Woodward, Bernstein and the Media “Witch Hunt” Warning


Happy 40 years, Deepthroat!

Tomorrow marks the official 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal; a story that started with a small crack in a much larger shell that eventually brought down a President. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post duo and investigative journalism heroes, will be attendance at a celebration but, today, they had some choice words on a more recent story.

A few weeks ago, the Voice reported on a development in the Obama administration’s War on Leaks, in which the Justice Department attempted to subpoena James Risen for his reporting on state secrets. Well, in the past few days, things have changed a bit in regards to the going ons behind closed doors in Washington – a subject that Woodward and Bernstein can be considered experts on.
This morning on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” the two warned against a McCarthey-esque “witch hunt” that is about to break out in Congress.
And the press seems to be its main target.

The controversy surrounds an article that appeared in the New York Times last week, written by investigative reporter David E. Sanger. According to the story, the Obama administration increased a cyberattack program dealt against Iranian computers; an issue we should all be worried about, given that this is a hostile move made just months before a Presidential election.

But it’s not the story’s details that has Congress worried; it’s where those details came from:
This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.
In other words, we’ve got a bunch of leaks at work again.
Accusations from House Republicans immediately arose that the President’s team purposefully fed those details to the Times to bolster the macho image of the commander-in-chief before November; Rep. Peter King of New York even went so far as to saying that Obama is trying desperately to be like John Wayne.
Although the administration denies all accounts of leaking, Attorney General Eric Holder has tapped two U.S. attorneys to investigate where this information came from. And that’s why Woodward and Bernstein are worried that the hysteria on the Hill could get out of hand.
According to Woodward, whose book “Obama’s Wars” chronicled the secrets of his foreign policy team, the press still needs to tread lightly with confidentiality – “It’s very difficult – I know from doing stories like this where you’re dealing with sensitive government secrets.” But even so, he said, the media has always handled state secrets well in the past (Pentagon Papers, WikiLeaks, etc.).
To come down on reporters, in that sense, goes against the facts and is a wildly skewed notion of who the blame, if there is need for any, must be placed upon:
“You’ve got to be very careful about creating a witch hunt for sources and a witch hunt in which you go after reporters, because now more than ever we need real reporting on this presidency, on national security, on all these areas and the press is not the problem here,” Bernstein remarked.
The Holder panel, in this perspective, would hold Sanger accountable for the confidential information he obtained for the article. This is similar to the DOJ’s argument against Risen: rather than discussing the actual content of the article, the Obama administration would instead go after the reporters behind that said content.
Let the hunt begin.