A New York Times report about Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron’s decision to spike a piece by veteran reporter Bob Woodward during the battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2018 has divided members of the mainstream media.
According to the Times, Woodward’s article would have revealed that Kavanaugh was a source for Woodward’s 1999 book “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.” The Times report further added that Woodward was prepared to out Kavanaugh because he “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.”
Kavanaugh was an associate counsel in Starr’s Office of the Independent Counsel and a principal author of the Starr Report, which delved into the sexual relationship between Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky and made the case for the president’s impeachment.
According to Times media columnist Ben Smith, who cited three Post employees, Woodward’s article was “nearly ready” for publication when Baron “urged Mr. Woodward not to breach his arrangement with Mr. Kavanaugh and to protect his old source’s anonymity … Baron and other editors persuaded Mr. Woodward that it would be bad for The Post and ‘bad for Bob’ to disclose a source … The piece never ran.”
Smith later wrote that Baron’s opposiiton to the story “wasn’t about favoring Mr. Kavanaugh, or being afraid of a fight. Publishing the article would simply violate the traditional principle that sources should be protected. And it would veer into an uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing new form of journalism, and, in Mr. Baron’s view, imperil the reputation of the institution.”
Some media members reacted with outrage that Baron had prevented information about a Supreme Court nominee from being known to the public, especially given the controversy over historical sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.
“What a pathological decision,” Mother Jones correspondent Tom Philpott reacted.
“If an anonymous source publicly disputes information they provided, journalists have absolutely no obligation to uphold a deal that’s already been broken—really f—ing embarassing for Marty Baron,” Slate’s Ashley Feinberg scolded. “Just straight up prioritizing your own reputation and relationship to power over informing the public.”
“To totally push my glasses up on my nose, if the anonymous source is a powerful person who’s lying about the information they provided it essentially abrogates the sourcing agreement,” Vice editorial editor Tim Marchman similarly added.
Others, however, praised the Post executive editor for maintaining journalistic integrity.
“People, Marty Baron was right, you don’t out a source. This one isn’t close,” The Intercept D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim declared.
“Marty Baron was exactly right on the Kavanaugh thing,” Detroit News reporter James David Dickson tweeted. “It’s sad Bob Woodward had to be saved from himself — especially since we now know he had to be.”
“Sorry but Marty Baron made the right call here,” political strategist Liz Mair agreed. “Off the record means off the f—ing record. On background or on deep background means on background or on deep background. I say this as someone who thinks Kavanaugh is wildly overrated + not SCOTUS caliber,”
A spokesperson for The Washington Post told Fox News that “both Bob and The Post take seriously the need to protect off-the-record communications.”