Thursday, June 02, 2005

Two-year investigations move fast

In an otherwise fascinating take on his relationship with Deep Throat, Bob Woodward unleashes this howler:
With a story as enticing, complex, competitive and fast-breaking as Watergate, there was little tendency or time to consider the motives of our sources. What was important was whether the information checked out and whether it was true. We were swimming, really living, in the fast-moving rapids. There was no time to ask why they were talking or whether they had an ax to grind.

Oh please. No time to ask? Now, I'm not going to deign to say that I'm a better reporter than Woodward is, or was back then, but knowing the motivation of your source is probably a good thing to learn, even if the information you get, in fact, "checks out." No time, indeed. That's just crazy. It was a two-year investigation!

Moreover, I suspect there were a number of reasons Woodward did not press his source on his axes and why he was grinding them. Woodward was likely afraid he would lose him. Anyone with a great source knows that you tend to coddle him, flatter him, give him the benefit of the doubt. And that's a perfectly reasonable thing, especially if they have explosive information. But to say there was no time? That's just not credible.

UPDATE: Ben Bradlee seems not to have read his former reporter's first-person account:
Ben Bradlee: Everybody who talks to a newspaper has a motive. That's just a given. And good reporters always -- repeat always -- probe to find out what that motive is. In Felt's case it seemed obvious that he was concerned about abuses of power coming from people who worked for the president. Including his highest advisers, including the attorney general of the United States and that seemed a totally decent motive.

We refer him to the above. Has Bradlee just implied that Woodward isn't a very good reporter?

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 10:27 AM

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