Jeff Himmelman uses his new book, “Yours in Truth,” to take shots at Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and their 1974 book, “All the President’s Men.” But Himmelman’s fire does not come from the usual redoubt of Watergate revisionism. He is a former researcher for Woodward, one who worked so diligently on “Maestro,” the reporter’s 2001 book about Alan Greenspan, that Woodward gushed about him in his author’s note.
“Jeff Himmelman,” he wrote, “was my full-time collaborator at every step of this book — reporting, writing and editing. . . . A truly remarkable man of unusual maturity, brainpower and charm, Jeff is an original thinker who retains a deep sense of idealism. . . . This book would never have been completed without him, and it is his as much as mine. I consider him a friend for life.”
After he finishes reading “Yours in Truth,” Woodward will probably consider a different sort of life sentence for Himmelman.
Although former Washington Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee gets top billing in Himmelman’s book, he plays a supporting role, not the lead. The book is chockablock with Bradlee — drawing on more than 60 boxes containing his papers and other private archives, and countless hours of interviews with him and his colleagues, to tell the story of his life, which Bradlee already covered in his 1995 autobiography, “A Good Life.” But the genuine subject is Woodward.
Himmelman publicly signaled as much last Sunday when, before the book’s release, he published an excerpt on the Web site of New York magazine. He capitalizes on an unpublished 1990 interview in which Bradlee discussed his “little problem with Deep Throat,” the code name for Woodward’s legendary Watergate source, Mark Felt. Of the clandestine parking-garage meetings with Deep Throat that Woodward convened by moving a flower pot on his apartment balcony, Bradlee expressed doubts. “There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight,” he said.
Himmelman’s other blast criticizes Woodward and Bernstein for being less than honest about how successful they were in their efforts to interview members of a Watergate grand jury. The duo has long maintained that they did not reap any information from the grand jurors they approached. But a memo in Bradlee’s papers, written by Bernstein at the time of the Watergate investigation, indicates that they did talk to a grand juror.
Such shots land hard on Woodward and Bernstein, but will they cause lasting damage?
Himmelman attempts no deep forensic study of what he found in Bradlee’s boxes, contrary to what you’d expect of an investigative reporter challenging the legend of Woodward and Bernstein. Instead, he gives the reader long, descriptive and dialogue-rich passages in which he confronts Bradlee — and then Woodward and Bradlee — with his findings. It’s almost like reading one of the spectacular fly-on-the-wall scenes from a Woodward book, except in “Yours in Truth,” all the flies are on the record and the stakes aren’t as quite as global or spectacular.