Dear Bob Woodward, all is forgiven.
Well, not all of it. But as someone who's been highly critical of Woodward's work in recent years and who thought he'd become romanced by his Bush White House sources and had played dumb about the Valerie Plame leak story, I'm here to say that viewed against the current backdrop of Beltway journalism's dwindling standards -- as measured by the recent campaign book Game Change -- Woodward's workmanlike approach suddenly never looked so good.
I'm not saying that Woodward didn't deserve the whacks he received, especially from the liberal blogosphere. He did. But I'm having second thoughts about my attacks on him, only because if I knew just how dramatically Beltway journalism would dissolve in the ensuing years -- to the point where a nasty, vindictive, and dubiously sourced book like Game Change would be held aloft by elites as a great work of reporting and political analysis -- then I probably would have gone easier on Woodward's transgressions.
Given the choice between Woodward's consistently serious, albeit flawed books -- which always carry with them an air of professionalism and class -- versus the flashy, hollow, click-through brand of journalism championed by Game Change, I'll take Woodward's approach every time. Because despite their flaws, Woodward's books are mostly about policy, about historic White House initiatives and how they get made, including all the backroom administration wrangling involved. Game Change, by comparison, rarely aspires to be more than a gossip clearinghouse. (And, yes, that's why The Village loves the book.)
After finishing Game Change, I'd be surprised if many readers had any deeper understanding of why the central players ran for president, or of the platforms on which they campaigned. Game Change, like the Beltway press, doesn't do public policy. It doesn't even do candidate profiles. Instead, the book is quite literally a celebration of (gossipy) process over substance, and is just as often relentlessly -- and gratuitously -- unserious and mean. It's filled with wildly one-sided, stick-figure portraits of the campaign's major players. (Elizabeth Edwards "barked," "snarled," "badgered," and "berated" her husband's campaign aides, all on one page.)