I have an idea for an exciting new political talk show. It goes behind the scenes to provide viewers with an unprecedented glimpse into how the beltway big shots operate. I'm going to use Bob Woodward as my host here, not because I'm trying to draw a connection between this show and his recent embarassment in the Valerie Plame affair, but because he's suits my purposes as a recognizable Washington reporter.
Here's how it would look:
Woodward: Hello, and welcome to the program. My first guest is National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Please join me in welcoming him to the show, as we go ... off the record.
Hadley: Hi, Bob. Good to be here.
Woodward: Good to have you. Now, let's get right to it. Torture is in the news, all over the news. Condi Rice, your predecessor, has been grilled on the subject during her visit to Europe. Does the U.S., or should the U.S., ever subject detainees in the war on terrorism to torture or extreme discomfort to extract information?
Hadley. Well, Bob, as you know, it's ... Can we go off the record?
[Woodward and Hadley swivel their chairs away from the audience and, heads leaned close together, engage in a whispered conversation. It lasts about 4 minutes.]
Woodward [turning back to the audience]: That was enlightening. And so what can you tell us on the record?
Hadley: The United States does not condone or practice torture under any circumstances, nor do we allow detainees to be transported to countries not bound by the Geneva accords for "rendition," as it is commonly called.
Woodward: Then why is the White House pressuring Sen. McCain to water down the provisions in his anti-torture amendment to the defense appropriations bill?
Hadley: Can we go back off the record?
[Once again, the two men swivel their chairs and engage in a collegial and sometimes animated conservation that is inaudible to the audience. After three minutes, they swivel back around.]
Hadley: For the record, the president believes that the United States must never engage in torture. But the president also must not have his hands tied by bureaucratic red tape.
Woodward [nods approvingly]: Adroit. Very adroit. Now, what can you tell us about Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation? A few months ago you told friends you were sure to be indicted. What happened?
Hadley: I'm afraid I can't comment on an ongoing legal proceeding. We'll have to wait to see what the special prosecutor's investigation yields.
Woodward: Let's go off the record a second.
[The two again turn around and huddle for about 3 minutes, then turn around.]
Woodward [laughing good-naturedly]: Hey, but if I attribute anything to you, I'll call you Double Team, you scoundrel! Well, that's all the time we have. I'd like to thank my guest, Stephen Hadley. Stay tuned. Next I'll share a couple pages from my playbook in reporting on the White House.