“Is it me, or has Bob Woodward just sealed the deal on transforming his legacy from crusading shoeleather reporter who brought down a corrupt White House to official Bush White House shill?” Amy Sullivan, over at Gadflyer.com. And what did YOU think of the Bob Woodward interview on 60 Minutes last night? Earlier in the day I had been email-scolded by a friend for failing to “impute decent motives” to Woodward when, in an earlier posting, I referred to Woodward’s sycophantish Bush At War. So, chastened, I tried to listen all the way through the interview without talking back to the television or anything. Now, I must first confess that when I wrote that “sycophant” line about Woodward a few days ago, I was under the sway of early, enticing teasers suggesting that this new book might be a more critical appraisal of the Build-up To War process. I assumed that, perhaps for this one, Woodward went to other sources outside the administration, or turned up useful documents that hadn’t yet been snatched away and classified. Alas, it appears to be based on lengthy on-the-record interviews with the president, with Rumsfeld, and others — all of whom could conceivably have a vested interest in the way their “deliberative process” is portrayed. In fact, in one revealing line that I wish I had written down – because I cannot find it in the partial transcript I linked to above – Woodward remarked that the president wants people to see that he was involved in a very hands-on way in the war planning. Woodward seems to have accomodated nicely. We “learned” that George Tenet gave the president bad intelligence (in response to the president’s request for intelligence that would justify the war he already plainly wanted); that there are “deep rifts” between Powell and Cheney, etc. Not news. True, we’ve never before had these vivid, blow-by-blow-as-reconstructed-by-the-president (whose memory for conversations is apparently stellar, but who gets fuzzy on “dates”) details about specific conversations, “slam-dunk” pantomimes, elbow-grabbings, and so on, but really – how much of “the rest of the story” do you really think we’re going to get from the principals?
I’ve come to judge White House worry about a book or story by the number of character assassins they set loose on the author. By that measure, the response has so far been rather half-hearted and nitpicky, like they’re sniping just to play along with a ruse. If that’s the case, the press is being very obliging: see, for example, “UNANSWERED – DID THE WHITE HOUSE VIOLATE THE LAW?: Woodward reveals that in July 2002, Bush secretly approved diverting $700 million meant for operations in Afghanistan into war planning for Iraq.” (Come on: did Bush not KNOW that was unconstitutional when he revealed it to Woodward on the record ?), or Woodward Book Rattles the Capital. Now, the administration did take a few days to organize their attack on Richard Clarke, so maybe I’ll be eating my words by the end of the week. But I just don’t think they’re unhappy about this book.