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Woodward scores but loses exclusive

The scoop artist keeps getting scooped.

Bob Woodward's carefully choreographed rollout of his new book on the Obama White House was disrupted Tuesday night when the New York Times got hold of a copy and posted a story on its Web site.

The Washington Post, where Woodward has worked since his Watergate days, rushed a previously prepared story online at 11:30 p.m. and published it in the Wednesday paper after missing the first edition.

"We're in an impossible position," says Steve Luxenberg, an associate editor at The Post who handled "Obama's Wars" for the paper. "We prefer to honor our agreements than to publish something before we're permitted."

Woodward's best-selling books always make news, and this one -- a behind-the-scenes narrative of internal battling over the war in Afghanistan -- is no exception. But just as regularly, Woodward's complicated publicity arrangements get derailed by a leak -- which may help the publisher, Simon & Schuster, but leaves The Post a step behind.

Mindful of that track record, "we had a news story prepared in advance for the possibility another news organization would get a copy in advance and break a story," Luxenberg says. He says he got a message from Woodward about the Times having the book about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday and quickly retrieved his story from a flash drive.

The Post and Times pieces had an immediate impact, and by Wednesday morning White House officials were providing reporters with reaction.

The Post plans to run three excerpts from "Obama's Wars" beginning Monday, which is the official publication date. That, in turn, is tied to ABC interviews that Woodward has done with Diane Sawyer, which will air that night on "World News" and "Nightline" and the next day on "Good Morning America." For several of his previous books, Woodward had a similar arrangement with CBS's "60 Minutes."

The arrangements have put The Post in the unenviable position of sitting on news reported by its own journalistic superstar, although it is not unusual for publishers to embargo the contents of newsworthy books. But to do otherwise, Luxenberg maintains, "is to risk looking like we were being commercial, promoting the book's interest." Some critics say The Post does that anyway by giving Woodward's books a front-page splash, although the fact that other news outlets hotly pursue them shows they are widely deemed newsworthy. The Woodward revelations about the Obama book were all over television Wednesday morning.

Woodward now works as a contract employee for a nominal salary, having taken a buyout from The Post, where he once served as an assistant managing editor.

In 2008, when Woodward published "The War Within," his fourth book about George W. Bush and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Fox News got an advance copy and ran a story online. The Post reacted by publishing a Luxenberg piece the next morning.

When Woodward published "State of Denial" in 2006, the Times and "NBC Nightly News" ran stories before The Post's excerpts began. The NBC newscast got clips of a Woodward interview that "60 Minutes" had put out for promotional reasons, scooping CBS in the process.

Perhaps the greatest embarrassment came in 2005, when Vanity Fair scooped The Post on a secret that Woodward had kept for 33 years: that Mark Felt was his famous Watergate source Deep Throat. Woodward, his former partner Carl Bernstein and his onetime editor Ben Bradlee all felt bound by their promise of confidentiality to Felt, and were not convinced that the 91-year-old former FBI agent was lucid enough to release them from that pledge. Felt's lawyer brought the story to Vanity Fair.

By Howard Kurtz  | September 22, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories, Top story  | Tags:  60 Minutes, ABC, Bob Woodward, Diane Sawyer, New York Times, Obama's Wars, Washington Post, Woodward scooped, book  
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Comments

I don't read Woodward books because they are always sucking up to whoever is president. He whitewashed Bush's record on the middle east wars and I suppose he'll do the same here. Obama wants the American public to think that he would pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan; now Woodward is writing "Yes, Obama really is trying, but the military and even his own staff is against it." I always thought Obama was smart, but I'm beginning to have my doubts.

Posted by: Paaa | September 22, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I dispute the notion that Mr. Woodward was "scooped" on revealing Deep Throat's identity. I think it's clear that Mr. Woodward made a principled decision not to reveal his source because Mr. Felt was not mentally competent enough to give him permission to do so. It was very important for reporters everywhere that Mr. Woodward never revealed Deep Throat's identity, in spite of intense pressure to do so.

Posted by: leonardchristopher | September 22, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I've decided to stop reading media accounts of real life.

in most cases, it's not the actual truth that is reported, it always has a bias.

this story is no different.

Hey NY Times - ever wonder why your business is going down the tubes?

think about that one, maybe do a report in it, but your days of media sharking stories are numbered.

So pull all the stops, let's see what a business like NY times can come up with.

In a few years it will all be for naught; your voice will be stifled as yet another politico in the arena, and not an unbiased reporter of truth.

That's what I'm seeing.

And I don't much care for it.

Posted by: pgibson1 | September 22, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

"...We're in an impossible position," says Steve Luxenberg, an associate editor at The Post who handled "Obama's Wars" for the paper. "We prefer to honor our agreements than to publish something before we're permitted."

does this refer to prior restraint of publication, or a 'timed-release' plan of the publisher? I ask in seriousness.

Posted by: hboyd1 | September 22, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't think, as leonardchristopher has already said, that the Post was "scooped" in the Felt disclosure. I also do not think the Post should in any way be embarrassed by anyone's actions in keeping that information private. The fact is I admire them for doing it.

I disagree with Paa, because real balance means you don't ignore the good, or the conflicts involved in trying to do the right thing even when you might disagree with what a leader is doing. I didn't like Bush's policies, and I don't like how him and his pals wrecked the country one bit. However I don't want his job either, and the difference between slander and journalism is in telling as much of the truth as possible, not just the things that you don't like, or just the good things you do.

Posted by: Nymous | September 22, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

To leak or not to leak, that is the question, and the answer is: Who Cares?! Woodward is nothing more than a shill for the establishment, otherwise he would not get anywhere near the people he writes about. Since everyone knows this butt-head is in the room they just show him what they want revealed, and it is spin from top to bottom. If Obama wants to get out of Afghanistan, then get out and don't sacrifice one more day, one more soldier, one more dollar on that bottomless pit. In the end Woodward is both shill and stooge for the lying jerks who are destroying everything America is supposed to stand for. He has got as much credibility as Jack Valente did at the MPAA.

Posted by: nobleone | September 22, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

It helps to build a crowd and let people gather around before unveiling the product. If the rollout went according to plan then no one would be aware of it until it was over.


Posted by: blasmaic | September 22, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse


I think it's clear that Mr. Woodward made a principled decision not to reveal his source because Mr. Felt was not mentally competent enough to give him permission to do so."

so what sense did it make to hold to a promise given to the guy when he was lucid?

If he's not all there what difference would it make to him?


Posted by: tokenwhitemale | September 23, 2010 12:59 AM | Report abuse

The note that Woodward works for a "nominal amount" illustrates perfectly why the Post is no longer a great newspaper and Kurtz never was a good columnist: "nominal" is in the eye of the beholder, a real journalist would simply note the amount, whatever it is.
We here in the provinces know that what Wall Street, for instance, regards as "nominal" would feed a family of four for years.

Posted by: kstack | September 23, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

If I see one more book with Obama's name on the cover, that's not written by him, I'm going to scream. Amazing how many people want to make a buck off of him.

Posted by: rlj1 | September 23, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Kurtz' Media Notes used to be more of a Potpourri - now they're a bit more frequent, but singular in their subject matter. I missed the editorial announcement of the change, if there was one, and I miss the mixing it up that the old format allowed...

Posted by: thanksforfish | September 23, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Howard, I agree with thanksforfish.

Posted by: nomorewholefoods | September 23, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Had writing technology not advanced beyond the quill pen stage, Woodward might single-handedly have caused the extinction of Canada geese.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | September 23, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

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