- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Mortuary Bob is back, and that looks like fresh mud on his boots. Has he been hanging out at Memory Garden Acres again?

A television interviewer yesterday accused Mortuary Bob Woodward, the most important reporter in town, of deliberately withholding publication of his new book, “State of Denial,” with accusations of perfidy, lies and deceptions by George W. Bush, Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, all to coordinate it with the November congressional elections. Why hadn’t he been “shouting from a mountaintop”? Mortuary Bob was ready with an answer: “Simon & Schuster [the publishers] and my bosses at The Washington Post said the only real obligation here is to tell it before the election.” What greater responsibility could the most famous reporter in Washington have than to help Democrats defeat Republicans in November? Well, was Mortuary Bob saying in his book that George W. lied when he said things were going swell in Iraq?

Mortuary Bob was offended by the question. Why, shiver me skull and crack me bones, Yalies don’t talk that way, particularly about other Yalies. But some of those people at the White House, most likely a flunky from one of the land-grant schools, was, umm, in fact wrong when he said Mortuary Bob started with premeditated ideas and manufactured conclusions to fit his speculations. Heaven forfend.

Mortuary Bob Woodward, the most famous reporter in town, has achieved some of his most memorable scoops from the dead, and the nearly so. He once interviewed William Casey, the Reaganaut chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, when Mr. Casey was in a coma. Mortuary Bob slipped into his hospital room, past the security, and asked several complicated, penetrating questions about the Iran-Contra kerfuffle. Mr. Casey, pinned to his pillow by the usual array of tubes, wires and other technology of the miracle of modern medicine, answered with blinks, grunts and snorts. Or maybe it was oinks. The details were necessarily vague.

Whatever, it was a terrific interview, conveniently validating Mortuary Bob’s surmises and speculations, and it’s a shame that Mr. Casey, who died soon after, never got to read the book. Mrs. Casey, who with her daughter sat faithfully at the bedside for the weeks as Mr. Casey lay dying, said Mortuary Bob was full of it, he was never even close to the deathbed. But if Washington’s most famous reporter says he was there, exchanging blinks and snorts with a man in a coma, who are we supposed to believe?

News of Mortuary Bob’s new book and some of its more lurid revelations curdled the cream in Condi’s coffee cup high above Saudi Arabia en route to soothe Muslim feathers in the Middle East. She was particularly irritated by Mortuary Bob’s assertion that the Secretary of Defense was so put off by the Secretary of State that he wouldn’t return her telephone calls. “The idea that he wasn’t returning my phone calls is simply ludicrous,” she told reporters traveling on her plane. Neither had she colluded with attempts to get Mr. Rumsfeld fired. But you can say anything and eventually somebody will believe it.

Curiously, the New York Times got excerpts of the book first; curious because editors of newspapers usually don’t wink and smile when assistant managing editors contribute scoops to the opposition.

But the most famous reporter in town has to worry about his own legacy, too, and Mortuary Bob wasn’t as tough on George W. in earlier books as he should have been, and he put several noses further out of joint with his scoffing at a special prosecutor trying to invent a crime in the saga of Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson. The “outing” of Mzz Valerie, who with her media claque fancies herself the hottest number since Mata Hari, was supposed to become the highest crime and most spectacular misdemeanor since Watergate. The saga sank without a trace when it turned out that no one had done anything illegal and Mzz Valerie wasn’t really who she wanted to be, anyway.

You’re not supposed to scoff at some things, even if you are the most important reporter in town. Mortuary Bob had to find some new mud for his boots.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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