March 12, 2013

John Belushi’s widow, Judy Belushi, hired Tanner Colby to write a John Belushi biography. Along the way, he writes, “I re-reported and rewrote one of Bob Woodward’s books,” the 1984 “Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi.”

There’s no question that he frequently ferrets out information that other reporters don’t. But getting the scoop is only part of the equation. Once you have the facts, you have to present those facts in context and in proportion to other facts in order to accurately reflect reality. It’s here that Woodward fails.

Colby catalogs numerous instances of points in Woodward’s book where he says the reporter gets facts right but gets their significance wrong.

“Whenever people ask me about John Belushi and the subject of Wired comes up, I say it’s like someone wrote a biography of Michael Jordan in which all the stats and scores are correct, but you come away with the impression that Michael Jordan wasn’t very good at playing basketball.”

The stories about Belushi are really “about human beings interacting,” Colby writes, so he finds Woodward’s recent claims of West Wing intimidation troubling: “[W]hen you imagine Woodward using the same approach to cover secret meetings about drone strikes and the budget sequester and other issues of vital national importance, well, you have to stop and shudder.”

But by attacking Woodward’s grasp of facts, Colby risks triggering a provision of Muphry’s Law, which states, “if you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault in what you have written.” And indeed:


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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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