A scoop­ful from the newly dead

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

You’ve got to hand it to Mor­tu­ary Bob. No­body in­ter­views the newly dead like he does. He doesn’t al­ways in­ter­view his sub­jects af­ter they die. Some­times, like the late Bill Casey, they’re merely in a coma. John Belushi was some­where be­tween La-La Land and obliv­ion. Mor­tu­ary Bob Wood­ward’s shovel is al­ways show­ing up in un­ex­pected places, and some­times the mud on his boots leaves marks on the car­pet. Nev­er­the­less, he has grown sleek and rich dis­pens­ing nuggets — lit­tle muddy clods, ac­tu­ally — from the great be­yond.

He can coax usu­ally inar­tic­u­late sub­jects to speak in whole sen­tences, ar­ranged in neat para­graphs, and th­ese folks al­ways say things to make just the pre­cise point to sup­port Mor­tu­ary Bob’s ideas on pol­icy and pol­i­tics.

On Dec. 28, with Ger­ald Ford’s body hav­ing barely as­sumed room tem­per­a­ture, Mor­tu­ary Bob scrounged the tapes and notes from a two-year-old in­ter­view in The Wash­ing­ton Post in which Mr. Ford de­liv­ered re­marks that — would you be­lieve? — sound as if seized from the morn­ing’s head­lines about how bad Ge­orge W. Bush’s war is go­ing in Iraq. Mr. Ford, in Mor­tu­ary Bob’s telling of it, makes ex­actly the ar­gu­ments that Cindy Shee­han, John Murtha and the usual gig­gle of Demo­cratic crit­ics make of the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent. What a wee world, where co­in­ci­dences oc­cur with con­ve­nient pre­ci­sion and reg­u­lar­ity.

Don­ald Rums­feld, the newly de­posed de­fense chief, and Dick Cheney, the sharp­shoot­ing vice pres­i­dent, made “a big mis­take” in go­ing to war in Iraq. “They put an em­pha­sis on weapons of mass de­struc­tion,” the late for­mer pres­i­dent is said to have said. “And now, I’ve never said pub­licly I thought they made a mis­take, but I felt very strongly it was an er­ror in how they should jus­tify what they were go­ing to do.”

Mor­tu­ary Bob says Mr. Ford didn’t at all like the idea of try­ing to spread democ­racy, of try­ing to drag re­luc­tant Mus­lims into a more re­cent cen­tury, a no­tion which — here comes an­other one of those happy co­in­ci­dences — nei­ther Mr. Bob nor his friends like, ei­ther. “I just don’t think we should go hell­fire dam­na­tion around the globe free­ing peo­ple,” said the pres­i­dent who in a sin­gle night in 1976 freed Poland from So- viet em­brace in the fi­nal de­bate with Jimmy Carter, “un­less it is di­rectly re­lated to our own na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Mor­tu­ary Bob boasts that he kept Mr. Ford, then 91 and look­ing for­ward to his nap if he could ever get this lugubri­ous young man out of the house, an­swer­ing ques­tions for not one, two or even three hours, but for four hours. If that were not cruel enough, Mor­tu­ary Bob says there was even a fol­low-up in­ter­view the fol­low­ing year, for which he of­fers no de­tails. You can un­der­stand why Jerry Ford gave up the ghost. What the pa­tient and long-suf­fer­ing Mr. Ford didn’t reckon with is that you can’t nec­es­sar­ily avoid Mor­tu­ary Bob, his shovel and his tape recorder, sim­ply by tak­ing the night train to the spirit world. No grave­yard is safe when Mor­tu­ary Bob is on the prowl. But no­body gets exclusive in­ter­views with the newly dead quite like he does, and none of his grave­yard sub­jects has ever claimed to have been mis­quoted.

Nev­er­the­less, there’s a foot­note to Mor­tu­ary Bob’s latest scoop(ful) from the re­gion of rigor mor­tis. Tom De- Frank, the chief Wash­ing­ton correspondent for the New York Daily News and a Ford friend of many years stand­ing, in­ter­viewed the 38th pres­i­dent only last May and Mr. Ford said he had told Pres­i­dent Bush just this year that he did, too, sup­port the war in Iraq. His quib­ble was that he thought Mr. Bush should have made bring­ing down Sad­dam the rea­son for go­ing to war.

“Sad­dam Hus­sein was an evil per­son and there was jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to get rid of him,” Mr. Ford told the Daily News. “But we shouldn’t have put the ba­sis on weapons of mass de­struc­tion. That was a bad mis­take. Where does [Bush] get his ad­vice?”

Mr. Ford, like a lot of his old con­stituents, didn’t like the do­mes­tic sur­veil­lance pro­gram, ei­ther, but un­like a lot of Mor­tu­ary Bob’s fans who have a warm and fuzzy view of the na­tion’s en­e­mies, un­der­stands that the world is a dan­ger­ous and com­pli­cated place. “It may be a nec­es­sary evil,” Mr. Ford said of the sur­veil­lance pro­gram. “I don’t think it’s a ter­ri­ble trans­gres­sion, but I would never do it.”

On re­flec­tion, Mr. Ford may have more to say on this. When he does, Mor­tu­ary Bob will be there.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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