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DEEP TRUTH: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

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The public perception, not without reason, is that journalists can dish it out but can’t take it. Witness, for example, the collective shock and indignation when a daily punching bag like Bill Clinton dared call a reporter’s question tasteless. Why, you’d have thought the President planned to erect a statue of Saddam Hussein in the Capitol Rotunda. Actually, there are excellent historical reasons why journalists prefer one-way dialogue-reasons having to do with objectivity and the public perception of same. But what happens when reporters become celebrities and begin to earn as much money as big-league third basemen? When they market their own exploits in best-selling books like All the President’s Men and are played in the movies by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman? Well, one thing that’s bound to happen is a book like DEEP TRUTH: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Birch Lane Press, $21.95), an intermittently fascinating if often amateurish biography of Watergate heroes, successful authors, and oft-married men-about-town Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. To hear investigative writer Adrian Havill tell it, ”Woodstein,” as they became known early in their collaborative career, have always been ”two of my heroes,” and he announces himself shocked that ”as defenders of the First Amendment” they not only refused to talk with him but urged their friends to snub him too. That bit of disingenuousness aside, however, the author does raise a number of intriguing issues about the duo and the degree of credibility of certain elements of their books. Most tellingly, Havill questions the literary devices that gave All the President’s Men what he calls its ”Hardy Boys in the White House” tone. Was there, for example, a real Deep Throat, a confidential source close to the Nixon White House who met Woodward in shadowy parking garages to drop clues about the Watergate cover-up? If so, Havill-like others before him-nominates Alexander Haig as the likeliest suspect, speculating that the two met during Woodward’s days as a Pentagon communications officer visiting the White House. But his real conclusion about this oft-debated question is that Deep Throat was a composite character, ”manufactured hokum that added drama and suspense to the book.” Similar doubts, the author shows, have been raised about aspects of Woodward and Bernstein’s The Final Days, as well as Veil, Woodward’s 1987 book about the CIA. Havill asserts that at least one episode in Bernstein’s autobiographical book, Loyalties, appears to be largely, if not purely, imaginary. On the personal front, it’s clear that Woodward, a workaholic able to write a string of voluminous best-sellers while continuing to report and edit for The Washington Post, has handled fame better than his pal. Even before ex-wife Nora Ephron’s merciless caricature in Heartburn-novel and film-it became evident, says Havill, that Bernstein was ”beginning to fall apart, drinking too much, womanizing and spending money as if he were a newly crowned heavyweight champion.” Marred throughout by a prosecutorial tone that sometimes makes it sound like a high school ”slam book,” Deep Truth is one of those books that’s going to set tongues wagging all the same. C+