First, as Josh Marshall makes clear, Scooter Libby wasn't indicted for being the first to feed Valerie Plame to the lions. He was indicted for lying about what he did and what he said and for trying to throw Patrick Fitzgerald off the trail. It's the what, not the when or his place in line.
"Sand in the umpire's face."
So anyone, besides Libby's lawyers, who are paid to make bricks without straw, crowing that Bob Woodward's revelations somehow discredit Fitzgerald or his case is a fool or a tool.
Libby's lawyers are saying that Woodward's having known Plame's identity a month before Libby leaked it proves that her job as a covert agent was common knowledge around DC.
But Libby isn't charged with blowing her cover.
His lawyers are just trying to poison the jury pool. They're hoping that if they can put the idea that Libby is being tried for the one thing intead of the other somebody will land on the jury confused about what's up and what's down in just the way the lawyers want them confused.
It only takes one, as Clarence Darrow said.
(In the comments, Jeff Boatright thinks I'm wrong about what the lawyers are up to. Jeff says it's all about clearing the ground for Bush to pardon everybody.)
What we've really learned from Woodward is not that Libby's innocent but that there is another Senior Administration Official who could be charged with blowing her cover and who, unless Fitzgerald somehow overlooked that official during his investigation and didn't call that person before the grand jury or interview him or her, is also guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.
We've also learned that Bob Woodward can be a liar by omission and an unethical weasel.
Woodward must know that his history gives him a special authority when it comes to evaluating scandals so when he set out to criticize Fitzgerald's investigation he was far more than ordinarily obligated to reveal his role in it.
The fact that he was willing to do the unethical thing makes it look as though he was trying to help the Bush Administration out of their jam. So did we learn that Woodward is a willing tool of the Bush Administration?
Or of someone in the Bush Administration?
Tool may not be the right word.
Bush at War was not an aberration.
Remember that Woodward was the conservative one. He was a Navy veteran and a Republican. A Yale man, Class of '65. He's a product of the Midwest. A judge's son. And not some small town traffic court Marryin' Sam. Alfred Woodward's career may have been more distinguished than his famous son's, which is not to slight the son's achievements at all. But it highlights Woodward's position at the Post when he went to work there. He wasn't a kid off the street hungry for his big break. That was Carl Bernstein. Bernstein was the liberal firebrand and would-be muckraker. Woodward was taking his due place inside the Establishment, the place his father had earned for him, although entering by the back door usually reserved for servants and deliverymen.
The way Redford and Hoffman portrayed them in the movie All the President's Men revealed more about Redford and Hoffman than it did about Woodward and Bernstein. But the dynamic between the two stars paralleled the dynamic between the two reporters beautifully. And there's one scene in the movie that I think captures the young Woodward's role in the partnership and suggests his future with almost documentary as opposed to dramatic veracity.
Woodward and Bernstein have showed up at Hugh Sloan's house early in the morning to press him for more information. Sloan is exhausted, he's been up all night, he's in no mood or condition to talk with them. On their way out the door it's Woodward who realizes why Sloan is giving them the bum's rush and who stops to talk about it. Sloan's wife just had a baby!
The exchange that follows between Redford and Stephen Collins as Sloan is short but perfect. Two WASP golden boys sharing a moment. Hoffman's Bernstein is shut out, by his own temperament and by his Jewish otherness. He's suddenly found himself intruding on a meeting in a private club.
Greg Anrig Jr. at TPMCafe links to a Joan Didion piece for the New York Review of Books in which she deconstructed Woodward's working method in his books and concluded his attitude toward the stories he wrote about was almost embarrassingly clubbish.
Washington, as rendered by Mr. Woodward, is by definition basically solid, a diorama of decent intentions in which wise if misunderstood and occasionally misled stewards will reliably prevail. Its military chiefs will be pictured, as Colin Powell was in The Commanders, thinking on the eve of war exclusively of their troops, the "kids," the "teenagers": a human story. The clerks of its Supreme Court will be pictured, as the clerks of the Burger court were in The Brethren, offering astute guidance as their justices negotiate the shoals of ideological error: a human story. The more available members of its foreign diplomatic corps will be pictured, as Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan was in The Commanders and in Veil, gaining access to the councils of power not just because they have the oil but because of their "backslapping irreverence," their "directness," their exemplification of "the new breed of ambassador--activist, charming, profane": yet another human story. Its opposing leaders will be pictured, as President Clinton and Senator Dole are in The Choice, finding common ground on the importance of mothers: the ultimate human story.
Woodward doesn't use much imagination when he looks at people---Except when he shouldn't. But then maybe he really did sneak into the hospital to visit Bill Casey on his deathbed---but his preference for the human over the political and the issue-oriented isn't a sign that he's naive or simplistic, necessarily. What it is a sign of, though, is that he is so close to his sources, that he sympathizes with them so completely, that he doesn't even see them as political actors. It's the attitude of one club member towards his fellows. In such a closed off and and exclusive society, people's politics and ambitions are assumed to the point of being invisible. They take each other's attitudes and beliefs for granted. Everybody is in agreement so why discuss it? Let's talk about our families. How's Biff doing at Andover this term?
And this is what makes Woodward so superficially successful as a journalist. He's uncritical. He knows where his sources are coming from and he's willing to see them as they see themselves. Says Didion:
That this crude personalization works to narrow the focus, to circumscribe the range of possible discussion or speculation, is, for the people who find it useful to talk to Mr. Woodward, its point. What they have in Mr. Woodward is a widely trusted reporter, even an American icon, who can be relied upon to present a Washington in which problematic or questionable matters will be definitively resolved by the discovery, or by the demonstration that there has been no discovery, of "the smoking gun," "the evidence." Should such narrowly-defined "evidence" be found, he can then be relied upon to demonstrate, "fairly," that the only fingerprints on the smoking gun are those of the one bad apple in the barrel, the single rogue agent in the tapestry of decent intentions.
Some people might think it ironic or tragic or just plain crazy that the man who helped bring the Watergate Scandal to light (and Nixon to his knees in front of the portrait of Abe Lincoln. "Pray with me, Henry.") is helping to shield the Bush Leaguers from scandal and shame.
But it makes sense. Nixon and his gang were never part of the club.