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 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.
| 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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