Woodward Affair: A Paper Is Always The Last To Know!

“I don’t think I’ve kept in touch with Bob over the years,” said Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr.

 

Mr. Downie, on the phone from Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5, was discussing last month’s startling discovery that Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward had become involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair more than two years before, without telling his own paper about it.

 

The dustup over that news has apparently not shaken Mr. Woodward’s habit of keeping information to himself. “I have no clue what he’s working on,” said Jim VandeHei, The Post’s current White House reporter.

 

At The New York Times, the Wilson affair roiled the newsroom and cost Judith Miller her job. But Ms. Miller was one magnitude of star reporter; Mr. Woodward is another—call him Mr. Walk Amok, his sins those of aloofness and omission.

 

Mr. Woodward is America’s pre-eminent celebrity investigative reporter. But what is he investigating? Three decades ago, he symbolized the power of day-by-day news reporting. The Watergate scandal broke under a steady battering of incremental news updates by Mr. Woodward and Carl Bernstein—two metro reporters banging into print each tidbit they could learn.

 

Now, his fame secure, Mr. Woodward has withdrawn himself from the news cycle to work on big projects. He is in the business of hoarding tidbits, not publishing them. His loyalties are divided between his jobs as a news-gatherer for The Post and as a best-selling book author for Simon & Schuster.

 

And so, while the White House was starting to crack under Mr. Fitzgerald’s investigation, Mr. Woodward was on television dismissing the leak of Ms. Wilson’s identity as “gossip”—an odd echo of the “third-rate burglary.”

 

And Mr. Woodward is keeping his own paper in the dark. Though Mr. Woodward is in the thick of a project covering the Bush administration’s second term, Mr. VandeHei said he has little contact with The Post’s star scribe. “If there is overlap in reporting, I wouldn’t know about it,” Mr. VandeHei said.

 

At The Post, the episode has simply led to a more rueful version of the status quo.

 

Mr. Downie said that he and his famed assistant managing editor needed to increase their communication.

 

“I’m not satisfied on my own part,” Mr. Downie said.

 

Asked to explain why he’d been out of touch, Mr. Downie replied, “Because he’s a rich man, who has an entire floor of his house as his office, and he has a staff of his own working for him. He doesn’t come into the office so much. We have to take the initiative to talk to each other.”

 

Mr. Woodward has no direct editorial oversight at The Post. And despite his title, Mr. Woodward hasn’t edited a story for the paper in years, Mr. Downie said. He writes for the paper when he wants. When he’s pursuing a book project, he discusses some of the content with Mr. Downie.

 

“It varies from project to project, depending on what he’s working on,” Mr. Downie said.

 

Mr. Downie said that Mr. Woodward does seek to share information he discovers in his book reporting with the newspaper. If something seems newsworthy, Mr. Downie said, Mr. Woodward would return to his sources and ask permission to use the material in the paper.

 

“He adapts the ground rules accordingly,” Mr. Downie said. “I don’t think anyone is fooled with what he’s doing.”

 

Former Post reporter Mike Allen, who now covers the White House for Time magazine, said of Mr. Woodward, “He wanted The Washington Post to be first and right and would steer us in ways that benefited the institution greatly, but not him in particular.”

 

Still, the bulk of what Mr. Woodward learns in his reporting is reserved not for the first draft of history, but for the second draft—the thickly detailed books that have made him a veritable cash machine for the publishing industry.

 

“He’s very important, not only of course because he has great sales, but because he’s part of the fabric of this house going back to All the President’s Men,” said Carolyn Reidy, the president of Simon & Schuster’s Adult Publishing Group, which has published all of Mr. Woodward’s books since his debut with Mr. Bernstein in 1974. “He’s part of what makes Simon & Schuster what it is.”

 

And vice versa. Even if Mr. Woodward were the highest-paid executive at the Washington Post Company, it’s unlikely that the newspaper could pay him more than a fraction of what the publishing house does.

 

Mr. Woodward’s more successful books can sell upward of 300,000 to 600,000 copies (one rough estimate, from Nielsen Bookscan, has 2004’s Plan of Attack in hardcover selling 471,000 copies, and 2002’s Bush at War at 512,000); at $25 to $28 a copy, Mr. Woodward might make $3 to $4 in royalties on each sale, putting his take squarely in the millions. In between hardcover releases, a quick peek at Amazon reveals that a handful of paperbacks of the older books have been reissued, yielding further, endless royalties.

 

And if the Plame revelation hurt Mr. Woodward’s reputation in the Romenesko-reading set, Simon & Schuster doesn’t worry about its effect on the book-buying public.

 

“Frankly, we believe Bob’s books will continue to be judged on their own merit,” said Ms. Reidy. “His books are unique in the publishing industry, and their success is based on what they are delivering, and we don’t expect that to change or to be in any way negatively affected.”

 

According to Ms. Reidy, Mr. Woodward’s recent (pre–Fitzgerald investigation) sales have been “some of the best of his career, in terms of numbers.” Plan of Attack and Bush at War both spent months on best-seller lists (although Mr. Woodward’s quickie book on the identity of Deep Throat, The Secret Man, faded quickly, registering much lower sales figures than usual).

 

Mr. Woodward has too much brand equity, the publishing industry figures, not to weather the Plame business.

 

“I think he’s impervious. It’s been too many years,” said Connie Sayre, a principle of the publishing consulting firm Market Partners International.

 

However, Ms. Sayre also acknowledged: “I think he misbehaved, if he did what people are saying.”

 

If he did misbehave, it’s a mere afterthought to his publishing house, which seems to need him as much as he needs them.

 

But wherever Mr. Woodward’s economic allegiances may lie, he doesn’t keep his New York book producers any better informed than his Washington newspaper colleagues about what he’s up to at any given time.

 

Mr. Woodward is presently at work on the third part of his Bush trilogy. According to Bob Barnett, Mr. Woodward’s lawyer who negotiates his book contracts, there is no estimate as to when it will be published, in part because “his books flow one to the other. [They’re] not segmented like that. Arguably, things he researched for the second book might end up in this one.”

 

The book projects fall into a long continuum of reporting and researching, lunches and interviews with Washington’s powerful, each forming part of a multi-year narrative that may or may not surface between hardcovers. The operation is run out Mr. Woodward’s third-floor home office, which is a hub of research assistants, files and transcripts.

 

When Mr. Woodward begins a new project, he might have a topic or a full-blown idea; sometimes he discusses the ideas in their early stages with advisors such as Alice Mayhew, his career-long editor at Simon & Schuster, or his wife, Elsa Walsh, or former Post editor Ben Bradlee, or Mr. Downie or Mr. Barnett. When the time is right, Mr. Woodward and his attorney make a visit to his publisher, usually giving them at least a sense of what his next subject will be. Each time a new contract is signed, it contains a standard first-look clause for the next book.

 

Then Mr. Woodward goes away and does his reporting.

 

“What we know is if, say, he’s writing a book on the Bush administration: a broad subject,” said Ms. Reidy. “We do not know the specifics until the book is pretty much ready to be published.”

 

The only person who knows more is his editor, Ms. Mayhew, who speaks to him on a regular basis, but even she doesn’t know everything. During the months that Mr. Woodward is conducting interviews and researching, Ms. Reidy said, “until he’s ready to say ‘I have a manuscript or a draft of a manuscript,’ we don’t know what’s going to be in it. Even Alice. When Bob’s ready, we know.” According to one source at the publishing house, because of Mr. Woodward’s track record, he gets to keep the details of his work in progress to himself.

 

Once a manuscript is turned in, Mr. Woodward and Ms. Mayhew work on it together. Simon & Schuster has developed somewhat of a reputation for careful handling of “newsworthy” political books (they published The Price of Loyalty, by Ron Suskind, about former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and Against All Enemies, by former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, in 2004), and efforts are made to protect the exclusivity of the information within, which represents a good portion of the value to be realized from their investment. There is close control over who gets copies of the manuscripts, and the galleys are not typically produced and spread around. The process has been honed into a set of procedures that have been repeated dozens of times.

 

To have leaks would defeat the purpose.

 

“Bob Woodward’s allegiance is to celebrity,” said an executive at another major publishing house. “In the old days, reporters were like Seymour Hersh, out in the trenches, digging around someone’s garbage. I think of Woodward with his cufflinks on in the cloth dining rooms in Washington. Or in the President’s office. Like he’s one of them.”

 

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A nyone trying to assess former Random House editor in chief Jonathan Karp’s new imprint at Warner Books should take note of the latest author joining his roster.

 

In addition to recent book contracts signed with Christopher Buckley, Christopher Hitchens and Julie Checkoway, Mr. Karp struck a deal with New York Times Metro reporter Jennifer 8. Lee to write a book about “how Chinese food is more all-American than apple pie,” according to Ms. Lee. The book is tentatively titled The Long March of General Tso, and will detail the history of Chinese food in the United States.

 

Ms. Lee’s agent, Larry Weissman, sent out the proposal on Friday, and by Monday had come to terms with Mr. Karp. Mr. Weissman said that there were five pre-emptive bids on the proposal, and that it sold for “well into six figures.”

 

Mr. Karp wouldn’t reveal the exact amount, but said that he felt confident “she could buy a lot of steamed pork dumplings with this advance.”

 

The future author said that in order to make time to complete the writing, which she estimates will take her about 18 months, she is switching to the night shift at The Times, which will have her working fewer hours, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. during the week.

 

—S.K.

 

 

 

T he Dow Jones employees’ union, well practiced at butting heads with management, is now at war with itself.

 

Two losers of the Nov. 18 elections for the leadership of Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees Local No. 1096 are contesting the results, claiming that the victors misused e-mail to target voters.

 

Steven Yount, a news anchor for the Wall Street Journal radio network, claimed the presidency from incumbent Virgil Hollender, who had come to the position from Dow Jones’ I.T. department. IAPE No. 1096 represents some 2,000 employees at properties such as The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, in departments including editorial, finance, technology and maintenance.

 

In all, three of the four winning candidates came from the newsroom side of Dow Jones, which had held no positions in the previous union administration. Journal mutual-fund reporter Tom Lauricella won the vice presidency, and Dow Jones Newswire reporter Dawn Kopecki was elected secretary. Business-services employee Olivia James was re-elected as treasurer.

 

On Nov. 28, three losing candidates—Mr. Hollender, vice-presidential candidate Bob Sweeney and secretary candidate Dennis Power—filed challenges before the IAPE election committee. A source involved in the elections said that Mr. Hollender accused Mr. Yount of breaking election rules by using Dow Jones e-mail to reach prospective voters.

 

Mr. Yount said that any communications with staff happened before he was even a candidate and were permissible as free speech.

 

“The challenges, I always believed, were technical in nature,” Mr. Yount said by phone on Dec. 6.

 

Mr. Hollender didn’t return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment. Election-committee chair Jena Clark didn’t return calls seeking comments.

 

According to the version of events presented on Mr. Yount’s campaign Web site, Mr. Yount and Mr. Hollender held negotiations to reach a settlement in the days following the balloting. On Nov. 23, by Mr. Yount’s account, Mr. Hollender proposed that he would end his challenge if Mr. Yount retained Mr. Sweeney as IAPE’s grievance chairman, a position that carries a $400 monthly stipend and is immune to company layoffs. Mr. Yount refused.

 

“Using the powers of the presidency to target an innocent IAPE member for layoff so that Mr. Hollender’s friend can retain his job is beneath contempt,” Mr. Yount wrote on the Web site.

 

The dispute caused the union to miss its scheduled Dec. 1 transition, prompting Mr. Yount to send an e-mail to IAPE members with the subject heading “IAPE HELD HOSTAGE: Day One.”

 

“[W]hat we’ve got is a defeated presidential candidate making a desperate bid to cling to power, nullifying the results of your vote simply because he didn’t like the results,” Mr. Yount wrote.

 

On Dec. 2, Mr. Power withdrew his share of the challenge, and the newly elected IAPE officers took control of the keys to the IAPE offices in Princeton Junction, N.J.

 

The IAPE election committee is scheduled to rule on Mr. Hollender and Mr. Sweeney’s challenge on Dec. 8, with the findings to be submitted to the board of directors on Dec. 10.

 

On Dec. 5, Mr. Yount appointed Journal reporter Jim Browning to chair the IAPE bargaining committee. The next day, Mr. Yount continued to fill his staff by appointing Ken Martin, a marketing representative for the Journal radio network, as grievance-committee chair. Mr. Martin, who previously held the position from 1987 to 1999, agreed to forgo the $400 monthly stipend.

 

—G.S.