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Ed Driscoll

The WaPo Continues to Devour Its Own

March 12th, 2013 - 10:23 pm

I wonder what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward thinks about this article in today’s Washington Post-owned Slate, which attempts to trash — key word being “attempt” — one of Woodwards’s few non-political* books, Wired, his look at the drug-fueled death of John Belushi, which had occurred in 1982.

Two years after Belushi died, as a favor to Belushi’s widow, and no doubt knowing it was a great story about a very public figure, Woodward produced a reporter’s look into the superstar comedian’s self-destruction. Woodward explored how a gifted, intuitive performer who had possibly the most intense charisma — it just poured into the camera lens, magically — of anyone who came out of the SNL/Lampoon/late night comedy circuit of the 1970s would implode so spectacularly after leaving SNL to concentrate on movies.

In order to cast aspersions on Woodward’s anti-Obama reporting — and isn’t this rich, a “liberal” journalist angry at another liberal journalist because he’s (at least as of now) anti-establishment — Slate gives space for author Tanner Colby, who has written his own biography of Belushi, along with a book focusing on his later SNL doppelganger Chris Farley, to pick apart Woodward’s reporting on some of the quotidian details of Belushi shooting his scenes.

Such as Animal House:

First off, Woodward wrongly calls the cafeteria scene a rehearsal, when half the point of the story is that Belushi pulled it off without ever rehearsing it once. Also, there’s actually nothing in the anecdote to indicate laziness or lack of discipline on Belushi’s part, yet Woodward chooses to establish the scene using those words. The implication is that Belushi was so unfocused and unprepared that he couldn’t make it through the scene without the director beside him telling him what to do, which is not what took place. When I interviewed him, Landis disputed that he ever referred to Belushi as lazy or undisciplined. “The greatest crime of that book,” Landis says of Wired, “is that if you read it and you’d just assume that John was a pig and an asshole, and he was anything but. He could be abrupt and unpleasant, but most of the time he was totally charming and people adored him.”

The wrongness in Woodward’s reporting is always ever so subtle. SNL writer Michael O’Donoghue—who died before I started the book but who videotaped an interview with Judy years before—told this story about how Belushi loved to mess with him:

I am very anal-retentive, and John used to come over and just move things around, just move things a couple of inches, drop a paper on the floor, miss an ashtray a little bit until finally he could see me just tensing up. That was his idea of a fine joke. Another joke he used to do was to sit on me.

When put through the Woodward filter, this becomes:

A compulsively neat person, O’Donoghue was always picking up and straightening his office. Frequently, John came in and destroyed the order in a minute, shifting papers, furniture or pencils or dropping cigarette ashes.

Again, Woodward’s account is not wrong. It’s just … wrong.

So Woodward isn’t wrong, but he’s wrong. He’s accurate but fake, apparently. Not to be confused with “fake but accurate,” which eight and a half years ago was a perfectly acceptable journalistic defense by the New York Times. Or as the Washington Post wrote a year ago in their defense of Mike Daisey, after the monologist had been caught by NPR lying about Apple’s factories in China, “The main point he drives home is that he felt it was necessary to embellish his story in order to retain the ‘truth’ of the message of his show. He lied to tell the truth, basically.”

But apparently Woodward telling the truth is lie. I think I need new scorecards.

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All Comments   (19)
All Comments   (19)
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This is the new version of the old Soviet erasure of persons who failed to toe to the latest party line.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I hear Warner Brothers is going to release an updated cut of "All the President's Men" with Bob Woodward digitally erased from the entire film.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The propaganda machine is doing their best to clean away the mess of their messiah.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm barely old enough to remember when liberal meant anti-establishment. The liberals have morphed into their opposites.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is similar to Knoll's Law of Media Accuracy: "Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true—except for the rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge." Erwin Knoll was editor of "The Progressive" magazine.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I find it telling that of all Woodward's books this is the one chosen to trash. A fun read, but hardly a work of lasting value. It's clear that they're trying to influence the type of people who are the most die-hard Obama fans, people only aware of superficial, transient pop culture - and I include most of the media lefties in this group - who have probably never read anything else Woodward has written.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don’t know if I would go that far.

I have come to find that most people under the age of 30 have no idea who John Belushi was. While I agree that this is just an attempt to trash Bob Woodward’s reputation, keep in mind that Wired was Woodward’s only non-political best-seller. Woodward is a leftist himself, so Wired is the only safe choice for the leftist-media to trash.

That said, I sympathize with Belushi’s family in regard to Woodward – they wanted a biographer, they got a journalist. Rather than attempting to inscribe Belushi’s personality, Woodward sensationalized the man’s life to a point where the caricature that emerged lacked any depth at all. (If what I’m saying doesn’t make sense, think of how our culture remembers Nixon compared to other presidents – he is usually treated as a villain from a Warner Bros. cartoon. The real man, while flawed, was not evil.)

In a sense, Driscoll’s got it right: the sudden interest in Wired is little more than an attempt to discredit Woodward. But the fact is, his only crime was doing what journalists do – they sensationalize. Truth be told, I don’t trust Woodward and I am wary that conservatives seem to be suddenly holding him as an example of a respectable journalist. Professional journalism has long been discredited as a practice, but we allow it to live because in their stories there still exists those kernels of truth. Belushi was an addict, Nixon was behind Watergate, etc.

Woodward is no better than the rest of them, but he made the mistake of sensationalizing the wrong thing and now his own people have turned on him. Egh. I have no sympathy for him. Let them eat their own.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Pop culture liberals have always had a burr under their saddle about "Wired", but for the most part held that anger in for a quarter-century because Woodward was still seen as one of them -- they could easily have joined in the chorus of skeptics about former CIA Director Bob Casey's alleged deathbed confession to Woodward that came out a few years after "Wired", but said nothing. It's not until now that Slate opts to dredge up the anger over the Belushi book, because Woodward has violated the covenant by making Obama look bad.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The left will not tolerate any stepping out of line, or is it goosestepping? Statitst thugs are like that, neurotics who have to be agreed with, completely.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No offense, but who is Tanner Colby anyway?

Here is his bio at his site, no less:

"Tanner Colby is the coauthor of Belushi: A Biography and the New York Times bestseller, The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Danielle, and their dog, Spanky."

Enough said.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Gell-Mann amnesia effect explains why the American public believed Bill Clinton about bombing the Serbs, right after he had been impeached for perjury. It was clear that he had indeed committed perjury, despite the fact that the Senate refused to do their duty in removing him for that.

Ever since then, presidents can lie to us about everything, all the time, with impunity, and they know it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Eh, I wouldn't get too worked up about this. Sure, the Slate article is motivated by a desire to counteract the impressions left by Woodward's story about his Gene Sperling encounter. But Woodward is just like any other journalist, reporting always passes through a filter. Some facts are presented, others ignored, phrases are used to color readers' reactions to the presented facts. Sometimes the journalist has an agenda, and sometimes the journalist simply lacks a clue. It's important to read everything with healthy skepticism, and look for alternative coverage of the same story. Each account may have some truth in bits and pieces, but the "whole truth" usually escapes any single telling.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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