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This is Woodward's Town

The president just lives in it.

11:21 AM, Sep 22, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Many will weigh in, surely, and determine whether Bob Woodward's latest book is full of great scoops, or whether it's a dud. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Drudge Report all seem to believe it contains great revelations. Having not seen the book -- it's not yet in bookstores -- I'm hesitant to comment too deeply. But it seems to me that if there are scoops contained within, then they haven't yet been revealed.

This is Woodward's Town

President Obama's man David Axelrod is “a complete spin doctor.” Well, duh. That was his job on the campaign and that's his job in the White House.

There was in-fighting in the White House on whether to send more -- and how many more -- troops to Afghanistan. That's an old story. The leaked memos and read-outs from meetings indicated that much during the debate over Afghanistan in 2009. 

"The president 'avoided talk of victory' as war objective..." says the Drudge Report. Yes, that's true. But that nugget could've easily been learned simply by reading or listening to Obama's rhetoric about the war. 

"We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger," Obama apparently said. That's a defeatist-sounding statement, sure, especially coming from the president of the United States. But is anyone surprised? It's not as though his counterterrorism efforts haven't reflected this boneheaded approach.

This latest from Bob Woodward seems like past Bob Woodward books. Here's what senior editor Andy Ferguson said about the superstar journalist several years ago in THE WEEKLY STANDARD:

WASHINGTON WENT THROUGH one of its Woodward spasms last week. It unwound in the usual manner. First came the faint, premonitory rumors, gaining force as the publishing date approached, about what might be in Bob Woodward's latest book; then the suggestive news reports dribbled out over the premiere weekend, until one news organization or another boldly broke the publisher's embargo, followed by stories about the story that broke the embargo. At last on Sunday there was the television kickoff on 60 Minutes, in which Woodward himself tugged the shroud from his new production in front of a gaping Mike Wallace, and the hungry devouring of the first of the multi-part excerpts in the Washington Post. Inevitably, as the week wore on, there came the sad detumescence, settling in around Excerpt Three or maybe Four, when we realized that the good parts had all been published and only the scraps and crumbs were left. Soon enough the book itself would be here, in piles in the window at Borders, limp as a windsock and giving off the stale odor of old news.

It has the reassuring cadence of ritual, a Woodward spasm does, and like a ritual it will disclose unexpected revelations. During the last spasm, for example, launched by the publication of Woodward's Bush at War 16 months ago, I recall marveling at the verbatim quotes from President Bush. By tradition Woodward seldom quotes a source directly, with attribution, as conventional reporters do. Yet here was Bush--who at the time had just polished off one war and was suiting up for another--overcoming his famous disdain for reporters to sit for a two-hour interview with the greatest reporter of them all. Much of what he said was even more remarkable. He was asked to summarize the contribution made by his secretary of state, Colin Powell, to the war in Afghanistan. "Powell is a diplomat," Bush said mildly, "and you've got to have a diplomat. . . . He is a diplomatic person who has got war experience."

The praise was notable for how faint it was; dismissive, almost, and revealing in the inadvertent way that Woodward's books always are. Bush is a self-confident man--self-confident enough to denigrate, slyly and publicly, the veteran public servant who sits as his secretary of state. But he's not self-confident enough to say no when Bob Woodward asks if he's got two hours to chat. Cockiness has its limits, even with Bush. This is Woodward's town; the president just lives in it.

The names have changed, but the song remains the same.

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