Why Bob Woodward’s Book is Good for George W. Bush

You would be a rare North American to have not seen at least one interview with Bob Woodward this week, out promoting his book Plan of Attack about how the decision to invade Iraq was made.

I’ve seen full interviews by Charlie Rose and Peter Mansbridge, and snippets of more than half a dozen others.

My initial feeling, and the apparent conventional wisdom, was that Woodward’s book would be bad for Bush because it makes him look like a religious zealot and a bad leader who went to war on a conviction-based whim.

You would think that Americans would see this as a “smoking gun.”

But, after some reflection, I don’t think they will. And I’ve come to think that Bush, or at least Bush’s minders, have scored a brilliant public relations coup, with Woodward as the star.

Here’s why.

Woodward has the best credentials in North America as a reporter; I think most people consider him as unimpeachable as Walter Cronkite.

While much of what Woodward reveals in his book makes it look, to the informed eye, like Bush is an idiot, none of this will come as a real revelation to his critics: they already knew he was an idiot, and this only confirms what they thought.

The power in Woodward’s book is what it doesn’t reveal about the war plan. While Woodward details the personal intrigue, the lack of consultation, how Powell was left out, or at least ignored, and so on, the broad strokes of what he reports are in sync with what the Administration paints.

In other words, Bush gave uncommon access to the toughest reporter in Washington, and the result was some tough reporting about process.

It’s as if a bank robber hired Superman to review the process that led up to robbing the bank; Superman reports that things were chaotic. Full stop.

This is good for Bush because, in the end, it comes off looking like a vindication, not a condemnation. And even Woodward’s critique of the process distracts from the war itself, which is good for Bush (the chat shows are filling with debates over when Bush briefed Bandar; nobody’s talking dead bodies these days).

Of course this is good for Woodward too: on one hand he looks like a tough reporter, dragging Bush through the mud; on the other hand, he looks like a tough reporter who showed that the “smoking gun” amounted to some procedural jealousy.


Lou Quillio's picture
Lou Quillio on April 21, 2004 - 19:07 Permalink

You make a good point, Peter: controlled disclosure like that made to Woodward is a way of going around the press by going straight at it. Any immediate negatives are reversed (and surpassed) by the inevitable blowback. Karl Rove is very shrewd. He anticipates the half-life of a story, foresees its full run and where it will land.

The Bush faithful make lemonade from anything they’re given, so the base is strengthened no matter what. The effect on the middle, regardless of first impressions, is one of Bush being sniped-at by his opposition. Substantial criticisms get plowed-under by persecution sympathy. “Hey, I don’t know if any of that stuff was true, but it seems to me they’re pickin’ on a retard. That ain’t right.”

The Bush-shrug is the capper. Hey, he *likes* that black-velvet painting of Jesus, Elvis and John Wayne behind your sofa. Two SUVs? Thanks for keepin’ the economy strong. You’re okay in his book, hell, you’re what makes this country great. It’s genius. Shallow genius.

I think the Carville Doctrine is the only counter-measure. Wallets don’t lie.


Matt McQuaid's picture
Matt McQuaid on April 22, 2004 - 00:15 Permalink

Bang on, Peter. So much so that if you check the Bush Campaign’s suggested reading list you’ll find Woodward’s book at the top of the pile.

I was also listening to some pundits on NPR this afternoon and it seems like Woodward’s book being a plus for Bush-Cheney 2004 is almost accepted fact in Washington.

nobody's picture
nobody on April 22, 2004 - 01:15 Permalink

don’t believe whatever NPR (or some blogger) tells you… get a hold of the PDF of the book that’s floating around on the web, print it out (500+ pages), and come to your own conclusions. if you don’t think “Plan of Attack” makes Herr Bush look like the King of Idiot Warmongering Assholes, then you must be one of his willing subjects.

rsimpson's picture
rsimpson on April 22, 2004 - 02:06 Permalink

Pete, I’ve been convinced for some time that Bush is definitly not an idiot, but he is probably a dangerous zealot. That aside I can’t quite follow your reasoning and I think you might be in danger of over analyzing the impact of Woodward’s book. Whatever, its tone will be mitigated by the treatment it gets in the American mass media; which in the end may have more impact than its actual content.

Ken's picture
Ken on April 22, 2004 - 21:58 Permalink

Bush has not won the heart of a single new voter since 9/11. He has upset some of his loyal voters, and unless the people that hate him go too far and discredit themselves he is finished in November. IMHO.

Problem is his massive spending, the structural breaks for the super-rich, and the expansion of beaurocracy will be with us for decades.

How many women did Bill Clinto's picture
How many women ... on April 23, 2004 - 01:51 Permalink

Walter Kronkite was USA hating lib buffoon. So it Woodhead.

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on April 23, 2004 - 03:45 Permalink

I think it doesn’t matter what Bush’s motives were, because I don’t think Bush runs the country or even his own administration. From what I hear in the news, even Woodward says at the outset this was Cheney’s war—arising I suppose from the neocon better-they-should-fear-us foreign policy agenda together with the desire to control oil and reward their business cronies. I agree it only helps the administration to suggest that it was naive heroism on the part of Bush that led to this war.

Janet's picture
Janet on April 23, 2004 - 20:35 Permalink

How many villagers are being raped by troops somewhere right now, is this what liberation means?