Thursday, November 17, 2005

POST'S MILLER MOMENT The Washington Post is now in the midst of its own version of the Judith Miller controversy.

The good news: At least in the early-going, the Post seems to be doing a more responsible job of navel-gazing than The New York Times--at this hour, the paper has published six separate pieces (in print or online) about the Woodward revelations.

And the paper's reporting doesn't soft-peddle the issue. The articles and blog posts all zero in on the credibility questions raised by Bob Woodward's behavior.

The not-so-good news: In the paper's coverage, Woodward doesn't come off particularly well. Neither does widely-admired Post reporter Walter Pincus. And so in the coming weeks, the Post's editorial policies will likely be a subjected to prolonged, painful scrutiny.

Some questions that remain unanswered:

1. Woodward has said that Plame's identity was passed along to him in a "casual and offhand" manner. And yet, he maintains that the comment was off-the-record.

So was the comment passed along during a structured interview or in a social situation? If the former, does Woodward allow sources to set ground rules that place entire conversations off-the-record? If the latter, is it his practice to consider "off-the-record" to be the default position for all conversations with some officials?

2. How sure is Woodward that the information about Plame's identity was passed along casually rather than a calculated way meant to appear casual?

Doesn't the "casual and offhand" characterization assume access to the leaker's mental state? And in light of everything we've learned about the Plame case, isn't it a bit credulous to characterize the transfer of information this way?

3. The Plame story is the biggest scandal to hit the Capitol in years. Woodward is a Washington journalist. He had salient information that might've shed light on the actions of the Bushies during the run-up to war, and on the motives of the Plame leakers.

Why didn't he write a story about it?

4. Woodward has said that he sent Lewis Libby "an 18-page list of questions I wanted to ask Vice President Cheney." Is sending questions in advance a normal practice for Woodward? What do The Post's editors think about it?

5. How big a deal is it that Woodward appeared repeatedly on television to downplay the importance of the Plame investigation without admitting that he was an interested party in the case?

6. Finally, Post veteran Walter Pincus has said that, "[Woodward] asked me to keep him out of the reporting and I agreed to do that." Why was Pincus willing to agree to a request to steer clear of Woodward in his reporting? What do the Post's editors think about this arrangement?

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.