We devote untold amounts of print to trying to figure out why powerful people are fuckups, and this is the heart of it all:
The real rap on Woodward isn’t that he makes things up. It’s that he takes what powerful people tell him at face value; that his accounts are shaped by who coöperates with him and who doesn’t; and that they lack context, critical awareness, and, ultimately, historic meaning.
I used to have an editor who made us all change beats every three to six months. It was a pain in the ass, as it didn’t let anybody get really good at anything, but the intent was to avoid, even on a small scale, a situation where we began to feel ourselves part of a club that wasn’t our own. Because when you start to feel closer to your sources than your colleagues, or worse, start to mix the two up, you do a disservice to your readers.
Of course, readers are no longer who Woodward is serving, and he hasn’t been serving anyone but himself for quite some time. And it shows:
Everybody’s saying now that surely Bob Woodward has gotten harder pushback, more bullying than this. But really? How recently? I think he’s been much more coddled in recent years than people are inclined to admit.
It’s depressing because it’s Woodward, but other than that it’s entirely predictable.