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The Man With the Inside Scoop

Bob Woodward visiting the White House in 2003. His unparalleled access to political figures has led to 14 newsmaking books.
Bob Woodward visiting the White House in 2003. His unparalleled access to political figures has led to 14 newsmaking books. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

What, then, explains the recent storm of criticism? "There's an enormous jealousy factor over this guy," says Jeff Leen, The Post's assistant managing editor for investigations, who has worked closely with Woodward. "People like to see the king fall. . . . There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks who couldn't carry Woodward's shoes but are weighing in on whether he should keep his job."

Some liberals, while crediting Woodward's past work, suggest he has been co-opted.

"The administration plays along with this by giving him some juicy details in service of the larger effort to make Bush look like he walks on water," says Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect. "Bob is the willing enabler of that, and it's shameful. Bob has it both ways -- he's the court biographer and he keeps intact his reputation as an investigator."

Kuttner accuses Woodward of running "a protection racket -- you sit still for an interview and you get treated generously. You don't cooperate with Woodward and it's going to be hell."

Woodward dismissed criticism of any "quid pro quo," telling King: "I'm not compromising anything. And anyone who looks at the books or the coverage will see that it has some pretty tough stuff in it. At the same time, the president or others get to express their point of view."

Gergen calls Woodward "one of the most seductive individuals in the whole world," one who will stress that he's already spoken to others in a meeting and that "you're only going to hurt yourself and hurt the cause you care about if you don't talk."

Woodward has faulted himself for not being more aggressive before the war when three sources told him the weapons intelligence on Iraq was not as strong as the administration was claiming. "I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder," he said last year.

Woodward, who employs researchers at his own expense, disputes the notion that he saves all his material for his books. Indeed, he wrote numerous stories for The Post after 9/11 that, combined with the work of colleagues, won the paper a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

On Sept. 28, 2001, he disclosed a handwritten note left behind by hijacker Mohamed Atta. On Oct. 21, he revealed that Bush had signed an intelligence order directing the CIA to take lethal action against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. On May 18, 2002, Woodward co-wrote a piece disclosing that a top-secret memo presented to Bush a month before the attacks was headlined "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

"The man was a dynamo," Leen says. "All hell was breaking loose, and he went out and brought the story back. He does triangulation reporting. He goes back to people and back to people and back to people." At the paper, however, "people are obviously intimidated by him," Leen says. "You don't approach Bob Woodward and give him an order like you would other reporters."

At the same time, Woodward has readily collaborated with Post colleagues, sometimes passing along information without credit.

As an author, Woodward regularly reconstructs scenes without identifying sources, a practice that stirred controversy again with the Bush books. "If you don't know where the information is coming from, it really does diminish the value of the book you're reading," says historian Robert Dallek.

Rick Shenkman, a history professor at George Mason University, says Woodward's books are "very, very important" in an age when presidents and their top aides no longer keep diaries or write letters for fear of possible subpoenas. "To the extent Bob Woodward has become a captive of their narrative, that's to the advantage of historians," Shenkman says. "He's channeling these people."

For all his fame and fortune, Woodward will forever be compared with the scrappy shoe-leather reporter who was investigating a president three decades ago, rather than sitting down with a president for long chats at his Texas ranch.

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