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Posted by on Nov 16, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Washington Post‘s Woodward Was Told Plame’s Identity Two Years Ago (UPDATED)

There’s a new twist in the Plamegate story. The Washington Post’s Watergate story legend Bob Woodward, it turns out, was told about Valerie Plame’s identity apparently before any other journalist — and he only just informed his editors.

No matter what happens, this could tarnish Woodward’s reputation. He has been seemingly downplaying the Plame investigation’s importance on talk shows recently. Plus, he writes great insider books by getting sources to open up to him in now-it-can-be-told investigative reporting interviews — but the question has always been whether even subtly these sources get something in return. Here’s part of the Post story:

Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward testified under oath Monday in the CIA leak case that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed.

In a more than two-hour deposition, Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.

These questions will arise: (a) why is this coming out just now and (b) what does it say about Woodward that he was commenting on this case and not disclosing that he was, in effect, a PLAYER and NOT a neutral observer? MORE:

Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward about the previously undisclosed conversation after the official alerted the prosecutor to it on Nov. 3 — one week after Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted in the investigation.

Citing a confidentiality agreement in which the source freed Woodward to testify but would not allow him to discuss their conversations publicly, Woodward and Post editors refused to disclose the official’s name or provide crucial details about the testimony. Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until last month, and the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling in the summer of 2003 does not recall the conversation taking place.

It’s all very curious. Is Woodward going to wind up another Judith Miller? And doesn’t this indicate that Fitzgerald, far from having concluded his investigation, is plowing full speed ahead?

Woodward, his role, and the implications of it will likely become a hot topic in coming weeks. And, in the end, it’s likely he’ll be one of many to come out of this case with his reputation diminished by it.

UPDATE: Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus now enters the fray:

NEW YORK Walter Pincus, the longtime Washington Post reporter and one of several journalists who testified in the Valerie Plame case, said he believed as far back as 2003 that Bob Woodward had some involvement in the case but he did not pursue the information because Woodward asked him not to.

“He asked me to keep him out of the reporting and I agreed to do that,” Pincus said today. His comments followed a Post story today about Woodward’s testimony on Monday before special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, in which Woodward reportedly disclosed that a senior White House official told him about Plame’s identity as a CIA operative a month before her identity was disclosed publicly.
This whole mini-issue now becomes thornier — and will be debated for quite a while. Bottom line: NOT a great image enhancer for the press and it won’t help the (futile) effort to get a national shield law.

UPDATE II: And, just as we predicted above, Woodward’s reputation has now taken a hit — as you can see from his online apology and his editor’s comments, reported here by the New York Times:

In his apology, which appeared in an article on the Post’s online edition this afternoon, Mr. Woodward said he told Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor, that he held back the information because he was worried about being subpoenaed by the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

“I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner,” Mr. Woodward said in an interview with Howard Kurtz, a Post media writer. “I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That’s Job No. 1 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.”

Mr. Downie, in an interview with Mr. Kurtz, said that Mr. Woodward had “made a mistake.”

Despite his concerns about his confidential sources, Mr. Downie said, Mr. Woodward “still should have come forward, which he now admits. We should have had that conversation . . . I’m concerned that people will get a misimpression about Bob’s value to the newspaper and our readers because of this one instance in which he should have told us sooner.”

He’s being generous: Woodward is a veteran reporter, a Pulitzer-Prize-winner and an EDITOR of his paper.

He SHOULD have known better — and none of this is going to enhance the image of reporters as professionals who in their jobs behave as they would demand of others.

UPDATE III: CBS’s great Public Eye blog has a MUST-read post. A small taste 4 U:

Whatever differences Woodward’s testimony may make in the Plame investigation, it is further evidence of something gone terribly wrong with how reporters treat their sources. On the heels of Judith Miller’s “entanglementsâ€? with Libby, consumers of news are justified in asking tough questions of those who purport to be seeking the truth…..

Don’t think the discussion over sourcing will end anytime soon. Indications in The New York Times this morning are that Libby’s defense team will seek testimony from journalists, including some not named in the indictment, and may want information that goes beyond agreements made between reporters and prosecutors. That could mean more battles ahead for reporters….

Read the rest of it yasself.