Two reporters making news today are Sy Hersh of the New Yorker and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. Hersh, without the benefit of pictures and the “60 minutes” venue to show them, broke the story of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Woodward’s latest coup is his inside the White House look at the planning and execution of the Iraqi War.
David Shaw, media critic of the Los Angeles Times calls them, “quite simply, the best and most influential reporters of their generation.”
But Shaw has qualms about Woodward’s use of anonymous sources and reporting conversation for Plan of Attack.
…[W]hat concerns me the most about his books is the way in which he re-creates, verbatim, all these conversations he did not personally participate in. He says he bases these re-creations on the memory of as many participants as possible and on the contemporaneous note-taking, if there was any.
“Where thoughts, judgments or feelings are attributed to participants, I have obtained these from the person directly, a colleague with firsthand knowledge or the written record,” [Woodward] says in Plan of Attack.
But as the childhood game Telephone has taught us all, even the most honest among us will not necessarily report accurately what we just said and/or heard.
Even a first person account is suspicious to me. It seems difficult to understand, for example, how Richard Clarke in Against All Enemies remembered word for word his White House conversations without taking detailed notes.