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Out of Our Minds
Thursday, November 17, 2005 11:47 AM
When Your Star Turns to Supernova
Kevin Salwen on In the News

OK, all you management kibbitzers, what do you do now? You're Len Downie, big boss at the Washington Post. You learn that your superstar investigative journalist and probably the single biggest name in print journalism -- Bob Woodward -- was the very first journalist to learn the identity of the CIA agent Valerie Plame in that lurid (and ultraconvoluted) Washington flareup over the war and leaks.

And then you learn that your superstar broke paper guidelines by withholding information from his bosses. 'I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner,' Woodward, who testified in the CIA leak investigation Monday, said in an interview with his own paper. 'I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's job number one in a case like this. . . .

'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.'

That kind of argument did little for the Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, who wrote this remarkable paragraph about a colleague:
The belated revelation that Woodward has been sitting on information about the Plame controversy reignited questions about his unique relationship with The Post while he writes books with unparalleled access to high-level officials, and about why Woodward denigrated the Fitzgerald probe in television and radio interviews while not divulging his own involvement in the matter.

Downie has seen other big papers eat their superstar offspring: The New York Times of course fired Judith Miller (it wasn't called a firing but after your hot-shot columnist Maureen Dowd says in print that Miller can't come back, she ain't coming back). Several years back, the Chicago Tribune waved goodbye to their No. 1 readership draw, Bob Greene, after a dating scandal.

So, is Woodward a goner? Or do you stand by the man who kept the Watergate secrets honorably for 3 decades and accept his apology? What's your management call?


Jack Yoest - 11/19/2005 7:22:50 AM
Kevin, Your commenters, Steve, Farnsworth and Terrell each got it right.

Ben Bradlee says that he would have told and sold out D-Day in 1944, if he know.

Never stand between a reporter and a Pulitzer.

A reporter is not anyone's friend. Not even his editor's. And certainly not a friend to target or a source.

Thier trust is conditional.

Good Post,
Terrell Johnson - 11/18/2005 11:00:36 AM
Interesting story... my first instinct is to say that if the rules don't apply to superstars as well as also-rans, then they don't really apply to anyone. So if Downie wants to retain his credibility with his larger staff, he'll have to enforce them somehow. Another consideration to keep in mind is that Woodward is 62 years old. If Downie bends the rules for him now and Woodward leaves the company in a year, then Downie's really put himself out on a limb for nothing. Also, you have to consider what kind of behavior would be reinforced in the rest of the staff if an exception is made for Woodward -- would that encourage other staffers to do just as he did, knowing that his behavior was effectively sanctioned by the company? At this stage in Woodward's career, it's hard to imagine him accepting some lesser punishment as a suspension for a month, or something like that, and returning to the paper. He's been devoted mostly to his book-writing career for many years anyway, so if he left the paper it would probably be an acknowledgement of what is already (largely) the case. In a way, it's interesting that he allowed it to become public without a decision having already been made; perhaps it would have been better to resign from the Post before this came out, and acknowledge it forthrightly when asked about it, saying he didn't want to put the reputation of the organization in jeopardy.... interesting case nonetheless.
Farnsworth - 11/18/2005 9:51:00 AM
He's a walking brand and PR generator for the Post. In a day of declining readership, he's as close as they come to their own Tiger Woods. Plus, he'd be quite the catch for any other paper.

Farnsworth says: Management accepts the apology and plays 'Stand By Your Man' behind closed doors while turning Katie Graham's portrait over in shame.
Steve S - 11/17/2005 9:46:39 PM
Trust is critical for correspondents. So Woodward appears to have kept his word to his sources but not to his bosses. Will his bosses trust him? How can they? Sorry to see you go Bob.


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