Bob Woodward’s Source-ery

Chatterbox remembers Bob Woodward getting a certain amount of guff for the opening scene of The Agenda, which depicted Bill and Hillary Clinton discussing, in bed, whether he should run for president. Woodward got berated not for the dialogue, which was kind of lame (“What do you think’ll happen?” “I think you’ll win.” “You really think so?” “Yes, I really think so!”), but for alleging that he knew what went on in Bill Clinton’s bedroom. (The Agenda was published in 1994, still the pre-Cambrian era of presidential sex reportage.) Snide comparisons were made to Woodward’s alleged sneak visit to the dying Bill Casey’s hospital room when he was reporting Veil. That Woodward! What a fraud!

But guess who turns out to have been a source for The Agenda? Bill Clinton! That’s what George Stephanopoulos writes, anyway, on page 284 of his new memoir, All Too Human. (Which raises the question: Is it a violation of ethics–journalistic or other–to unmask your former boss as a background source? Send your brief but thoughtful ruminations on this question to (put the word “source” in the subject line.) “Clinton secretly met with Woodward,” Stephanopoulos tells us. To Chatterbox, this strongly suggests that Woodward’s bedroom ticktock–though perhaps inaccurate–cannot be faulted on its sourcing.

But how did Woodward get the president to talk in the first place? Here is where Stephanopoulos really delivers the goods, quoting, extensively, from a letter Woodward wrote Clinton (pp. 282-4). To Chatterbox, this is even more titillating than the presidential pickup lines related in Monica’s Story (see “Be a Babe Magnet Like Bill!!!”). Herewith, a few samples of The Master at work:

I have wondered many times, what am I missing? A lot, no doubt–too much. My reporting has yielded enough that I am definitely humbled by what I don’t know.

[T]he most powerful inside account is still really from the outside. It lacks the perspective of the President …

Just in eight months, it’s clear you’ve been on a singular journey. But the published and broadcast accounts of it miss far too much. Public dialogue is at too low a level. [Take that, Len Downie!] Aren’t the problems of governing connected to the shallow discourse?

[Around 1991] you made the point to friends and associates that the battlefield had shifted. National self-definition, seriousness, and leadership would next be measured by economic and domestic policy. You were right.

You can bet Chatterbox will be trying out these lines on future recalcitrant sources, and that the nation’s journalism schools will soon incorporate them into their curricula.

–Timothy Noah

(Check out Slate’s new “RSVP” department to find out whom Hillary should date and what the century’s silliest books are.)