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.