Horowitz on Woodward

It’s Bad to Change Your Mind

Yesterday, David Horowitz responded to Michiko Kakutani’s review (subscription required) of Bob Woodward’s new book State of Denial. What is absolutely fascinating is that Horowitz tries to take Woodward to task for having changed his opinion—something Horowitz, though he switched from left to right—has never done. Kakutani’s headline is “A Portrait of Bush as a Victim of His Own Certitude,” a trait Bush shares with Horowitz and much of the right.

If there is one trait that defines the right (and the far left, where Horowitz used to reside) it is an absolute belief in its own correctness. Anyone showing doubt or a need to re-examine is considered suspect, showing a sign of “liberalness.” Following this pattern, Horowitz tries to use the fact that Woodward has changed his mind about the Bush administration to cast doubt on the new book.

Horowitz can’t attack the book on substance, so he tries to make a case that Woodward could not ask the hard questions because he had changed his mind. It is too bad for Horowitz that he posted his blog entry before the 60 Minutes segment on Woodward aired last night, a piece detailed by RenaRF on The Daily Kos.

To cast doubt on Woodward, Horowitz claims that someone who changes his or her mind can’t ask good questions, for the very asking would reveal the changed view. He adds:

In this situation, the judgement [sic] — and fortitude — of the writer in asking questions, in assessing answers, is absolutely crucial to establishing a reliable picture of what actually took place. That is why Woodward’s dramatically inconsistent portrait of Bush is so disturbing.

What Horowitz did not know was that the White House was perfectly aware of Woodward’s change of heart—made so by Woodward himself. RenaRF quotes 60 Minutes:

WALLACE: You paint a picture, Bob, of the President as the ‘Cheerleader in Chief’, current reality be damned. He’s convinced that he’s got to succeed in Iraq, yes?
WOODWARD: Yes. That’s correct. Now–
WALLACE: You believe that he believes.
WOODWARD: I do.
WALLACE: How well do you know him?
WOODWARD: I interviewed him for the first two books for hours.
WALLACE: And you know what? There are people who are going to say “Look – Woodward is savaging President Bush because he wouldn’t see him for this book.”
WOODWARD: That’s not true.
WALLACE: Well he didn’t.
WOODWARD: He did not. I asked, and made it very clear to the White House what my question were, what my information was. What could he say? That secret chart is not right? That these things that happened in these meetings didn’t occur? It’s documented. I’ve talked to the people who were there.

Woodward wasn’t trying to hide anything, certainly not his opinion. He is not in the position Horowitz describes:

For example, suppose Colin Powell has made some harsh criticisms of Condoleeza Rice to Woodward. If Woodward takes these criticisms to Rice for her reaction, he may communicate to Rice that this could be a hostile book. If Rice communicates this to other members of the Bush Administration, sources will dry up. Hence the writer may decide not to pose the challenge to Rice, but to save the adverse comment for his text.

Woodward may have been stampeded into support for the administration from 9/11 through the early years of the Iraq war, but he remains an important journalist, important enough so that he cannot be ignored simply because he has changed his views. He didn’t need to interview Bush for this book, for he already had the facts, so “access,” so important to journalists of lesser stature, meant less to him. He didn’t need to hide his views, for the people he did interview recognize him as an insider who can say what he will and still get to almost any source.

Horowitz attacks Woodward on this flimsy basis because he has no other. All he can do is try to claim that Woodward, by the very act of changing his mind, is no longer part of the team. For, as Kakutani writes:

As depicted by Mr. Woodward, this is an administration in which virtually no one will speak truth to power, an administration in which the traditional policy-making process involving methodical analysis and debate is routinely subverted.

Woodward’s real crime, in Horowitz’s eyes, lies in willingness to speak against the prevailing rightwing assumptions. He is finally the kid willing to say that the emperor wears no clothes.

I am no fan of Woodward—haven’t been, ever since first hearing of him during Watergate (as a copyboy at the New York Times that summer, I knew that his role in uncovering the scandal was exaggerated). But that doesn’t mean he cannot do a good job at examination of this administration.

So I, for one, will get this book and read it—Horowitz’s objections notwithstanding.

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