Bob Woodward, Court Historian

A damning book review by Robert Kuttner of one of Bob Woodward’s political books:

You can just imagine how Watergate might have turned out if Woodward had applied his current formula to the events of the early 1970s. He would have based his account on intimate dinners with Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. Their infighting would have been reported, but Nixon himself would have come out looking resolute and the break-in would have been explained away. John Dean and Deep Throat never would have made it into the narrative.

The writing style reminds me of the Landmark biography series that I read when I was about nine (Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to the White House). Everything is simplified and mock-heroic, rather as Bush seems to view himself: “Rumsfeld not only preferred clarity and order, he insisted on them.” “Franks, a head taller than Rumsfeld, loomed over him physically. But there was no question of who was boss.” “Franks made it clear that he was first a military officer and had no intention of losing a war on his watch.” “Bandar considered Rumsfeld the toughest secretary of defense the U.S. had ever had, more so even than Cheney.” This is writing at a level that would impress a precocious preteen — or a dim chief executive.

The points made here are good, and it is sad to see Bob Woodward not to be doing those hard-hitting books anymore. But then again, is having a Court historian really that awful? I find it actually useful to hear the point of view from the major players, facts be damned. Ok, maybe some characterizations were silly and overly melodramatic. But I appreciate having a firsthand account of major events like this, as long as we don’t mistake this for critical/investigative analysis.