In his book “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987,” Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward wrote about a deathbed conversation he had with CIA Director William J. Casey. President Reagan, a Republican, was at the time in the throes of the Iran-Contra affair, and Mr. Woodward just happened to get Casey to admit that he had known about the diversion of Iran arms sale money to the Contras.
Woodward said he went into Casey’s hospital room, in disguise, just before he died, but writer Conrad Black said that Casey was not “compos mentis at the time, and that his room was heavily secured from such intrusions.”
“Mr. Casey’s widow, Sophia, has denied that Mr. Woodward had interviewed her husband in the hospital,” The New York Times reported at the time.
Still, Woodward’s claim made headlines across the nation — especially at the liberal Post.
Following Casey’s death, Reagan wrote: “[Woodward]’s a liar and he lied about what Casey is supposed to have thought of me.”
Most people have forgotten that story about Woodward — as well as about his highly criticized book about John Belushi. Like many liberal authors, Woodward sometimes runs fast and loose with his “facts,” but because he claims to have tapes of sources, the mainstream media treats his tomes like gospel.
But in fact, Woodward most often puts quotation marks around quotes he never heard. Woodward relies on what he says are first-hand sources (though some are actually second- and third-hand) to recount — verbatim, mind you — things that were said in a meeting, sometimes three years prior.
Woodward addresses the very grievous problem in a note to readers in his new book, "Fear: Trump in the White House." "When I have attributed exact quotations, thoughts or conclusions to the participants, that information comes from the person, a colleague with direct knowledge, or from meeting notes, personal diaries, files and government or personal documents."
Now, just for the record, no "journalist" worth his salt would do that. The clear way to handle such a conundrum is to report that Person A said that Person B said XYZ. Best, too, if it's not in quotes. No one knows exactly what was said if there's no recording, so paraphrase — and tell the readers you're paraphrasing from another source.
But not Woodward. He puts those words — sometimes full conversations — in quotes.
Another Woodward claim in “Veil” was that Reagan, while recovering from being shot in a 1981 assassination attempt, could “concentrate for only a few minutes at a time” and that he would be “remain attentive only an hour or so a day.” That, of course, fed into the mainstream media hype that Reagan was a dunce.
But Reagan’s doctor, Dr. Daniel Ruge, said no, telling The Associated Press that ““his recovery was superb … I never saw anything like that [description in the book] … it’s certainly news to me and I was there all the time.”
And take Woodward’s 2004 book “Plan of Attack” about George W. Bush's decision to go to war, in which Woodward claimed CIA Director George Tenet said there was a “slam dunk case” that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Tenet, though, said he was taken out of context, asserting he was being set up as a scapegoat for the failures of the Iraq war. In a “60 Minutes” interview, Tenet said that he had said “slam dunk” to suggest it would be easy to build a public case for the war because, at the time, everyone — including liberals like Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry — agreed that Saddam did, in fact, have WMDs.
When "Plan of Attack" came out, the New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook wrote: "Extended sections of [Woodward's] recent efforts have been fabricated in the literalist sense, with speculative conversations placed in quotation marks. What is presented may be similar to what was actually said but cannot have the verity Woodward claims (unless George W. Bush and Colin Powell taped their private conversations). Woodward and his editors have thus cheapened the quotation mark, changing its meaning from 'what was said' to 'whatever sounds about right' .... Does Woodward crave attention so badly he can no longer write a book that conforms to the standard disciplines of nonfiction and to standard distinctions between truth and conjecture?"
Then there’s that weird Belushi book (why a political writer was penning a book about a late-night TV star is another question). Friends of Belushi objected to Mr. Woodward’s portrayal of him in “Wired,” claiming some scenes were just made up.
“There were certainly things that he just got patently wrong. He painted a portrait of John that was really inaccurate — certain stories in there that just weren’t true and never happened,” said Dan Aykroyd, a longtime friend, in the book “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live.”
So now comes “Fear: Trump in the White House.” Woodward claims to have talked to dozens of Trump officials — taping them, of course — who tell all kinds of horrible stories about Mr. Trump. Coming just before the midterm elections — he picked, for some reason, Sept. 11 as his publication date — it’s clear that Woodward hopes to have an effect on the makeup of Congress.
Woodward — remember, he’s a journalist — said “people better wake up to what’s going on.” Well, sounds like a real journalist, right?
The White House on Monday said it would not honor Woodward with a point-by-point rebuttal. “I think that would be a complete and utter waste of our time,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “So, no.”
“I would certainly rather take the actual on-record account from people who are here, who have been working in this building, who have been interacting with this president day in, day out, like [Secretary of Defense] Gen. [James] Mattis, like [Chief of Staff] Gen. [John] Kelly, like myself,” Sanders said, “not disgruntled former employees that refuse to put their name on things when they come out to attack the president.”
Trump, for his part, has said much the same. “The book is a work of fiction. If you look back at Woodward’s past, he had the same problem with other presidents. He likes to get publicity, sell some books,” the president said.
And sell some book he will. Woodward always does — regardless of whether he includes “facts.”