Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Further Deconstruction of Bob Woodward

Two interesting pieces this week about American journalism's most visible gaseous afflatus, Bob Woodward. 

One, Tanner Colby's extraordinary account of Woodward as seen from a vantage that only Colby can occupy.   Woodward wrote a book called Wired: a character assassination in the form of a biography of John Belushi.  Years later, Colby wrote (with Belushi's widow) another biography of Belushi--pretty clearly with the intent to set the record straight.   Unexpectedly, the task positioned Colby to develop genuinely unique insights into Woodward's modus autoritatis.  It's a marvellous piece, highly recommended, not easy to summarize.  I'll add only that while his details are devasting, his general attitude seems a lot more benign than think Woodward deserves. Go read it, you won't be sorry.

And two, Max Holland asks: "Why is this man an Americsn idol?"  It sounds like the voice of mystified perplexity. No surprise, then, that most of the piece comprises a--thoroughly competent and worthwhile--review of the evidence indicating that Woodward is an empty suit, floating on a cloud of false promise.  So, why an idol?  Actually, Holland answers his own question about three quarters of the way through the piece, although I'm not sure he grasps the fact he has done so.  He says:
The other powerful fact in his life was the unceasing adulation that came his way from within the journalistic community and without, from the Washington elite down to perfect strangers. Woodward was the white-hatted journalist who brought down a president. It didn’t matter that this was exaggerated—it was the public shorthand. When Woodward himself tried to correct the misimpression, which he often did, his modesty only seemed to make him that much more appealing.
 Read it again, Max. What you are saying is it doesn't matter aka nobody gives a damn. It's not about reporting, right or wrong.  We wanted a young Lochinvar to bring down the leader of the free world.  We want him to be tight with the powerful, and we want him to be buds with us.  In short, it's theatre, entertainment.    Woodward left journalism at least as early as the moment when he morphed into Robert Redford on the big screen.  Points like Holland's might have been relevant while he still belonged to journalism but that is all so 1972. 

Oh, and I meant to add:  If you really want to know the truth about Watergate, the real place to start is Nightmare by J. Anthony Lukas, a fine book by a fine journalist (here's my Amazon review) .  Lukas died way too young, a suicide.  I don't suppose his death was really an utterance of despair at the current state of journalism, but then again...

Update:  Ken in the comments gets the money shot on Colby's fine piece but that's the problem: I think Woodward's deficiency goes far deeper than a mere tin ear.  He's also a fantasist, and he needs a whoppin' full platter of "it's not all about you"   And BTW, who the hell is Albert Goldman?

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

Burying the lede: "Woodward has an unmatched skill for digging up information, but he doesn’t know what to do with that information once he finds it."

Bingo. Having read Wired years ago, I would rather have Albert Goldman write my biography than Bob Woodward. At least those books make sense.* Woodward's presented the impossible: a thoroughly unlikeable person who somehow worked in dozens of ensembles--often with the same people from place to place--where people were willing to put a lot of money up on his ability to work with that group. Repeatedly.

*As someone once quipped (roughly): "Albert Goldman is smarter than Lenny Bruce," "Albert Goldman is cooler than John Lennon," "Albert Goldman is more honest than Elvis Presley"...