I was told that eons ago, journalism was regarded as a ho-hum profession that did not receive much special notice. It was not exactly a hot commodity.
But when the Watergate scandal broke out 40 years ago, there was a sudden explosion of interest in journalism as career. Those enrollment numbers never went back down to pre-Watergate levels.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had — for better or worse — unwittingly created a “rock star” culture in their profession by questioning the official story and following a trail of obstruction of justice all the way up to the Oval Office. They gave journalism an adventurous appeal that it never had before, nor has it quite lived it down since.
Recently though, Woodward has been showing the oft-forgotten dark side of journalism. As his 70th birthday approaches next week, I wish to defend his forays into the dark side.
Among all the boring sequester talk of the past few months, one tidbit of interest was Woodward’s reporting on it.
He nonchalantly pointed out some of the political spin that was going on. The sequester has proven unpopular, and Woodward took note of the fact that it was the Obama administration that had put the sequester on the table as opposed to the recent spin that it was the idea of the Republicans all along.
This lead to a terse exchange in which Woodward was warned by a White House staffer that he would “regret” his reporting. Let’s be clear that this was not a threat. It simply meant that Woodward would be embarrassed if his reporting turned out to be wrong.
Fast forward to this week, and you’ll see my annoyance. There has been a concerted effort to discredit Woodard. Not merely his reporting, but the man himself.
A recent article on Slate.com went ridiculously out of its way to critique a book Woodward wrote nearly 30 years ago about John Belushi. The writer nitpicked Woodward’s reporting on the cafeteria food fight scene in the film “Animal House” to call Woodward’s journalistic integrity into question. What a desperate smear. I wish it were a joke.
This meme has begun to get more personal as other writers are beginning to assault Woodward’s character and rewrite history to make it appear as though he has not done anything good since his Watergate coverage.
I don’t understand how if you build a complicated but concrete case of a president engaging in illegal activities you are lauded as a hero, but if you dare make the simpler concrete case of another president engaging in casual spin then you’re a devilish charlatan.
Don’t get me wrong, Woodward has made mistakes.
He was one of the many journalists who was snookered by the false intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He could have easily tip-toed away from that, but he owned up to it and promised to be more skeptical in the future. Now it seems he is paying for that promise.
This is exactly the thing I feared about the world of journalism when I first approached it. While I can handle the public forums of being held accountable for my work, I have always been worried about concerted efforts to silence opposition by putting a half-nelson on the courts of public opinion. In short, I fear being denied my humanity.
Until recently, we have heard pretty much nothing but good things if anything at all about Bob Woodward. As forces converge to rewrite the narrative of his history, I at least wanted you to hear the original version one last time before it is overwhelmed and possibly expunged.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @coltongavin