On March 31, I posted a piece that compared two accounts of a January 31, 2003 meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair. During this Oval Office session, the American president and the British prime minister discussed various war-related subjects six weeks before the invasion of Iraq. One account was the description of the meeting in Bob Woodward’s best-selling book, Plan of Attack. The other was a recently disclosed secret memorandum written by a Blair aide who attended the meeting. The memo, I noted, showed that Woodward’s insider source(s) who had told him about this conversation had “left out the best and most important stuff.” I wrote, “This goes to show that Woodward is only as good as his sources and that those insiders are not always so good when it comes to disclosing the real story.” After the article was posted, Woodward called to complain (passionately) that the piece was “immensely dishonest” and “unfair.” He urged me to reconsider what I had written. He demanded an apology. I offered him as much space as he would like for a response, and he accepted that invitation. Below is his reply–and mine to his.
To David Corn:
I was genuinely shocked to read your recent column “Woodward and Reality.” The column is thoroughly dishonest and represents another low for journalism. Apparently facts don’t matter to you if you think you can score a point.
You allege that I “left out the best and most important stuff” in my book Plan of Attack about a January 31, 2003 meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. You draw your conclusions from a memo written by David Manning, Blair’s foreign policy adviser, who attended the meeting. The memo was recently described in The New York Times.
Because Plan of Attack, which was published two years ago, covers the meeting in just over a single page (pp. 297–298), you say this is rare opportunity to “fact check” me. You then cite all these revelations in the memo and suggest they were not in the book at all. However, as I mentioned to you on the phone, a reader of Plan of Attack would already know most of this in vastly greater detail by the time he or she got to page 297. The whole thrust of your column is that I missed important elements of the story and presented a “tilted” account. The book itself proves you wrong.
The British memo says, “The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March.” You suggest I did not report that Bush had decided privately to go to war while publicly asserting otherwise: “Read Woodward’s account and you get the impression that Bush…was willing to stick with the United Nations a little longer. Read the Times’s account of the memo and you see that Bush had already set a date for war.”