I need to tidy up a loose end on the Woodward-Bradlee-Himmelman story, putting on the record a written response by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to one element of Jeff Himmelman’s book as excerpted in New York magazine. Woodward provided me with the typed response last night. This isn’t about Ben Bradlee but rather deals with something Himmelman discusses at length in the first half of the New York mag excerpt. Himmelman found a memo that shows that one of the sources for Woodward and Bernstein back in 1972 was a member of the Watergate grand jury.
“I was sitting in a remote farmhouse in Rapidan, Virginia, and I could hardly believe what I was reading. For four decades, Carl and Bob have insisted that the grand jurors they contacted had given them no information. For four decades, that story endured, as it was replayed in interviews and reread in library copies of All The President’s Men, and as Woodward and Bernstein and Bradlee became a holy trinity of newspaper journalism. But, according to the memo, it didn’t appear to be true: Z was no mystic; she was a grand juror in disguise, and had apparently broken the law by talking. Woodward and Bernstein had always denied it—in 1974, and as recently as 2011.”
So Woodward and Bernstein have responded, saying they didn’t know the woman was a grand juror when Bernstein went to her home. Moreover, she wasn’t very helpful, they say.
This is getting pretty granular as I see it and is probably of interest primarily to Watergate buffs. Here’s the entirety of the new Woodward and Bernstein memo, written just a few days ago (typos are likely mine and not in the original):
“If Jeff Himmelman thinks his discovery of a December 4, 1972 memo on Watergate is a significant revelation, he is wrong. The memo he has is authentic. To the best of our recollection, someone contacted Carl and said there was a person, a neighbor, who had important information on Watergate. Carl went and interviewed the woman as described in the Dec. 4, 1972 memo. As the memo plainly shows, Carl did not know she was a member of the Watergate grand jury when he arrived at her home.
“She gave Carl her phone number — and he later noted ‘this checked w. grand jury list number’ that we had. If he knew initially that he was interviewing a member of the grand jury, that would have been stated at the top of the memo, as was our style in all Watergate memos of interviews. He also quotes her in the memo as volunteering, ‘of course I was on the grand jury’ because that was news to him.
“Though the woman threw out lots of names of those she suspected of furthering the criminal conspiracy (she had some right and some wrong), she provided no specific information of suspect or illegal actions. What she said led to no story. As Carl wrote in the memo, ‘she advises us to read our articles from Sept. 15 to Oct. 30. ‘You will have many clues — there is more truth there than you must have realized.’ We wrote those stories and did realize they were true. Those stories essentially outlined the Watergate conspiracy and alleged that crimes had been committed by Haldeman, Mitchell, Stans, Kalmbach, Magruder, Porter, Chapin and Segretti.
“We referred to this woman’s interview in less than two pages (p. 211-213) in our book about covering Watergate, All the President’s Men. In that book we did not, of course, reveal that she was a member of the grand jury — in order to protect her as a source.
“When asked on April 26 2012 by Himmelman, neither of us — until after reading the original memo after 39 years — remembered she had been a member of the Watergate grand jury. The interview with her had been of little consequence because she was not telling us much more than we already believed — and published. And the lack of specifics in her account meant we had little to follow up on. Frankly we were not sure what to make of her comments at the time, and in our book Carl noted that she ‘sounded like some kind of mystic.’ But it was one of those interviews that gave us and our editors comfort that we were on the right track as later demonstrated by the subsequent investigations and history. The memo does, however, show that a member of the grand jury thought the prosecutors, who supervised and ran the grand jury, had missed the real story and the high-level conspiracy.
“You ought to publish the whole memo so your readers can see it and understand its clear context.
— Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward”