Unreliable Sources
June 29, 2020

"Happy newsrooms are all alike but every unhappy newsroom is unhappy in its own way," media columnist Ben Smith wrote in Sunday's New York Times. The column was mostly about The Washington Post's "punctilious" executive editor, Martin Baron, and how his old-school vision of newspaper journalism is colliding with some of the Post's journalists, the age of social media, and a younger generation of reporters. But Smith began with this anecdote:

Almost anyone who works in the Washington Post newsroom can look inside its publishing system, Methode, to see what stories are coming. And at the height of the furor over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, some who did saw a shocking article awaiting publication.

In the article, Bob Woodward, the Post legend who protected the identity of his Watergate source, Deep Throat, for 30 years, was going to unmask one of his own confidential sources. He was, in particular, going to disclose that Judge Kavanaugh had been an anonymous source in his 1999 book Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.

Mr. Woodward was planning to expose Mr. Kavanaugh because the judge had publicly denied — in a huffy letter in 1999 to the Post — an account about Kenneth Starr's investigation of President Bill Clinton that he had himself, confidentially, provided to Mr. Woodward for his book. (Mr. Kavanaugh served as a lawyer on Mr. Starr's team.)

The article, described by two Post journalists who read it, would have been explosive, arriving as the nominee battled a decades-old sexual assault allegation and was fighting to prove his integrity. [Ben Smith, The New York Times]

How "explosive" the article would actually have proved is now left to the realm of speculation — would any Senate Republicans really have changed their vote? — because Baron stepped in at the last minute and convinced Woodward to continue protecting his confidentiality agreement with Kavanaugh, three Post journalists told Smith. In any case, Kavanaugh has now effectively been outed, though if you want to know what he told Woodward about Starr's investigation, you'll probably have to comb through Woodward's 1999 book. You can read more about the Post's newsroom at The New York Times. Peter Weber

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