One of the leading political writers of today, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, declares: â€œIf Bob Woodward were in journalism school, his professor might have handed back his new book, ‘The Secret Man,’ as incomplete.â€
And USA Today’s chief book critic, Bob Minzesheimer, today writes: â€œWoodward’s book is filled with as many questions as answers. It’s more about Woodward than Felt. It’s fascinating and frustrating, revealing and disingenuous, self-critical and self-serving.â€
Meanwhile, in a Time magazine item, Alicia Shepard (who is writing a biography of Woodward and Bernstein) takes this shot: â€œBob Woodward’s memoir … doesn’t shed much new light on Watergate. But it does tell us a lot about how Woodward, the journalist who helped bring down a President, cowered around his secret source, W. Mark Felt.â€
In his review, Ron Brownstein calls it an â€œintermittently engaging but ultimately slight memoirâ€ and says Woodward â€œfails to answer the most important question remaining after Felt unveiled his identity in a Vanity Fair story: Why? Why did a career FBI agent who had ascended to the second-ranking position in the bureau, and who didn’t think much of the press, leak such critical information about the scandal to Woodward?
It seems to me that the answer to that question isn’t very difficult to answer. It has to do with thwarted ambition. Felt’s personal ambition to head the FBI was thwarted by Nixon but also Felt obviously thought that Nixon was thwarting the very agency that Felt had helped Hoover create. This is of course different to the traditional whistle blower’s concern for justice because the agency that Felt and Hoover had created had very little to do with justice. Felt himself only avoided jail time via a Reagan pardon over some of his dodgy practices. But for Woodward to admit or speculate about any of this would be to blow the myth of Watergate sky high. Once Felt’s ambition was showing then maybe Woodward’s own ambition would also be more carefully scrutinised.
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