Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bob Woodward's Belushi Hit Piece

You might wonder why I'm so hard on reporters - it feels like half of what I write consists of complaints about journalists.  Mostly it's because of just how important the role they play in an open society is (and how important news is to me personally).  Great reporters delight me.  Decent and workmanlike reporters nourish my thoughts.  Lazy and incompetent reporters disappoint or annoy me. But dishonest reporters just make my blood boil. And once I've made the realization that a reporter is a dishonest or disingenuous hack … well, visceral contempt is probably a good description of the feeling.  And Bob Woodward is a dishonest, disingenuous hack
Wired is an infuriating piece of work. There's a reason Woodward's critics consistently come off as hysterical ninnies: He doesn't make Jonah Lehrer–level mistakes. There's never a smoking gun like an outright falsehood or a brazen ethical breach. And yet, in the final product, a lot of what Woodward writes comes off as being not quite right—some of it to the point where it can feel quite wrong. There's no question that he frequently ferrets out information that other reporters don't. But getting the scoop is only part of the equation. Once you have the facts, you have to present those facts in context and in proportion to other facts in order to accurately reflect reality. It's here that Woodward fails.
Over and over during the course of my reporting I'd hear a story that conflicted with Woodward's account in Wired. I'd say, "Aha! I've got him!" I'd run back to Woodward's index, look up the offending passage, and realize that, well, no, he'd put down the mechanics of the story more or less as they'd happened. But he'd so mangled the meaning and the context that his version had nothing to do with what I concluded had actually transpired.
The worst part is, when I was a kid I thought Bob Woodward was a hero.

No comments: