CNN’s Howard Kurtz discussed his interview with Bob Woodward with Kyra Phillips this afternoon. Trancript follows…
This is a Rush Transcript and may not be in its final format.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: A new twist and a well-known name in the CIA leak investigation. “The Washington Post’s” Bob Woodward, who made his name exposing Watergate, gave sworn testimony in the leak investigation on Monday. And according to the “Post,” Woodward testified that he learned the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame from a top administration official about a month before her name was made public.
But Woodward also revealed that the special counsel questioned him about the context in which he learned Valerie Plame’s identity. Woodward writes, “I testified that the reference seemed to me to be casual and offhand, and that it did not appear to me to be either classified or sensitive.”
Woodward would not identify the official who told him about Valerie Plame, and he did note that it was not Lewis Libby, the former aide to Dick Cheney who has been indicted in the case.
Now, that’s not the end of the story. In just the last hour or so, the “Post” Web site reported that Bob Woodward has apologized to the paper’s executive editor, Leonard Downey, Jr. The reason? Woodward waited more than two years before telling Downey that the Bush administration official he met with in 2003 had revealed Valerie Plame’s identity to him.
Now, in an interview with “The Post’s” Howard Kurtz, Woodward said, “I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner. I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That’s job number one in a case like this.”
“I hunkered down. I’m in the habit of keeping secrets.” He goes on to say, “I didn’t want anything out there that was gong to get me subpoenaed.”
Well, Downey told Kurtz that Woodward had “made a mistake.” He said Woodward still should have come forward, which he now admits. “We should have had that conversation.”
With me now, the man who wrote the article for the “Post,” Howard Kurtz.
He is also the host of CNN’s “RELIABLE SOURCES.”
So Howie — boy, it gets a little confusing. I hope everyone is following us here. But when it comes down to it, Woodward and the “Post” editor said that Woodward had made a mistake. The apologies are now coming forward.
What should happen next?
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, “RELIABLE SOURCES”: Well, we’d all like to know a lot more about who this still secret source was, Kyra. But an unusual situation. Bob Woodward told me in that interview you referred to that while the source gave him permission to testify, which he did on Monday before Patrick Fitzgerald in the continuing CIA leak investigation, the source did not give him permission to tell the rest of us who that person is.
And that, I think, is a little bit frustrating both for Woodward on the paper, because he feels like he is bound by that original promise of confidentiality. This is the same issue, as you know, that prompted Judith Miller of “The New York Times” to spend 85 days in jail.
PHILLIPS: Do you think he might be — the pressure might be put on him to give up his source?
KURTZ: Well, Woodward is a guy who, as I recall, kept the secret of who Deep Throat was for 33 years until that was revealed by “Vanity Fair.” So I’m sure he’ll be under a lot of pressure. I do not expect him to reveal the source, unless he can persuade this administration official — and he told me that he has been trying, in recent weeks, to get a release from the that pledge — to allow him to go public with the name.
It’s a very unusual situation. Usually either you can’t say anything about a source or you can go public. This kind of partial permission to testify an ongoing criminal investigation, but not to tell the rest of the world, is a fairly unusual circumstance.
PHILLIPS: Do you think Woodward’s too close to his sources, Howie?
KURTZ: Certainly, his critics have said that over the years. I don’t know that this is an example of it. He was given this information, he says, rather casually while he was working on one of his books about the
Bush White House and how they took the country to war. He didn’t think at the time that it was all that important. In other words, it didn’t seem to him to be part of a concerted effort to get even with Joe Wilson by disclosing the CIA role of his wife, Valerie Plame.
On the other hand, to a lot of people out there — and the same criticism was made of Matt Cooper and Judy Miller — it looks like journalists, Woodward included, are helping the Bush administration keep an embarrassing secret by not sharing it with the rest of us.
But this is the nature of dealing with anonymous sources. When you make that promise, whether its on a routine story or a sensitive matter like this, you are binding yourself, even when it becomes awkward or uncomfortable, as it clearly is in this case — you are binding yourself not to reveal where you got that information.
PHILLIPS: And, of course, comes a discussion about a breakdown in trust.
KURTZ: The breakdown in trust would be two-fold. On the one hand, if Woodward were to suddenly decide he’s going to tell the rest of the world, well, then, I think future sources, whether it’s in the administration or elsewhere, might think twice or three times about confiding in him. But at the same time, Woodward is in an unusual situation here. He writes these best-selling books, but he doesn’t spend most of his time with the newspaper.
He’s still an employee of “The Washington Post.” That’s why he’s concluded belatedly that he owed Len Downey at least the courtesy of telling him, hey, I’m involved in this thing, too. I mean, we have written 150 stories on this investigation and Downey didn’t know until last month and I personally didn’t know until this morning that Woodward was one of those who received that information about Valerie Plame from a senior administration official.
PHILLIPS: Interesting stuff. Any other thoughts, Howie?
KURTZ: I do think that is — there’s a larger issue here. And I talked about this in connection with Cooper and Miller and the other reporters, which is we are all too quickly among Washington journalists, too quick to make that promise where we get ourselves in this box. We get the information, we feel like we have access to the inside skinny.
But at the same time, we are then protecting the people who are giving us the information. And I think that this has hurt the reputation of journalism overall, because rather than blowing the whistle on some kind of scandal that’s happened in Watergate, Woodward’s most famous story. Here, it was a rather unsavory use of the press by the Bush administration to put out this information about the wife of one of its critics.
And so I think it’s unfortunate and I’m not surprised that the public opinion of journalism has sunk even lower, if that were possible, because of this Valerie Plame controversy.
PHILLIPS: Howie, you make an interesting point. Because we do say that a lot, even in copy, in our ad lib, in our conversation. Sources tell me, sources tell us, CNN sources. We do use that — it’s a regular — it’s a part of our regular conversation, many a times. Do we need to maybe value that word or value that expression, respect it in a different way?
KURTZ: We need to think more carefully about how often we’re making these promises. Now, and there some cases with really important stories — for example, the “Post” revealing just the other week that the CIA was maintaining secret prisons in Eastern Europe to interrogate al Qaeda suspects. You’re not going to get that story by assisting the people who go on the record.
But because this is so routinely overused and abused by reporters every day, in granting anonymity often to administration officials or others, I think that we have compromised ourselves on far too many stories.
And we have created a trust issue with a lot of readers and viewers who wonder why it is that we can get all this information and not tell them, not share with them, not be candid with them, where it’s coming from. That’s a problem I think that we need to be a lot more careful about promising this kind of anonymity.
PHILLIPS: Well, so many journalists want to get the story first, Howie. They want to have the exclusive. They want to have it either in print or on the air. And so it’s sort of easy to say, OK, look, give us the information, we’ll keep you as an inside source and we can go forward with the story.
KURTZ: The scoop mentality drives a lot of what we do in this business. But at the same time, it’s kind of a devil’s bargain that I think we entered into too often on too many different kinds of stories.
PHILLIPS: Interesting discussion. I know what you’ll be talking about this weekend. Howie Kurtz, thank you so much.
KURTZ: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: “RELIABLE SOURCES,” you don’t want to miss it. Right here on CNN.