Monday, November 21, 2005

Woodward rebuked over leak case


Woodward rebuked over leak case

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Washington Post's ombudsman rebuked journalist Bob Woodward on Sunday for withholding what he knew about the CIA leak probe from his editor and for making public statements that were dismissive of the investigation without disclosing his own involvement.

One of the best-known investigative reporters in the United States, Woodward revealed last week that he testified under oath to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that a senior Bush administration official told him in mid-June 2003 about CIA operative Valerie Plame's position at the agency.

Fitzgerald announced a few days later in court papers that his two-year criminal investigation into who leaked Plame's identity would be going back before a federal grand jury, a sign he may seek new or revised charges.

The name of Woodward's source has yet to be made public and so far more than a dozen senior administration officials have denied any involvement in the leak.

Asked on "Fox News Sunday" if he ever spoke to Woodward about Plame, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "No, of course not." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a similar denial through a spokesman on Saturday.

In a column highly critical of Woodward's conduct, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell said the newspaper took a "hit to its credibility" and called for more oversight of Woodward's work.

"He has to operate under the rules that govern the rest of the staff -- even if he's rich and famous," Howell wrote of Woodward, one of the two Washington Post reporters famed for coverage of the 1970s Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.

Howell said Woodward committed a "deeply serious sin" by keeping Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie in the dark about his source for more than two years.

"He also committed another journalistic sin -- commenting on National Public Radio and (CNN's) "Larry King Live" about the Plame investigation without disclosing his early knowledge of Plame's identity," Howell wrote.

In a series of television and radio interviews before publicly disclosing his involvement in the leak case, Woodward described the leak case as laughable and Fitzgerald's behavior as "disgraceful."

One day before Fitzgerald brought charges against Vice President Dick Cheney's long-time chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Woodward said he saw no evidence of criminal intent.

Woodward has apologized to Downie, who said "Bob made a mistake" by not informing him sooner of his source on Plame.

"He made a mistake going on television, giving his opinions about the investigation. ... He shouldn't have been expressing those opinions," Downie added on CNN's "Reliable Sources."

Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, has called for an inquiry by The Washington Post into Woodward's conduct, citing a similar investigation by The New York Times into the conduct of reporter Judith Miller, who resigned from The Times earlier this month.

Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for initially refusing to testify to Fitzgerald about her conversations with Libby, resigned after Times Executive Editor Bill Keller suggested she had misled the paper, a charge Miller denied.