I believe it was INTENDED as a boon to Libby and the White House writ large. In fact, it seems to me that Woodward's 'revelation' is merely the latest dirty trick to come down the pike.
Would Woodward burn his reputation as a journalist (which, we must admit, was already heavily tarnished among those who actually pay attention to such matters) on defending this White House? We already know the answer in Judy Miller's case... and I suspect the answer is the same for both: YES!
1) Ideologically Woodward had already cast his lot with the Bushites, just like Judy Miller. If you have doubts read his book "Bush at War."
2) Woodward cannot document any of the 'revelations' for which he is now apologizing, no contemporaneous notes, no contemporaneous mentions to anyone -- not even his editor. (Woodward did let his editor in on 'the secret' just one month ago... but for no apparent reason, other than setting up an alibi perhaps?!?) The one journalist he cites as having spoken to about this, Walter Pincus, dismissed it out of hand.
Pincus said he does not recall Woodward telling him that. In an interview, Pincus said he cannot imagine he would have forgotten such a conversation around the same time he was writing about Wilson.3) His revelations are easily construed as an attempt to buttress the fairy tales peddled by the White House regarding the leak: the status of Wilson's wife was merely innocent gossip within DC circles, reporters knew early on, and there was no intense focus on Wilson and Plame or concerted attempt to intimidate the CIA via her exposure. (see the Washington Post story drawing these conclusions right here).
"Are you kidding?" Pincus said. "I certainly would have remembered that."
"I think it's a considerable boost to the defendant's case," said John Moustakas, a former federal prosecutor who has no role in the case. "It casts doubt about whether Fitzgerald knew everything as he charged someone with very serious offenses." Other legal experts agreed.Woodward's 'revelation' also casts doubt on prosecutor Fitgerald's grasp of the case, implying that key facts in the chronology of the leak are still unknown.
Moustakas said Woodward also has considerable credibility because he has been granted "unprecedented access" to the inner workings of the Bush White House. "When Woodward says this information was disclosed to me in a nonchalant and casual way -- not as if it was classified -- it helps corroborate Libby's account about himself and about the administration," Moustakas said.
4) Did we mention that Woodward's 'cover' was blown by a 'Senior Administration Official"? Since when did a SAO do anything out of fairness or the public interest? This is coming out now because they believe Woodward's fabrications will help beat back Fitzgerald's investigation.
But why would a Woodward or Miller court public disgrace on behalf of the Bushites? Because both of them are 'true believers': they truly believe in the fundamentals of the Bushite governing philosophy. That philosophy holds that people are ignorant cattle who need to be manipulated by their betters for their own sake, that the world is a nasty place and nasty deeds must be done to make one's way through it successfully, and that the end justifies the means. Mayberry Machiavellis, meet your city cousins, the self-annointed DC elite! As their work and lack of basic journalistic ethics suggests, both Woodward and Miller consider themselves as a breed apart from their journalist 'peers': they consider themselves players, not mere reporters.
Sure, there will be a brief period of disgrace among the SoCalledLibrulMedia to endure, but from their perspective it is a small sacrifice to advance their 'ideals.' And in the end, they will be lionized by the Bushite faithful. Speaking of merely materialist payoffs, imagine some potential rewards that Woodward will extract in consequence of falling on his 'journalistic sword': the sole authorized biography of Bush perhaps...?
Bonus point: We only have Woodward's word (which, however you read the recent 'apology,' is now utterly worthless) that CIA director George Tenet ever said finding WMDs in Iraq would be a 'slam dunk.' What is the probative value of this statement today?