Post watchdog says Woodward committed ‘sin’

The Washington Post‘s editorial watchdog slammed legendary reporter Bob Woodward on Sunday for committing a journalistic ”sin” by keeping from his paper what he knew in a CIA leak case that has rocked the White House.

The newspaper’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, said Woodward should follow the same rules as other Post journalists despite the fame he has garnered since his prize-winning work in the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.

Howell said the Post‘s credibility had taken ”a hit” because the best-selling author waited until last month to tell executive editor Leonard Downie that a senior US administration official told him about CIA agent Valerie Plame in June 2003.

Woodward’s knowledge in the matter was revealed by the Post on Wednesday, two days after he testified to a grand jury and special counsel investigating the leak case. The star journalist apologised to Downie last week, saying he had kept quiet to protect his sources.

”Readers in droves wrote that they were angry and disappointed. That disappointment was rife in The Post‘s newsroom, too,” Howell wrote.

”Last week we found out that he kept the kind of information from Downie that is a deeply serious sin not to disclose to a boss — the kind that can get even a very good reporter in the doghouse for a long time,” she wrote.

Vice-President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff I Lewis ”Scooter” Libby has been charged with lying to federal investigators looking into who leaked Plame’s name in the case. Libby has pleaded not guilty.

Plame’s husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, claimed that top White House officials broke the law by blowing her cover in revenge for his criticisms of the Iraq war.

Howell charged that Woodward committed another ”journalistic sin” by commenting on the case on the radio and CNN without disclosing his early knowledge of Plame’s identity.

Many readers said Woodward should be fired or disciplined, Howell said. But Downie called those suggestions ”ridiculous”.

”Our readers have gained so much from the depth of his work,” Downie was quoted as saying. ”His total work and reliability outweigh one mistake.”

Howell noted that Woodward was not the usual Post staffer. Even though his official title is assistant managing editor, he has no management duties.

”He comes and goes as he pleases, mostly writing his best-selling books on what happens behind the doors of power, and he reports only to executive editor Len Downie,” she said.

”He is allowed to keep juicy stories to himself until his latest book is unveiled on the front page of The Post. He is the master of the anonymous source,” Howell said.

She suggested that an editor should be assigned to Woodward and ”know what he’s working on and whom he’s talking to”.

”He has to operate under the rules that govern the rest of the staff — even if he’s rich and famous,” she wrote.

Under an agreement with his source, Woodward was able to testify before the special counsel but was not allowed to make the Bush administration official’s name public.

Woodward has indicated that Libby was not his source.

Another top American journalist, Judith Miller, retired from the New York Times earlier this month amid criticism from her own colleagues over her role in the matter.

She was jailed for 85 days for refusing to discuss her source with the grand jury. She was released after agreeing to testify when her source, who turned out to be Libby, released her of their confidentiality agreement.

The special counsel in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, signalled on Friday he expected more grand jury testimony, a move that will spark speculation that he may still be planning new charges. – AFP



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Laurent Thomet
Laurent Thomet
AFP China deputy bureau chief.

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