Bob Woodward’s Monumental Task

The Washington Post’s Assistant Managing Editor, Bob Woodward, participated in an online chat yesterday. The very first question challenged him to answer for the failures of the media leading up to the war in Iraq.

Rancho Mirage, Calif.: “In light of Watergate, why did the ‘investigative’ branch of the press miss so badly on the Bush-Cheney spin machine to justify Iraq? Was the lesson of Watergate wasted, or was the press serving the country well?”

I like the “lesson of Watergate” angle, although Woodward ignores it. He does issue a curious apology that rests on how difficult it would have been to actually do his job.

Bob Woodward: “I think the press and I in particular should have been more aggressive in looking at the run-up to the Iraq war, and specifically the alleged intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction stockpiles. To answer the WMD question before the March 2003 invasion would have been a monumental task, but one that we should have undertaken more systematically.”

This is not the first mea culpa from Woodward. As I reported in November of 2006, Woodward (and other media luminaries) confessed to not having done enough to expose the weakness of the Bush administration’s case for war.

“We did our job but we didn’t do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder. We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier [than widely believed].”

There is, however, a striking contradiction in these statements. Yesterday Woodward said that the WMD question could not have been answered without undertaking a “monumental task.” But last November he said that he did, in fact, have information that the WMD argument was “shaky,” he just chose not to report it.

Obviously both of those statements cannot be true. I’d have to favor the November variant because there was plenty of evidence that the WMD story was a well-known sham (see UNMOVIC and Curveball).

It’s too bad that Woodward and so many of his colleagues were not honest with us in 2003, and only have hollow apologies for us in 2007.