WASHINGTON – Bob Woodward, while a hero to many journalists for breaking the Watergate story, nevertheless committed a "deeply serious sin" by not telling his editor at The Washington Post that a top Bush administration official had told him the name of a CIA officer, the newspaper's ombudsman said.
"He has to operate under the rules that govern the rest of the staff — even if he's rich and famous," wrote Deborah Howell in The Post's Sunday editions. She said Woodward made another mistake by publicly commenting on the case on CNN's "Larry King Live" and on National Public Radio without disclosing his knowledge of the CIA leak case.
A special prosecutor conducted a two-year investigation of the leak of the name of the CIA officer, Valerie Plame, to reporters. The probe has resulted in the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, 55, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, on charges that he lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about how he learned about Plame's identity and when he subsequently told reporters.
Plame's identity was revealed in July 2003 by columnist Robert Novak after her husband, ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium "yellowcake" in Niger.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald portrayed Libby as the first government official to have shared Plame's name and her work at the CIA. But the Post reported that Woodward, who achieved fame for his reporting on the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, may have been the first reporter to learn about Plame in mid-June of 2003, before the Novak column ran.
Woodward said he apologized to Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. for not telling him until last month that he had learned about Plame and her work at the CIA more than two years ago. He said he had been working on a book about the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq, and he did not want to be subpoenaed by a special prosecutor investigating the leak of Plame's name.
Howell wrote that Woodward's decision to keep the information from Downie "is a deeply serious sin ... the kind that can get even a very good reporter in the doghouse for a very long time."
And while Woodward is listed as an assistant managing editor, Howell said 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 ... Downie," she wrote. "He is allowed to keep juicy stories to himself until his latest book is unveiled on the front page of The Post. He is a master of the anonymous source."
She said Downie should either work more closely with Woodward or assign him another editor at the paper. "The Post needs to exercise more oversight," she wrote.