Bob Woodward visits the reality-based world

Was the nation's most famous newspaper reporter really so clueless about the year's biggest political story?

Published November 22, 2005 2:11PM (EST)

Larry King asked Bob Woodward all sorts of questions last night, but there's one he seemed to have missed: "Dude, what planet were you on?"

The nation's most famous newspaper reporter says he didn't really come to understand that his knowledge about the CIA leak case might be important until the day Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictment of Scooter Libby. "The day of the indictment, I read the charges against Libby and looked at the press conference by the special counsel," Woodward told King. "And he said the first disclosure on all of this was on June 23, 2003, by Scooter Libby ... I went 'Whoa, Whoa,' because I knew I learned about this in mid-June, a week, ten days before. Then I say, 'Somethings up.' Theres a piece that the special counsel does not have in all of this. Then I went into incredibly aggressive reporting mode."

Go, Jimmy Olsen, go.

Seriously, how can it possibly be that Bob Woodward, the man who helped bring down a president, didn't understand until the day of the indictment of Scooter Libby that it might be important that another administration official -- someone who is not, if all the denials are to be believed, either Libby or Karl Rove -- leaked Valerie Plame's identity to a reporter? Even putting aside the question of timing, the existence of another leaker would go to the question of whether the Rove-Libby leaks were some kind of isolated instances or part of a grander White House conspiracy. And the question of timing can't really be put aside. The general time frame of the Plame leaks wasn't exactly a secret until the day the indictment came down. The dates of some of the leaks had been a matter of public knowledge for months, and the date of Libby's leak to Judy Miller had been reported in the press for weeks. The upshot: Anyone paying even a little bit of attention to the Plame case would have known long before indictment day that a leak in mid-June would have predated any of the other leaks known to have occurred.

How was Woodward so clueless? He wasn't. As Think Progress lays it out, it's pretty clear that Woodward knew full well that his "piece" of the Plame story was important long before the day of the indictment. If there really wasn't any there there, why did Woodward ask his Post colleague, Walter Pincus, to keep news of his leak secret from the Post's readers? Why did Woodward keep it secret from his own editors? Woodward's answer: He didn't want to get subpoenaed. But if Woodward really didn't think his news mattered much, why did he think he was at risk of a subpoena?

It doesn't make sense. Or, as a highly trained newspaper professional might say, "Whoa, whoa ... something's up."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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