This week New York is running an excerpt from Jeff Himmelman's Yours in Truth, a biography of legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee that's got one high profile critic—The Post's Bob Woodward—comparing the author to the master of dirty tricks. Woodward believes Himmelman did him wrong by insinuating that Bradlee, his editor on the Watergate stories, questioned the veracity of Woodward's reporting. "Did Ben really have doubts about the Deep Throat story, as it had been passed down from newsroom to book to film to history? " asks Himmelman in the story, headlined The Red Flag in the Flowerpot.
What Himmelman is refering to, is a piece of an interview between Bradlee and fellow journalist Barbara Feinman which took place when she was helping him craft his memoir, where Bradlee said:
Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.
On the surface--that's a damning (and a daring feature story) story: A much admired editor questioning a history-making piece of reporting. But Woodward quickly responded, talking to Politico's Dylan Byers last night to say, "There’s a transcript of an interview that Himmelman did with Bradlee 18 months ago in which Ben undercuts the [New York] piece... It’s amazing that it’s not in Jeff’s piece ... It’s almost like the way Nixon’s tapings did him in, Jeff’s own interview with Bradlee does him in."
Ouch. Woodward even adds a Perry Mason reference (which is what we'd more or less do if our credibility as journalists was questioned): "He can write what he wants, but his own transcript undercuts his premise,” Woodward said. “It’s one of those Perry Mason moments.”
Update 11:25 a.m. New York and Himmelman have defended their story. "I do not think what Ben said in 2010 negates his doubts in 1990, and if you read the book in full you will see why," Himmelman told Politico's Dylan Byers. Adding:
"The interview that Bob cited to you from 2010--as an attempt to claim that I didn't include all available evidence--is cited in full in "Yours In Truth," he wrote. "The piece that ran in New York Magazine was an excerpt from a 473-page book. I stand fully behind my reporting." ...
"There is nothing that contradicts the 1990 interview. The most contemporary thing is what he [Bradlee] is saying today," New York Magazine spokesperson Lauren Starke told POLITICO.