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Thursday, December 28, 2006

An Embargo on Integrity

Bob Woodward wrote a last-minute story in the December 28, 2006 edition of The Washington Post recounting information from a July 2004 interview he conducted with Gerald Ford. (#1) The content of the interviewed was "embargoed" until after Ford's death at the request of Ford and the consent of Woodward.

Apparently, we are now suffering from an embargo on integrity -- on the part of politicians and the press that's supposed to work for the public covering the politicians.

The details of the exact "deal" struck between Woodward and Ford are not clear (#2) but the gist is that Woodward conducted the interview for what in 2004 was "a future book" (was it Denial? -- can't tell) but the comments could be released after Ford's death. The grammar and syntax of that summary make it impossible to tell if the content

a) could ONLY be used after Ford's death in any book
b) could be used in the book Woodward had planned in 2004 OR after his death
c) could be used in ANY book Woodward had planned in 2004 and Woodward chose not to use it

For reasons explained further down below, I don't even CARE what the substance or the merits of Ford's comments were/are.

The "embargoed" comments don't reflect well on Ford. We live in a DEMOCRACY, not a royal kingdom. When you become an ex-President, that is EXACTLY what you become -- an ex-President and nothing more. We don't have a "President emeritus" role with partial policy making powers. When the new President is sworn in, you become Joe Q Public -- private citizen. You still have a mind, a vote, and a voice. You are not obligated to hold your tongue about ANY issue facing the country regardless of who follows in your footsteps.

Ford's only possible rationale for restricting his comments from public consumption was that any misgivings he had about the launch and execution of a war that had already killed 862 Americans through June 2004 (#3) were not as important as avoiding political damage to his beloved Republican Party in the upcoming 2004 elections.

The "embargoed" comments don't reflect well on Bob Woodward and The Washington Post either. By agreeing to hide the interview from the public per Ford's terms, Woodward

a) obtained a ready-made "scoop" that would be interesting if the comments proved prescient

b) flattered his subject to gain easy (but conditional access) to other opinions for his book(s) rather than just doing real reporting (a common modus operandi of Bob Woodward)

c) allowed himself to be used by Ford to bolster Ford's own sense of importance by aiding the appearance that Ford's opinions were so important and the comments so damning that releasing them would somehow de-stabilize the Bush Administration -- NO, Mr. Ford, you are just one of millions of American citizens who held that opinion.

d) created a situation that, for most people, would only improve their opinion of Ford because if the embargoed comments turned out correct, Ford looks like a sage old statesmen of great vision because the politically exposive comments hit the front page of the Washington Post. If the comments turned out wrong, Woodward wouldn't have published and no one would know or care that Ford had an opinion.

In short, interviewer and interviewee forged an agreement to make the interviewer's job easier, provide a pre-made scoop for the interviewer at some later date, and create a little publicity time-capsule that under the right historical circumstances made the interviewee look better without any downside if history turned out differently.

As stated earlier, the exact positions reflected in Ford's comments aren't really the issue. The issue is that people who believe they have unique insight (from experience) about any matter of public policy are CONSISTENTLY willing to put politics above the public good while still trying to use the media to burnish their own aura and the press is CONSISTENTLY participating in the charade.

If Ford intended to somehow improve the public debate from the great beyond, he's done nothing of the sort. He's contributed to the mess and tarnished his own reputation in the process.


#1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/27/AR2006122701558.html

#1) http://www.mediainfo.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003525736

#3) http://icasualties.org/oif/US_chart.aspx