Bob Woodward, Sacred Cow

Bob Woodward, one of Washington's sacred cows, is on another triumphant book tour. He glides along through interviews, without any heartfelt challenge from his colleagues to his journalistic practices. A few ask about his sourcing, but readily accept his refusal to discuss sources. As Salon's Jake Tapper exclaimed, "it's because he occupies a higher journalistic plane than the rest of us."

His new book, "Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate," is mostly about the Clintons and their parade of lies through the Lewinsky scandal. But the book needed a larger thesis than just that sex-and-perjury melodrama, and so we get the Woodward Theory of History. Namely, that Bob Woodward has changed the presidency forever.

Woodward claims, "It is a new world that the presidency lives and exists in. If somebody says 'what's the big deal?' I say the presidency has changed and presidents after Nixon didn't get it. So this ducking and dodging and not coming clean, this absence of straight talk, this has had a debilitating effect on the White House, the presidents, their aides and the country."

This is awfully dubious territory for Woodward to be trudging. "Ducking and dodging and not coming clean" is something Woodward has done for more than a quarter century when called to name his Deep Throat source. It's what he did when asked how he managed to hang out at Bill Casey's deathbed and get the man to confess all his sins when no one else could confirm he was even in the hospital - and Casey was in a coma, to boot. The Woodward standard allows for whole conversations from years ago to be recreated as verbatim transcripts.

And it's this "absence of straight talk" that anyone gets when he wants to discuss journalistic ethics with the Earl of Anonymous Sourcing.

ABC "Good Morning America's" Diane Sawyer cooperatively called "Shadow" "a book full of vivid detail about what we all know is true, that this is the age of investigation and our presidents pay the price." But have all five Presidents suffered equally under the scrutiny of the mighty Woodward?

The rich irony is that while Woodward may be giving us a first draft of how the Clinton insiders are spinning for history, in his books and on the talk show circuit, Woodward has performed the same service for the Clintons.

In a 1996 PBS special positing the ridiculous notion that the press was too tough on Clinton, Woodward noted Clinton "believes that the Washington press corps is so out of touch that it is absolutely inconceivable that reporters will understand the issues that people are really dealing with in their lives, and Clinton feels a profound alienation from the Washington culture here. And I happen to agree with him."

He spends much of his new book on Monicagate, but last year he couldn't bear any comparisons to Nixon: "He authorized a police state. Now, 25 years later, the issue turns on not something of that magnitude, but a dress."

When the story of Hillary's $100,000 cattle-futures bonanza came out, Woodward made excuses: "There are journalists who go out and give five, six speeches at universities, make $100,000 doing this ? And if you were to lay all that out before the public and say, 'Who's greedy? Who has the moral high road?' there might be a different answer."

In his last book, Woodward caused Hillary a little heartburn by revealing how she held New Age seances and talked to Eleanor Roosevelt. This time, we're led to believe that Hillary told friends the Lewinsky scandal must be God's will, and that she must prevail. On CNBC's "Hardball," Woodward went further, implying Hillary's wounds were not unlike the wounds of Christ: "Hillary went through her own Stations of the Cross in the Whitewater investigation, pre-Monica."

How times have changed since the Watergate era. After 20 years of throwing bombs at Republican presidents, the baby boomer liberals now have spotted the enemy in the mirror, and now it's acceptable for liberal Ron Zieglers to snow the public. The independent counsel law is dead. Investigative reporting is disreputable. Congressional oversight is dismissed as partisan witch-hunting.

Reporters spend their time as a psychic friends network, feeling the President's pain, and prescribing higher office as therapy for the First Lady's suffering. You'll forgive us if we don't remember these encounter groups of empathy holding televised meetings in the Reagan era.

It's another day, another double standard for the national media. The same anchormen and pundits who regularly beat their breasts over the anonymously-sourced snippets of Matt Drudge are once more rolling out the red carpet for a man with the same modus operandi in his reporting, but who comes from a decidedly different direction.