Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's what Woodward represents that matters

TPM has published a helpful timeline in case you've missed how Bob Woodward has jumped the shark lately. The whole episode has many wondering why we're paying any attention to the man - or WTH has happened to him.
I just can't figure out what's gotten into Woodward, or why he's acting so erratically. But at this point, it seems Woodward is doing lasting, possibly irreparable harm to his once-sterling reputation, and that is a genuine shame.
Jonathan Chait does a good job of reminding us that perhaps Woodward is not the god of journalism we've often assumed him to be.
To reconcile Woodward’s journalistic reputation with the weird pettiness of his current role, one has to grasp the distinction between his abilities as a reporter and his abilities as an analyst. Woodward was, and remains, an elite gatherer of facts. But anybody who has seen him commit acts of political commentary on television has witnessed a painful spectacle. As an analyst, Woodward is a particular kind of awful — a Georgetown Wise Man reliably and almost invariably mouthing the conventional wisdom of the Washington Establishment.
 I agree, I've seen Woodward on television doing political commentary. And "Washington Establishment" pretty much nails it...the very bubble President Obama does everything he can to avoid. 

That's why what Woodward is doing matters. And Noam Scheiber nailed it.
There is a body of respectable Washington opinion that considers Obama unworthy of the presidency: he hadn’t put in his time before running, didn’t grasp the majesty of the office, evinced no respect for the way things were done. He not only won without courting the city’s elders, he had the bad manners to keep his distance even after winning. This is the view Woodward distills.
Scheiber didn't say it but I will...the black guy didn't pay his proper respects to the white good-ole-boys club.

That club is the heart of the beast in its death throes. Woodward is simply the latest to be howling at its demise.


  1. One other thing about Woodward is that I read a bit once, during the Bush Admin when he was more or less (until the very end and CW had changed) acting as Royal Stenographer. This bit said that Woodward never was any good at nor showed an inclination to deal critically with sources but that he was very good at cultivating them at high levels--one has to imagine, precisely because he was uncritical.

    When you are Deep Throat and you have an axe to grind, you give it to Woodward. There, the results are genuinely radical: the Fourth Estate actually taking down a criminal presidency. Like they taught us the Fourth Estate would. But what Woodward did was neither radical nor critical, he just accepted uncritically what his source said, and in this case the source turned out to be very right and, in implication if not intention, radical.

    Having Bernstein as a partner allowed serious investigative journalism to happen. You'll notice that Bernstein's career post-Watergate has been much lower-profile and higher-integrity.

    In a nutshell, Woodward is a tool. The result depends on who's using him, and for what purpose.

    1. I agree with everything you wrote, Bill, and I'd like to add that Woodward is pissed at PBO, as are the WHPC and other journalists, because he doesn't give them the special preference that the GWB White House did. This entered my thoughts way back in 2009, shortly after the president was sworn in, especially after I began to see how he could never do anything right in their eyes. Everything they wrote or said about him was negative and meant to portray him as inept in some way. Fox, Limbaugh, Murdoch, and all of the others had been used to being able to call the WH and speak to Cheney and/or Bush, tell them what to do, and have them elevate their requests to the top of the list. PBO doesn't play that game with them, and they don't know what to do. What makes it even worse is that they know he doesn't care what they think. He made it clear from the beginning that he was in D.C. to work for the people, not to schmooze with journalists and socialize with the D.C. party set, and I think he made the correct decision. What really surprised them was that, in spite of all they did in his first four years to disparage everything he said/did, he was re-elected with over 300 electoral college votes, while Romney couldn't get 210! So, yes, they're pissed and are still searching for a way to bring him down--even if it means they have to lie constantly to do it. They never expected PBO to be so well-liked by a majority of Americans, either, and the thing they really, really don't like is the absence of scandals and major missteps in his first term. See, because they view him as a young whippersnapper who "jumped" the line to become POTUS, they naturally expected his tenure to be chock full of scandals and major missteps, but they just didn't/don't know who they're dealing with.

  2. What I love about what is going on now, not just with Woodward, is that people are taking a long, hard look at the institutions prevailing inside the DC bubble. These institutions are being de-mystified, chipped away as people begin to accept their own power and stop lending that power to institutions like the NRA. People like Woodward and Rove just don't seem all that scary anymore. We really are looking behind the curtain to see the frightened old con man pulling the levers and pushing the buttons.

  3. In other words, Woodward has been trying to portray himself - again - as the brave reporter standing up the White House to bring the facts to the public. The only problem is that he was shown to be badly wrong on those facts, that he was for all intents and purposes substituting opinion for that. The hoots of derision from other reporters about both that and "the threats" have to be stinging. The funny thing (for me) is that the "threat" has become the actuality - he does have cause to regret it.

  4. Mo'nin, Ms. Pants

    Amen, Ms. Pants. Amen. Annnd....

    We also know that he did the exACT same thing to the black ole boys club, too.(there is one, y'all)

    Notice anything about both the white AND black response???

    Amongst the things that he says of himself: "I'm skinny...but, I'm TOUGH".

    And, just damn brilliant.


    I understand. But, just know you are TRULY missed.

  5. Don't listen to the latest Bob Woodward Shit...
    There are plenty people who are liberal on social issues, but are neocons on Israel and war in the Middle East. He's one and that's why he has always had it in for Obama. FACT. He's just like Joe Lieberman and Lanny Davis on this.

  6. It's really not a black guy white guy thing (though I'm sure that influences the opinion of some in the Village). You just have to recall the way both Carter and Clinton were treated by the establishment to understand that the "he's not one of us" attitude runs deep in Washington.

  7. And, Carter and Clinton had to produce their birth certificates?? They also weren't derided as "lazy" nor were they accused of not knowing "how to be an American". And, there, in this vein, are many more examples. These have been very particular kinds of disrespect. Now...

    I'll agree that, in it's entirety, what the President is going through is not solely race based. But, it most assuredly is a prime matter (as Ms. Pants correctly points out), it, also most assuredly, was expected by him (though, as he acknowledged, his actually having to produce his long form birth certificate took him by surprise), and the grace with which he is handling it all puts him, already, in a very long line of minority "firsts" greats.

    The impact of race in American life is always there. Progress, indeed, has been made. But, as John Lewis just yesterday pointed out: "we're not there yet". "Justice" Antonin Scalia makes this case about as plainly as it can be done.

    1. I said that some of it was influenced by him being black. What I was disagreeing with is the suggestion that it is a black thing. That is, the resentment towards Obama is yet another iteration of the old bugaboo of access journalism: be chummy with me or I will write something negative about you.

      I bring this up because I've seen to many Democrats make the mistake of thinking that they can avoid this problem by simply not being the type of person who previously suffered from it. Gore thought he would be treated better because he didn't "get around" like Clinton did. Kerry thought he would be treated better because he was a war hero. Etc., etc., etc.

      I think one advantage Obama had going into 2008 is he wasn't as naive as some Democrats about how he would be treated. Perhaps that is one case where being black actually helped him.

  8. Chris, I probably won't be able to convince you, though I'm pretty sure I understand what you're saying.
    What I'm saying is that this matter is more along the lines of both/and instead of either/or. So, I agree with what I believe is your over-all point. Therein, yes...Carter, Clinton, Gore, Kerry all went through their own particular forms of hell because they were perceived as not being one of "them". Plus...

    You will recall during his first term that the President and First Lady went to France. Amongst other things, he toured Normandy with then President Sarkosy. Shortly after the tour, the two, while walking together, had some questions yelled at them by reporters. One of the questions to PBO was about the Senate, I believe. At any rate, PBO's response re: the Senate was that they needed to "get to work". Senator Chuck Grassley's response to him was: "he's got a nerve". And, you certainly recall that, while giving his State of the Union address, he heard aimed at him, for the first time in history (this was the initial dubious first) "you lie". In the Chamber.

    Again, these statements and approaches to the President are different than, very bad though they were, what the other white guys had to go through because at no time did they have to contend with the privileged belief that they didn't know their "place". And, this verrry particular aspect of "place" is what Ms. Pants and I are talking about and makes it, in addition, very much a black/white thing.

    And, every minority that has moved matters forward (and that includes women) runs into this presentation as well. And, you, correctly I believe, actually make the case with your last paragraph.

    1. I really don't think we are in substantial disagreement. I prefer to take the approach that I think Obama would take on this matter: yes, racism is definitely involved, but let's elevate the discussion by pointing out that racism is often an aggravating factor instead of being the root cause.

      Good discussion. Thanks.

    2. Chris,

      I think where the disagreement persists is in relegating race to "an aggravating factor." It might feel that way to white people. But you reminded me of this from Ta Nehisi Coates.

      How is it, after all our study and exploration; after all our theories of differing conscience, of labor, of capitol, of class struggle, of agrarianism, and industrialism, of plutocrats and workers, we end up where we started? How are we, again, employed in this same small talk, on this same damn corner? How can it be that in any serious investigation of American domestic policy, knowing nothing of the specifics, you can walk into a room, yell "White Supremacy," and have a 50/50 shot at being right?

    3. I say it is an aggravating factor for some because for some it is an aggravating factor. But for many others (far to many, sadly) it is the primary factor. And it is for that reason that we can't just intellectualize this stuff away.

      For me to this is more of an intellectual matter more than one of which I have had direct experience. And for that reason I can really only speak on this in an intellectual manner. But when I do, I do not in any way mean to minimize that direct experience. That direct experience trumps my intellectual exercise every time.

  9. Interesting.

    I had this GREAT comment, and somehow, it appears to have gotten eaten. Keeping it more simple...

    This is a both/and state of affairs, not just either/or.

    Indeed, the white guys went through their own hell. Some of that was because they were perceived as not being "them". How PBO has and continues to go through this, though, is quite different. As I pointed out before, his not being "them" resulted in his having to produce his birth certificate. Then, additionally, the other guys have never had to contend with the privileged belief of them not knowing their "place". This is what Ms. Pants and I are trying to point out. This is one of the key additions, as it were, that, very much, make it a black/white thing. PBO fights with this to some degree every day. As does his wife. As does and has every minority that has been about moving this country forward.

    And, you, actually, make the point quite well in your last paragraph where you correctly point out that he knew/knows he is going to be going through a verrry particular kind of hell strictly because of how he looks.

    1. Blackman,

      Your comment didn't get eaten. Its just that in order to cut down on the spam, comments on posts that are older than 1 day have to be approved by me because the spammers usually attack older posts. I'll adjust it a bit since I love it when people have these kinds of conversations.

  10. And, here is what I'm pointing out about these kinds of matters being both/and instead of either/or.

    You're saying let's "elevate" the discussion. And, it appears that you may be having difficulty believing that racism is a "root cause" issue.

    Racism is a root cause issue. If you mean by "elevate", let's avoid getting emotional (if,indeed, that's what you mean), I would point out to you that when this matter directly impacts on daily living - and it does - it, then, it is not just an intellectual concept. Now, you may have seen some black folk discuss this matter intellectually - I do it, too. But, don't think that, simultaneously, a very large amount of emotion isn't being managed. Particularly if you may be talking with a "baby boomer". And, you are.

    So, the approach of looking at racism as not being root cause may well work for anybody whose life may not have been nor may not continue to be shaped by the wide impact of it. But, I am not that person. So....

    Right now, while good, this is shaping up to be rather classic from the perspective of what often happens when these discussions are attempted.

    If you, honestly, would like to discuss the root cause issue of racism (keep in mind the position PBO is in. he's the FIRST black President. in these positions where the individual has, in essence, the group riding on their shoulders with, both,the obligation and the opportunity to change how the group is perceived - and, Chris, this is how it works, that person is NOT going to be a fire breather. an investigation of history will bear me out, here. as, again, you correctly said, PBO knew and still knows that he is going to go through some very particular hell strictly because of how he looks and that he is directly challenging the belief of white male superiority. but, he cannot, even after all of this time, even though he is in the position he's in, directly state that. unless, in fact, one is a civil rights leader, and he isn't, directly stating the issue is not how it's done. none of the firsts that have been successful - I'd encourage that you, if you haven't, check out the website Pragmatic Obots Unite as highlighting these "firsts" is something they regularly do - have done it that way. they persevere. which, then, the hope goes, leads to "seconds" and "thirds" and so on) take a risk and come on over where I am.

    Ask me/ us (there are a number of black and other minority commentators here) stuff vs. the, often, usual approach in which the minority person who lives it has to "prove it" to the majority person, who doesn't.

    Indeed. Those conversations tend not to remain "elevated".