Bob Woodward: Yes, I Should Have Probed Iraqi WMD More Closely

By: E&P Staff The venue was a bit odd -- an online chat marking the 35th anniversary of the Watergate burglary -- but it produced one of the clearest admissions yet by Washington Post editor/reporter Bob Woodward that he was among the many who fumbled the ball on pre-war Iraqi WMDs. He also took issue with how a key Fred Thompson angle relating to Watergate is portrayed.

Woodward has written three books relating to the war, each one more critical of the effort than the previous one, but in the online chat at this afternoon he was asked about the media's performance while the run-up to the war was still underway.

A reader from Rancho Mirage, Calif., asked: "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?"

Woodward replied: "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."

Later, in response to a similar question, he added: "I think we've learned a lot from Watergate and from the handling of controversy and scandal in all the presidents' administrations since then. At the same time, as I said earlier, I wish everyone would be more aggressive -- the press and the Congress, and in developing a fuller system of accountability. Hopefully those in government also would see the value of transparency. Speaking openly and honestly gets issues out on the table, and as Nixon himself once said, 'it's the coverup that always matters.'"

Another reader asked about Fred Thompson, who was an attorney for the Watergate committee chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin and asked the crucial question about whether Nixon kept tape recordings.

Woodward replied: "First of all, when Fred Thompson -- who was the Republican cousel to the Senate Watergate committee -- asked Alexander Butterfield the question about possible tape recordings in the White House or Oval Office, Thompson, like a good lawyer, knew the answer -- because three days before the public testimony, lawyers and investigators for the committee got Butterfield to reveal the existence of the secret tape-recording system. Though Thompson seems to get public credit for asking this critical question, it was the work of others on the committee staff who dug out Butterfield's revelation in a lengthy interview on a hot Friday afternoon on July 13, 1973."

On another note, Woodward was asked if was really friends with Carl Bernstein (they have had their differences). He replied: "I just talked to him an hour ago, and we talk all the time and see each other regularly. He was down here visiting my wife Elsa and I last week while on his book tour for his Hillary Clinton excellent biography 'A Woman in Charge.' Carl and I indeed are friends and will always be friends. We look at lots of things very differently, but over the decades have become much closer."


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