- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What the heck’s going on here? Bob Woodward — the Bob Woodward — is now making news instead of breaking it. The Washington Post’s bigfoot reporter has made a cameo appearance as The Deposed in the ever-expanding Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame-Bob Novak-Scooter Libby-Judith Miller Follies written, directed and prosecuted by Pat Fitzgerald.

Ziegfield never had such a cast, and now it includes an icon of American journalism. Didn’t anybody read “All the President’s Men”? Bob Woodward is supposed to be the Star Reporter, not some bit player who’s just subpoena-bait. How the mighty have fallen. These days, Washington reporters seem to spend more time under oath than deadline pressure.

The man who helped put Deep Throat at the center of a Pulitzer Prize-winning, president-resigning, generation-shaping mystery could do no better this time than some Shallow Throat who gave him a tip he didn’t seem to realize was a tip for the longest time. It seems Shallow Throat was just one more among the Washington throng who fingered Valerie Plame Wilson, the most overt covert agent in spookdom history.

Apparently anybody who was, knew or wanted to be anybody in D.C. knew Joe Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. The real mystery has become who in Washington didn’t know she worked for the CIA. Her name might as well have been up in lights: VALERIE PLAME, SECRET AGENT.

Hubby, Joseph C. Wilson IV himself, the minor ex-ambassador who started this whole rumpus, has proven the most unreliable source on at least two continents.

It’s all enough to make an observer feel like somebody who bought tickets to “The Mousetrap” and found himself watching a production by Mel Brooks. This is not as advertised. Though by the time it’s over, it may prove even richer.

Meanwhile, back in the oh-so-serious, award-winning offices of The Washington Post, poor Bob Woodward seems to have been the last newsman in America to realize Joe Wilson’s missus was news. Now he’s had to tell a grand jury (1) who told him Mrs. Wilson’s name and job title, and (2) when. The answers: (1) Not Scooter Libby, and (2) way back in mid-June 2003.

That’s about a month before Bob Novak publicly outed Miss Valerie in his column, and even before Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to the vice president and designated fall guy, tipped off Judith Miller, former ace reporter for the New York Times, who’s now bucking for martyrdom.

Bob Woodward clearly hadn’t read Mr. Fitzgerald’s script. The prosecutor told everybody Scooter Libby was the first White House official to give this info to a reporter when he outed Mrs. Wilson to… one forgets. Judith Miller? Bob Novak? Carl Bernstein? Walter Winchell? It’s so hard to keep up.

Now it turns out Scooter Libby wasn’t the first to blab to a reporter about Valerie Plame after all. Not according to Bob Woodward and his still undisclosed source. Oops. It’s back to the drawing board for the prosecution, or rather back to another grand jury.

Is anybody still taking this Great Scandal seriously? The mountain is starting to look suspiciously like a molehill.

Hey, it’s all good copy, as they once said in newsrooms circa the 1930s. Let’s hope no other press types have to go to jail but, if they do, that they’ll try to enjoy it. It can be done.

Thank you, Wilson Quarterly, which has a sense of humor despite being published by a think tank, for resurrecting the name of Marie Torre from the 1950s. She was a columnist for the old New York Herald Tribune, which made up in style whatever it lacked in depth. Miss Torre got her fortnight of fame by defying a judge’s order to reveal who had dished some dirt on the legendary-in-her-own-time Judy Garland, who was always great copy, whether comic or tragic.

Miss Torre would spend 10 days in jail but much longer in the limelight, drinking it all in. (“Social invitations doubled. My mail tripled. Jackie Gleason sent me a luscious chocolate cake with a file in it.”) She was deluged with visitors — when all she had really wanted to do was finally have a chance to read “Dr. Zhivago” in peace and quiet. Her considered judgment after it was all over: She “wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

Now there was a lady who knew how to enjoy being the big story. So what do we get these days? Judith Miller, Miss Deadly Earnest herself. All of which leads one to suspect the American sense of humor, if it isn’t extinct, is very much an endangered species. What the Judith Miller story needed was a chocolate cake with a file in it.

Paul Greenberg, a nationally syndicated columnist, is the editorial page editor and Kane Webb is the assistant editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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