For example, a Senator gives a statement without answering questions. Do you write that he "refused" to answer questions? "declined"? "ignored"? or just "didn't"? Doesn't each choice have a point of view?

And if you mention what the senator was wearing, that gives a point of view, as does not mentioning clothes.

How point of viewless can you be?

DEC said...

Wildaboutharrie, no person can be completely objective. And objectivity is not necessarily neutrality. But a reporter should begin an assignment without preconceptions and without a political or personal agenda.

You write "refused to answer questions" if the senator was rude; you write "declined to answer questions" if the senator was polite; you write "ignored questions" if the senator was aloof. You don't make word selections because you don't like the senator or his beliefs.

It is not a perfect world. A good reporter just does the best that he or she can do.

DEC said...

Wildaboutharrie, one additional thought about your senator example: If you wrote for a tabloid newspaper, you might do things differently. Tabloids prefer a hard-hitting writing style. A tabloid journalist might use the word "refused" in all situations because the word has the most punch of all of the options.

wildaboutharrie said...

Thank you, that makes sense. I'll pay attention when I read the free parts of the NYT and WSJ tomorrow.

I'm sorry you refuse to/decline to/don't make your blog available, as your travels sound interesting.

DEC said...

Wildaboutharrie, in response to your comment: I deleted my blog. I will start a new one soon.