When Bob Woodward publishes, people listen.

And argue.

And get angry.

Which is pretty much what's happening over "Bush at War."

A Woodward book is a publishing event, and has been since the Redford-Hoffman days of "All the President's Men," through books on the high court, Belushi, the Gulf War, Quayle, the '96 campaign and the inner workings of the Bush White House.

But Woodward's role has changed over the years. The young Metro reporter knocking on doors of lower-level aides is now one of Washington's premier insiders, with access to the highest councils of power. Once he helped topple a president; now he sits at the ranch in Crawford for presidential interviews.

A major criticism of Woodward's work has been that those who cooperate tend to get starring, and often favorable, roles in his narratives. He's also been accused of having grown soft on the powerful, a charge that was heard after a Washington Post series he co-authored last year made the Bush team look strong and decisive after 9/11.

(Occasionally there are flaps over the accuracy of The Post editor's accounts, such as his controversial deathbed interview with William Casey, but that has been less of an issue in recent years as Woodward has more openly served as a White House chronicler.)

Woodward's response has been that he double- and triple-checks his material by interviewing multiple sources and using participants' notes when possible. He does seem to come up with the kind of anecdotes that no one else gets.

"There were no leaks as such," Woodward told Larry King. "No one was calling me. I was calling them. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. It's a very slow, tedious process." One source -- Bush -- has bestowed a nickname: "Woody."

An interesting media note from the book: At a senior staff meeting last fall, Bush expressed his pique at the media for a string of "quagmire" pieces in the early days of the war in Afghanistan:

"'They don't get it,' the president said. 'How many times do you have to tell them it's going to be a different type of war? And they don't believe it. They're looking for the conventional approach. That's not what they're going to see here. I've talked about patience. It's amazing how quickly people forget what you say, at least here in Washington.' The quagmire stories made little sense to him. They had a good plan."


But the same excerpt shows that Bush's own inner circle had doubts about whether the plan would work.

The debate over Woodward invariably extends to who cooperated with the author, and why. Some Clintonites were said to be in the doghouse after feeding Woodward material for his books. Mike McCurry once got into a public spat with him after declaring that he'd been Woodward's "babysitter" and telling the author that "you fell into the trap of relying too heavily on those people we set up to deal with you." Woodward called that "absurd."

Now another Woodward source is taking some incoming. National Review's David Frum -- a former Dubya speechwriter -- aims his poison pen at the secretary of state:

"Colin Powell should have been fired Sunday -- literally. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Like Woodward's book on the Gulf War, The Commanders, Bush at War is essentially an edited transcript of Powell leaks, all of them calculated to injure this administration and undermine its policies on the very eve of military action against Iraq.

"For more than a year, we've been reading nasty little stories in the papers about Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld and condescending stories about President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice. Careful readers have understood that these stories emanated from the State Department -- but until now, Powell has taken care to protect his personal deniability. Now he has abandoned that polite pretense.

"In the Woodward piece, Powell scorns the president for his 'Texas, Alamo macho.' Powell complains with Senate Democrats that acting against Iraq 'would suck the oxygen' out of the anti-terror campaign. He denigrates Rice, snidely observing that 'she had had difficulties' keeping up with what Bush was doing. When the president over-rules him, Powell complains that he thought he had a 'deal' -- as if cabinet members bargain with their president rather than taking orders from him. Powell repeatedly praises himself or repeats the praise of others: We learn from him about a personal call from Rice in which she compliments one of his presentations as 'terrific,' and we hear via Woodward that Powell is 'smooth, upbeat .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. eloquent.' Amazingly, Powell even manages to insert into this long uncontrolled soliloquy of accusation against his colleagues a complaint that they sometimes leak against him!

"'[Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage] had heard from reliable media contacts that a barrage was being unloaded on Powell. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. The White House was going to trim Powell's sails; he was going to fail. Armitage said he couldn't verify who was leaking this, but he had names of senior people in Defense and in Cheney's office. "That's unbelievable!" Powell said.'

"There is no sin in a cabinet officer dissenting from the policies of his president. Nor is it necessarily wrong for him to take his dissent to the country. But before he makes his dissent public, he should resign -- and if he won't resign, he should be sacked. Instead of representing the United States to the world, Powell sees his job as representing the world to the United States. It's time for him to go."


Of course, the president was also an on-the-record source for Woodward.

Salon's Joe Conason sees the Powell fingerprints very differently:

"Whether or not you're an admirer of Bob Woodward's post-Watergate journalism, don't skip the Washington Post series culled from his new book. Despite the reporter's usual opacity and vague sourcing, it is clear enough that his chief source among many is again Colin Powell (indeed 'Bush at War' might as well have been titled 'The Commanders: A Sequel'). And from Powell's point of view, Woodward reveals important details of the White House struggle over Iraq, what went wrong in Afghanistan and what kind of president George W. Bush really is.

"Toward the bottom of last Friday's table-setting story on the Woodward book by Mike Allen, for example, the reader learns that Bush was 'preoccupied by public perceptions of the war, looking at polling data from Rove, now his senior adviser, even after pretending to have no interest.' How remarkable to be told so bluntly about this Bush obsession -- after hearing so many blabbermouths on cable TV and in opinion columns insist that this president, unlike his predecessor, 'doesn't care about polls.'

"The difference between Clinton and Bush isn't that one doesn't care about polls and the other did. The difference is that Clinton never pretended that polling data wasn't part of his political work, and didn't expect anyone on his staff to lie about such trivia. (This matrix of deception is likewise exposed in Woodward's scoop about the back-channel advice on public opinion provided to the White House by Fox News chief Roger Ailes. An old Bush family employee, Ailes runs a network that frequently promotes the false but uplifting notion that Bush has no interest in polls.)"


Slate's Chatterbox columnist, Tim Noah, picks up the Ailes issue, including the Fox man's denial:

"Bob Woodward's new book, Bush at War, contains an anecdote that puts a serious dent in Fox News' claim to be scrupulously nonpartisan. ('We report. You decide.') According to Woodward, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks Roger Ailes sent Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove, a confidential memo. Ailes had previously been a media adviser to George H.W. Bush. But 'Ailes was not supposed to be giving political advice,' Woodward notes, because he was now running Fox News. According to Woodward, the memo's 'back-channel message' was that Bush had to convey to the American public that he was taking the harshest possible actions. If he did so, the public would agree to be patient about when to retaliate.

"Ailes now says Woodward has it wrong. Here is what he had to say in a prepared statement:

"'Bob Woodward's characterization of my memo is incorrect. In the days following 9/11, our country came together in nonpartisan support of the president. During that time, I wrote a personal note to a White House staff member as a concerned American expressing my outrage about the attacks on our country. I did not give up my American citizenship to take this job.'

"It isn't obvious what part of Woodward's characterization Ailes finds 'incorrect.' He admits he sent the note ('to a White House staff member,' presumably Rove) and gets huffy about any insinuation that it was improper to do so. Chatterbox thinks Ailes is saying that in his note he expressed outrage but didn't tell Bush what to do. So how did the note read?

"'Dear Karl: The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were a goddamned outrage. All best, Roger.' That seems unlikely. No, Chatterbox's money is on Woodward. The only real question is whether Ailes' advice was as pompous and banal as Woodward makes it sound or whether it contained unrevealed subtleties.

"For the record, Chatterbox is not at all shocked that Ailes gave Bush advice. It's certainly possible to be a journalist and have opinions -- even partisan ones -- at the same time. Chatterbox is rather irritated, though, that Ailes was a sneak about his exchange with Rove and that even now he won't answer reporters' inquiries truthfully."


Ailes was plenty steamed, telling The Post: "Woodward got it all screwed up, as usual. The reason he's not as rich as Tom Clancy is that while he and Clancy both make stuff up, Clancy does his research first." And Woodward said of the old Nixon adviser: "It's the Watergate spin apparatus that is still in play with Ailes. You know what? President Bush has gotten beyond that."


By the time he appeared on the King show, Woodward said that Ailes, a "gentleman," had called him and "there really is no factual dispute between Ailes and myself on this."

On to the Hill, where the partisan wrangling continues:

"House Majority Whip Tom DeLay yesterday threatened to call the House back to Washington if Senate Democrats stripped Republican-backed provisions from the homeland security bill," the Washington Times reports.

"The Texas Republican accused Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, of 'obstruction' in the face of a Nov. 5 electoral mandate for President Bush's policy. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Senate Democrats want to delete from the House bill provisions that, among other things, would protect vaccine makers against lawsuits. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, announced yesterday that he would vote with Democrats to strip the long-delayed bill of the provisions."


The Wall Street Journal says Bush wants to kick-start the economy:

"Trying to capitalize on electoral successes, the president's economic advisers are debating a wide range of tax cuts for individuals and businesses, including moving up to 2003 the tax breaks for families that were scheduled to take effect later on.

"A strong economy is critical for Mr. Bush as he prepares for the 2004 election season, and he has made clear that he is worried that the recovery is faltering. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. In an effort to woo Democrats, targeted tax cuts for lower-income workers may also become part of the package. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. But administration officials worry that a stimulus bill could get ensnared in the slow-moving Senate, where Republicans lack a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes."

You'll be reading that sentence many, many times in the coming months.

That was quite an eye-opener in the Atlantic Monthly -- picked up at length in Sunday's New York Times -- about how the seemingly vigorous JFK was often in severe pain and taking up to eight medications a day. None of this was made public at the time -- Kennedy and his people lied -- and William Safire, the old Nixon hand, is offended:


"What else is there in the taxpayer-subsidized Kennedy Library that might provide students of history material that goes beyond the transcripts and adulatory movies showing a crisp, alert president saving the world from missiles in Cuba?

"During the 70's firestorm about secret taping in the Nixon White House, hoots of derision were aimed at Nixonites who protested lamely that 'everybody did it.' I was told that the J.F.K. loyalist Dave Powers destroyed tapes of telephone conversations on the president's private line. Frankly, only prurient interest is served by further documentation of indiscretions; wide coverage of that did not discourage a subsequent president.

"More significant are 100 hours of tapes -- recorded secretly in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room by history-minded J.F.K. -- known to be under lock and key."


The most immediate denunciations of Gore for embracing government-run health insurance has come from those journalists who have lived under such a system. Such as former Bush speechwriter David Frum, a Canadian, in National Review:

"Brave -- or tone-deaf.

"But let's not talk politics: Let's talk about the merits of the idea. No question, single-payer has many appealing virtues. It is amazingly hassle-free. No Canadian thinks about health insurance before switching jobs. The self-employed get the same treatment as the employees of the country's biggest bans. There are few forms to fill out, no waiting for checks in the mail. If you are sick, you go to the doctor or hospital, flash your card, and get your medicine.

"Or rather -- you wait for your medicine. And wait. And wait. How long can you wait?

"Every year Canada's leading free-market think-tank, the Fraser Institute, compiles waiting times across Canada in a report called 'Waiting Your Turn.' Here are some highlights from this year's edition.

"Median waiting time for radiation treatment for breast cancer in province of Ontario: 8 weeks

"Median waiting time for angioplasty in the province of British Columbia: 12 weeks

"Median waiting time for radiation treatment for prostate cancer in province of Quebec: 12 weeks

"Median waiting time for cataract removal in the province of Ontario: 20 weeks.

"Median waiting time for cataract removal in the province of Saskatchewan: 52 weeks.

"Median waiting time for a tonsillectomy in the province of Saskatchewan: 80 weeks."


And British import Andrew Sullivan, who says of Gore:

"Maybe he should take a look at yet another story from Britain's vaunted National Health Service. Here's a testimony from a man who is still attached to the idea of collectivist healthcare, but who saw what it means when it mattered most. He needed urgent radiotherapy for a brain tumor. Nuh-huh:

"'[T]he best estimate I could get from the NHS was a six week wait. I have medical insurance through my employer and I am lucky enough to now have started privately arranged treatment on Wednesday, less than two weeks after my diagnosis. There are thousands of cases like mine every year in this country and most will not have that option.'

"Notice that in Britain, if you actually need good care, you have to both pay higher taxes and get private insurance -- for healthcare inferior to much that is available here. This is what Al Gore wants to bring to America. At least now we know."


Speaking of Gore, Liza Mundy, author of a Post Magazine piece on the ex-veep, had this to report in an online chat yesterday:


"I don't know how he reacted to the story itself, but he did call me, at home, quite angry because the Post had published a few quotes from it in a Friday news article that also included excerpts from the Barbara Walters interview. He saw this as a violation of an embargo and blamed me personally. He said that he hadn't read the article but heard it 'wasn't very good.' The Gore camp has promised a lot of different interviews to a lot of different news organizations, and are working very hard to control the news cycle."