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Woodward eyed after calling fitzgerald overzealous { November 17 2005 }

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Now, Woodward Reveals
Learning Plame's Identity

November 17, 2005; Page B1

(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)

Over the past year, the Central Intelligence Agency leak case has cast a harsh light on the use of anonymous sources in journalism, subjecting a now-famous cast of reporters to unprecedented public scrutiny, including Judith Miller, late of the New York Times, and Time magazine's Matthew Cooper.

Yesterday, the case added one of journalism's biggest stars: Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, the reporter who built his fame and reputation on the use of anonymous sources when he helped break the Watergate story in the 1970s.

After giving a sworn deposition to a federal prosecutor on Monday, Mr. Woodward revealed yesterday that he was among the reporters who learned the identity of a CIA agent from Bush administration officials in June 2003, weeks before it was printed in a column by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak. Mr. Woodward, working at that time on a book (since published) on the lead-up to the Iraq War, never reported the information, saying yesterday he thought it was given to him in a "casual and offhand" manner and wasn't classified. Later yesterday, Mr. Woodward publicly apologized for not telling his editor about the conversation until late last month.

Mr. Woodward said the Post probably wouldn't have been able to report what he knew, "But I still should include him in what I know, particularly as it became a high profile investigation." His editor, Leonard Downie, called the lapse "a breakdown in communication, but not a breakdown in trust," Mr. Woodward said. "And that's the key element."

The lack of accountability to one's bosses about one's sources has been a recurring theme in the past few years. It is why the New York Times's readers and fellow reporters criticized Ms. Miller, leading to her retirement.

Mr. Woodward revealed his involvement only after his source voluntarily came forward on Nov. 3 to tell the federal prosecutor about a conversation with Mr. Woodward, according to a statement by Mr. Woodward. That source, as well as two others, gave Mr. Woodward consent to talk about their conversations, the statement said. The first source didn't agree to be identified publicly.

Mr. Woodward has enjoyed unusual autonomy in the Washington Post newsroom over the years. He is free to report for his numerous books, which are excerpted in the newspaper prior to publication. He occasionally writes separate news stories, and he passes on information to other reporters at the paper. But he isn't obligated to share his scoops before the books are published. He also serves as a frequent television commentator.

Mr. Woodward's apology was partly directed at his colleagues. "Obviously people here feel let down," said Dana Milbank, a Post political columnist, in an email yesterday, adding that "it hasn't had the demoralizing effect that the Judy Miller debacle had at the Times."

In an interview, Mr. Downie, executive editor of the Washington Post, said he met with Mr. Woodward yesterday morning. "Bob made a mistake," Mr. Downie said. "I understand his reasons for not telling me, but at the same time it's something he should have told me and something we should have discussed...It's a decision we should have made jointly."

In his public apology, Mr. Woodward said, "I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed." He has taken a firm stance against news organizations revealing sources to prosecutors, which would probably have prevented the Post from revealing what he knew. When Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine decided to turn over Mr. Cooper's electronic notes in July, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, Mr. Woodward told a television interviewer that he disagreed with the decision.

"He's a man of conscience, and I'm sure he's been interviewed endlessly about why he did it," said Mr. Woodward. "I'm telling you Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham would not have done it." Mr. Bradlee was the executive editor of the Post when Mr. Woodward was reporting on Watergate; Mrs. Graham was the publisher.

Mr. Downie said Mr. Woodward's unusual status complicated his ability to tell the paper everything he knew. "In Bob's case, what is unusual about him is his access, his fame and what he produces," said Mr. Downie. "It does require managing because a lot of his reporting is done under confidential agreements like this particular one, in which the interviews are for the publication of a book, rather than for the newspaper in a short time frame."

Mr. Woodward says he was told of Ms. Wilson during "confidential background interviews" while writing his book, "Plan of Attack," about the Bush administration's strategy for invading Iraq. In fact, he may have been the first known recipient of a White House leak meant to discredit a critic of the administration's Iraq policy. Though Mr. Woodward says he told a colleague, Post reporter Walter Pincus, about the information in June 2003, Mr. Pincus has said he doesn't recall the conversation.

Mr. Pincus was subpoenaed by the prosecutor in August 2004 and gave a deposition about a conversation with a source, whom he has never identified. He was not asked to name the source by name because the prosecutor already knew the identity of the person. Asked why Mr. Woodward wouldn't reveal what he knew to the paper, Mr. Pincus said, "Bob is Bob. In this rather odd world, everybody has their own rules."

Mr. Woodward's fame has given him a unique access to the corridors of power. In the first two books in a three-part series on the Bush administration, he gained unprecedented access to top White House figures, including the president himself. The second book, "Bush At War," was highlighted on the Web site of Mr. Bush's campaign for President in 2004. A former White House official who worked with Mr. Woodward during the reporting for the first effort, "Plan of Attack," says the president considers Mr. Woodward among a small handful of reporters he trusts. The third book, to be published by Simon & Schuster, is due out in 2006.

In an interview Mr. Woodward acknowledged that his knowledge of the case informed comments he made during appearances on TV. Mr. Woodward has stated repeatedly on news programs that he didn't believe a crime was committed in the CIA leak case. He argued that the entire leak case had been overblown, that there was no criminal White House effort to "out" the CIA agent and that Mr. Fitzgerald was overzealous, "a junkyard dog prosecutor."

But Mr. Woodward never hinted at what he knew. The evening before prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald issued an indictment against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Woodward was asked by CNN talk-show host Larry King about rumors he was going to reveal unexpected evidence on the case in a story in the Post. "I wish I did have a bombshell," said Mr. Woodward. "I don't even have a firecracker. I'm sorry. In fact, I mean this tells you something about the atmosphere here."

Mr. Downie said the issue of Mr. Woodward opining about the case on television was also discussed. "He's also acknowledged to me today that that was a mistake and I've asked him not to do that again and he said he won't," said Mr. Downie.

While no journalist wants to be involved in a case like that for fear it will compromise his or her ability to talk to sources, Mr. Woodward's reputation for probity on keeping secrets may be indestructible: After all, he protected the identity of "Deep Throat" for 30 years, until his famous Watergate source chose to reveal himself. Asked if the leak case had hindered his access in the White House, he said, "I don't know. I hope not. It's not the greatest atmosphere to do reporting. But you can still do it."

Write to Joe Hagan at

Corrections & Amplifications:

Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward's first book on President Bush was "Bush at War," published in 2002, followed by "Plan of Attack" in 2004. This article misstated the sequence of publication.

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