The Trouble with Bob Woodward

fbf9belushikissinger 600x400 The Trouble with Bob Woodward

Of all the anti–Bob Woodward invective to
erupt over the last few weeks, the most illuminating item I’ve
seen is an
essay ;by Tanner Colby ;in Slate this morning.
When Colby wrote Belushi: A
Biography with the widow of the late actor John Belushi,
he found himself in the unusual position of basically re-reporting
an entire Woodward book—Wired,
the Post scribe’s much-maligned Belushi bio. Since my own
disillusionment with Woodward began when virtually everyone
interviewed for Wired claimed that they were
misrepresented, I found it interesting to hear Colby’s account of
how the author systematically skewed anecdotes:
Like a funhouse mirror,
Woodward’s prose distorts what it purports to reflect. Moments of
tearful drama are rendered as tersely as an accounting of Belushi’s
car-service receipts. Friendly jokes are stripped of their humor
and turned into boorish annoyances. And when Woodward fails to
convey the subtleties of those little moments, he misses the bigger

Woodward also makes peculiar decisions about what facts he uses as
evidence. His detractors like to say that
he’s little more than a stenographer—and they’re right. In
Wired, he takes what he is told and simply puts it down in
chronological order with no sense of proportionality, nuance, or
understanding….Just to compare and contrast: At one point,
Woodward stops the narrative cold to document a single 24-hour coke
binge for the better part of eight pages. Nothing much happens in
these eight pages except for Belushi going around L.A. doing a
bunch of coke; it’s not a key moment in Belushi’s life, but it
takes on an outsized weight in Wired’s narrative simply
because Woodward happened to find the limo driver who drove Belushi
around and witnessed the whole thing, providing him with a lot of
juicy if not particularly important information. Meanwhile, the
funeral of Belushi’s grandmother—which was the pivotal moment when
he hit bottom, resolved to get clean, and kicked off his year of
hard-fought sobriety—that event is glossed over in a mere 42 words,
and a quarter of those words are dedicated to the cost of the plane
tickets to fly to the funeral ($4,066, per Woodward, as if it
matters to the story).

Whenever people ask me about John Belushi and the subject of
Wired comes up, I say it’s like someone wrote a biography
of Michael Jordan in which all the stats and scores are correct,
but you come away with the impression that Michael Jordan wasn’t
very good at playing basketball.
I don’t have much invested in the Woodward/Obama tiff, one of
those intra-Washington battles that occupies the Beltway pundits’
attention for a few days or weeks without ultimately meaning much.
(You want to talk about the White House being thin-skinned about
press criticism, focus on the ;examples ;that
actually happened.) The general value of Woodward’s work is a more
significant topic, and Colby makes points worth remembering each
time the Post reporter publishes one of his
half-of-D.C.-dishes-about-the-other-half tomes.
Elsewhere in Reason: Read Matt Welch’s
classic column comparing Woodward to Judith Miller. And see
Athan Theoharis on
Deep Throat.

Originally posted here – 

The Trouble with Bob Woodward

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