Bob Woodward Demands an Apology

On any given day, Bob Woodward demands a minimum of thirty-two apologies from various people he encounters. Most of the people whom Bob Woodward demands apologies from are women who ask him legitimate questions. But he has already answered these questions. And asking Bob Woodward a question is disrespectful. Do you not recognize the Genius of Bob Woodward? At least Bob Woodward is not grabbing the legs of his enemies like Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, looking down on their bodies from open windows with imperious vengeance and unhinged narcissism. Bob Woodward is too old for such shenanigans. But in his younger days, he may have done this.

This is the way that Bob Woodward rolls. He is a 77-year-old man of the old school. Show Bob Woodward some respect! Just yesterday, Bob Woodward demanded an apology from the barista who got his order wrong. He had ordered a skim milk latte, but the barista had accidentally given him a whole milk latte. Bob Woodward was not pleased. You don’t mess up Bob Woodward’s order. He’s a Journalistic Treasure! Don’t you remember Watergate and Bob Woodward’s invaluable journalistic contributions? Bob Woodward is a hero! Don’t you recognize this? Goddammit, he deserves the correct latte he ordered.

So when the barista politely asks Bob Woodward if he can accept a correctly constructed skim milk latte as recompense for the screwup, Bob Woodward says no. Because the barista should have made the latte right the first time. “Contact my people,” says Bob Woodward, “They’ll send you a free book.”

Bob Woodward sends a free book to anyone he demands an apology from. It seems only fair. He is sitting on a very large pile of his books. On days when Bob Woodward is depressed, he will walk into his study and stare at the vertiginous towers of his volumes stacked neatly in his den and smile and say, “Why yes! This is why I am Bob Woodward!”

It was Saturday morning. The paper boy, who is working two other jobs, hurled a copy of The Washington Post onto Bob Woodward’s porch. But the paper did not land on the pressure-treated redwood slats at the right angle. The paper did not land right next to the tall lantana plant that had spent the summer soaking up the sun. Bob Woodward was very upset by this. We might all be upset with such calumnies, even when there are very small stakes involved. It’s a difficult time to be alive. So Bob Woodward called around to people he knew at the paper and demanded an apology. “Mr. Woodward,” said the kid on the phone. “With all due respect, this is an easily cleared up misunderstanding.” “No,” said Bob Woodward. “This is a matter of pride. I’m Bob Woodward! Don’t you understand this?” And so Bob Woodward reamed into the kid on the phone and made sure that both the paper boy and the kid on the phone were fired. Never mind that these were rough economic times. But that was the regrettable price of crossing Bob Woodward. You don’t question Bob Woodward. Bob Woodward is always right. Bob Woodward has created a life that demands supplication and genuflection and obedience. Bob Woodward doesn’t understand why these kids never got the “Respect your elders!” memo.

Bob Woodward wasn’t feeling very well when Shira Stein and Karen Ho pressed him on a thorny ethical issue — namely, why he held onto the Trump tapes for so long, tapes in which Trump revealed that he knew the true threat of the coronavirus as early as February. If the tapes had been released sooner, was it possible that more American lives would be saved? Would it also be possible that lives in other countries might have been saved if Bob Woodward had not stayed quiet? Bob Woodward insisted to the two uppity women (were they really journalists or did they play journalists on TV?) that he needed to figure out whether Trump was referring to the United States when he said these things multiple times. He needed until at least May. Why the delay in corroboration? Well, Bob Woodward was still catching up on Schitt’s Creek. It was one of the few television series known to penetrate Bob Woodward’s serious hickory mien, a look modeled after Andrew Jackson that he regularly evinced to his wife and to his professional peers and that caused all people in Bob Woodward’s immediate circle to revere him and to fawn over him without criticism. Besides, like anyone, Bob Woodward needed to unwind sometimes. As Bob Woodward caught up on Schitt’s Creek between February and May, you could sometimes see Bob Woodward cracking a smile if you caught him on a good day.

And so Bob Woodward did what he always did. He demanded that Stein and Ho serve up apologies — ideally with a suggestive dance over Zoom. He didn’t really answer their questions.

But this time, much to Bob Woodward’s surprise, the two journalists did not back down. Much to Bob Woodward’s surprise, those who followed the dispute on social media took the side of the two younger journalists.

When Bob Woodward learned that his privilege didn’t inure him to criticism and that people thought he was being a dick, he began calling around for people who would offer apologies to him for invented offenses. For all perceived transgressors, he offered them a free copy of his book. Because a free copy of Rage was apparently the price you paid for abandoning your ethical core and backing down from justifiable criticism of Bob Woodward’s shaky journalistic methods.

It’s possible that Bob Woodward is a confidence man, much in the way that Janet Malcolm had famously described. After the Zoom meeting, Bob Woodward waited all day for the apologies to roll in. The apologies never arrived. Bob Woodward had reached an end point. He was too old to learn. He was too old to change. He was too caught up in the hot fire of his hubris to play it cool.

Bob Woodward had only one option left. He is now demanding an apology from himself. But he can’t seem to summon it. And he still doesn’t know why.

The Unfathomable Mistake of Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey likely believed, as all men in power do, that it would all work out. He could not recall the details of a drunken episode from twenty years before in which he was alleged to have sexually assaulted Anthony Rapp at the age of fourteen. This was very much on the level of the ongoing abuse committed against minors by Catholic priests, where men in power had invited young boys into safe space and violated their trust. In Rapp’s story, Spacey allegedly invited Rapp and his boyfriend over to watch the Tony Awards in Toronto, a ritual among actors as holy and as protracted as a Catholic wedding. He picked Rapp up like some sack doll, deposited him like a lithe concubine onto his bed, and believed that this kid was his for the taking.

Aside from failing to consider the full impact that such unfathomable behavior would have inflicted upon a kid, Spacey had willfully misread the climate that had flickered into being after Harvey Weinstein had been rightly exposed as a predatory animal. Sexual abuse and unsavory quids pro quo had been hidden from the public for far too long. Victims have seen their lives damaged or severely set back, if not permanently derailed, because the victimizers have long controlled the narrative. But now the victims are taking the narrative back, even as Twitter attempts to stifle their voices with flip twelve hour suspensions. Men in power had told these victims for too many years that being an objectified plaything or watching a man masturbate or allowing a man to suffocate you with his intimidating physical presence were the only ways to get ahead. There were decades of pain, years of depression, quiet cash settlements, countless days where victims were fighting the battle to rebuild their self-worth after media forces and Hollywood mechanisms tried to invalidate their stories and vitiate their pain. The time was well overdue for a reckoning.

And so Kevin Spacey issued a statement. Because his efforts to understand what he may or may not have done were directed inward, he did not have the power to look outward. This is the common trap of anyone coming to terms with bad behavior. Kevin Spacey could not see that Anthony Rapp was due more than “respect and admiration” and that his alleged actions were not merely “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” but a deep scar that Rapp had carried for more than thirty years and that we may never know the full story about. And Kevin Spacey refused to step down as the cynosure of the narrative.

Instead, Spacey did something even more despicable in his attempt to atone. He aligned his sexual abuse with his sexuality, using the opportunity to come out as a gay man. As bad timings go, this was just as repulsive as David Leavitt tweeting “The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too” just as a terrorist had killed 22 people, including children, at an Ariana Grande concert. But it was far more insidious. Because Spacey’s statement equated sexual abuse with sexual orientation, which is akin to any number of racist stereotypes perceiving the black body as hypersexualized. Spacey’s statement was, to say the least, wrongheaded and deeply offensive to both the struggles of sexual abuse survivors and those who are afraid of coming out. That it follows so close on the heels of Robert Scoble’s deplorable outing of an abuse victim and his slackjaw-inspiring suggestion that his sexual harassment did not qualify because he did not possess power (a lie) suggests that men in power who have committed deep wrongs are incapable of putting their egos aside when coming to terms with the trauma and unpleasantness that they have inflicted upon other lives.

I believe that Kevin Spacey should be allowed to come to terms with what he did and continue his fine work as an actor, but he’s not helping himself by surrendering his sensitivity. The victim must always be prioritized over the victimizer in cases of atonement.

An Apology

“The modern loss of respect, or rather the conviction that respect is due only where we admire or esteem, constitutes a clear symptom of the increasing depersonalization of public and social life.” – Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

First off, I’m sorry that this extremely necessary post was a long time in coming.

On the evening of September 25, 2014, I tweeted a number of inappropriate and over-the-line tweets to the novelist Porochista Khakpour, who I had been sparring with all day. I had been heavily drinking, but this does not excuse my behavior. In reviewing what I tweeted after the fact, I don’t even recognize the man who was tweeting that night. I am utterly appalled by my actions.

Thus, I offer my most heartfelt and earnest apologies to Porochista Khakpour. I am legitimately contrite, very aware of my wrongdoing, and have spent many hours rethinking what respect really means and what my relationship with words is.

I am not yet prepared to write about the more severe events that occurred the next morning (and after), but I was forced to remove myself from the Internet for a very long time. When I returned, I had no idea that so much ink and vitriol had been spread about me on social media. I have not read all the articles, but I have been apprised of their defamatory and outright inaccurate contents by other parties. Nevertheless, I earned the backlash. The punishment wasn’t just confined to the responses. There was the brutal and heartbreaking end of an eight and a half year relationship, excommunication from a sizable part of the literary community, and a sudden derelict status that I am now trying to claw my way out of. Despite all this, I have remained positive and have learned much that I hope to impart at length someday. And I will still be writing.

I would also like to thank one person.

One of the few people to rise above the toxic sludge of conjecture and innuendo was New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul. I’ve criticized Paul a number of times, but I respect the fact that Paul, who worked under the Sam Tanenhaus era and was undoubtedly familiar with the office shorthand, took the time out to debunk one of the promulgated stories. She didn’t have to do this. I doubt the Review‘s credibility would have been especially damaged by the rumor. But in an age where collecting unconfirmed gossip now constitutes “journalism,” I appreciate Paul’s commitment to professionalism over pitchforks. It’s an invaluable reminder for a writer with a loud voice that there’s another way to do things.