I, Woodward

I’d like to direct you, my dear, dyspeptic readers, to the video of Mike Wallace’s interview with Bob Woodward, author of State of Denial, on last week’s 60 Minutes. In it you’ll find confirmation of everything you already knew about the Bush administration and its world-historically brilliant political strategy, in which lying, incompetence, corruption, denial and stupidity are aimed at each other with such precise force, and at such neat angles, that they fuse together to emerge from the other side of the Vortex of Malevolence? as an undifferentiated stream of honesty, competence, integrity, wisdom and intellect that washes over the world like a rainbow of golden honey.

More to the point, you’ll find in the video, and in the juicy tidbits Woodward reveals, confirmation of what I’ve long said in defense of Bob Woodward against his critics from the left. Yes, he’s a robot. Yes, he seems to worship power. Yes, he was happy to paint a rosy picture of the Bush administration when it was riding high on its post-9/11 wave of macho man credibility. And yes, he’s the court stenographer, someone who’s traded his brain for access to the halls of power. But what a court stenographer!

Is there anyone other than Woodward who would have gotten Andy Card, former white house chief of staff, to reveal that Laura Bush (the president’s wife, if you’ve forgotten) wanted Rumsfeld forced out? Is there anyone else who could tell us, and be believed, that the first president Bush, George H.W., is “in agony” over the mistakes made by his son in Iraq? Is there anyone else who could have elicited from Dick Cheney the information that Henry Kissinger, the O.G. if-we-will-it-it-will-be-so crypto-fascist imperialist the-world-is-my-game-of-Risk lord of war, has become the guiding light of the Bush Administration’s policy in Iraq over the last few years?

Nah. Only Woodward could have gotten this stuff, and could have delivered it with such credibility. The mistake made, by the Woodward critics, is confusing the man himself with the style of journalism he represents and, by virtue of his success, advertises for. Woodward is one-of-a-kind (or maybe one-of-three; I have a source that tells me they rolled two more off the production line in case of mechanical failure). He has extraordinary access to what the power players are saying, and every two or three years he writes a book that captures for posterity the narrative told by those players.

These book are not “The Truth” by any means, but they’re invaluable contributions to the sum of data available to the cogitations of rest of us, who aren’t inhibited, as Woodward is, by Asimov’s Second Law of Robotics, which states:

A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

The problem isn’t Woodward, it’s his legions of imitators in the mainstream press, particularly the TV press, who offer the same kind of thoughtless, context-less reportage, similarly dependent on the powerful, yet who do so without the kind of access and credibility Woodward has accumulated, and who present their information in snippets too short and too disconnected to ever cohere into an intelligible paradigm that intelligent people can absorb and then put to their own use.

Woodward allows us to exercise our intelligence, even as his own is circumscribed by the fundamental nature of his positronic brain. His imitators actually diminish our ability to exercise our intelligence.

Or as Ice-T once said, don’t hate the playa, hate the game. I don’t know whether Woodward has gone on the record defending the game — the broader, faux-objective journalistic method of which his career is the exemplar — but if he has, then he should be smacked down for being uppity. It’s not for robots to lecture their human betters on how to live the good life. There’s something pure in his practice, however, that we should value, and absolutely not strive to imitate.

UPDATE: I just noticed that Kevin Drum, a political blogger I’ve long admired, makes much the same point over at his pad at washingtonmonthly.com. He writes:

This is what happens when a court turns on its king: the court stenographer dutifully turns right along with them and then tells the whole world about it. That’s why I’ve never held Bob Woodward’s role against him. We need to have at least one court stenographer around so the rest of us know what the court is thinking, and Woodward is as good a choice as anyone.

This is what makes State of Denial useful. It’s not that the anecdotes happen to be more gratifying to liberal ears this time around — though they are. Woodward’s sources, as ever, are just trying to make themselves look good, and we should take their anonymous stories with the same grain of salt as we did in Woodward’s earlier and more hagiographic recitals.

But these details aren’t really the point, even though it’s the details that get endlessly recycled within the media and the blogosphere. State of Denial may only be a reflection of Woodward’s sources, but for a discerning reader the zeitgeist of those sources is what the book is all about anyway. Thanks to Woodward, we can now say with confidence that it’s not just liberals who think Bush is a nitwit anymore. Bush’s supporters think he’s a nitwit too.

Thanks, Bob. We’re glad you made it official.

Author: Dear Dexter

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