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November 19, 2005
Woodward Apologetics 101

The Washington Post, suddenly finding itself in much the same position as the New York Times in the Plame Flameout, goes on defense in today's editorial. Facing the scorn of other journalists for supposedly protecting a conservative rather than a liberal leaker, the Post defends Bob Woodward's actions and reminds journalists about the point of protecting sources:

The longtime Post reporter disclosed this week that, while conducting research for a book, he received information from an administration official about Ms. Plame before her identity was revealed by Robert D. Novak in a July 2003 column. That information was potentially relevant to Fitzgerald's investigation and to a news story that has been extensively covered in this and other papers. Mr. Woodward said he told one Post reporter at the time what he had learned but did not disclose the source. Mr. Woodward recently testified to the prosecutor, with the source's permission and after the source had spoken with Mr. Fitzgerald, but still (again according to his agreement) has not publicly identified the source. ...

[O]ver the years innumerable cases of official corruption and malfeasance have come to light thanks to sources being able to count on confidentiality. It's astonishing to see so many people -- especially in the journalism establishment -- forget that now. Many of those who condemn Mr. Woodward applauded when The Post recently revealed the existence of CIA prisons around the world, a story that relied on unnamed sources.

Is there a distinction to be made based on the motives of the leakers? If so, Mr. Woodward might have had to pass up his first big scoops three decades ago, because his Watergate source, Deep Throat -- recently revealed as FBI official W. Mark Felt -- was disgruntled at having been passed over for the post of FBI director.

I have made this point repeatedly over the months of the Plame Flameout: journalists only believe in protecting sources when leaks come from fellow liberals and/or serve to embarrass conservatives. Mark Felt provides the perfect example. The Post's editors remind people that Felt got passed over, but forgets to remind its readers that he failed to get the promotion because of his participation in the culture of corruption that J Edgar Hoover developed at the FBI. (Even Bill Sullivan, who denounced Hoover and started leaking just before Hoover's death, would never have been considered for that position.) Felt and the other toadies that surrounded Hoover had almost as much culpability in the FBI's excesses as Hoover, if not equal. And yet the liberals in journalistic circles quickly held him up as a national hero when he revealed himself as Woodward's source -- just to make a few bucks for himself before he dies.

All of which brings us back to Judy Miller and, ironically, Bob Woodward today. Miller found herself shunned not for protecting her source, but for protecting a source that provided a defense for a conservative administration. Now Woodward finds himself in the same position, and while the tenor of the criticism has muted somewhat, he faces the same basic backbiting as Miller. It doesn't matter whether the information leads to the truth, as it turns out -- journalists only care about undermining conservatives. Leakers and the journalists that protect them had better deliver that, or else it turns out that their peers will find themselves singularly uninterested in all the First Amendment arguments they make when sources leak damaging information on conservatives rather than fellow leftists.

How ironic that the Washington Post's editors took thirty years to discover this about their peers.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 19, 2005 6:19 AM

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