Bob Woodward, the veteran reporter for The Washington Post, has suggested that the White House threatened him over a recent story in which he accused President Obama of "moving the goal posts" by demanding a balanced package of tax revenues and spending cuts to replace the sequester. In an interview with Politico, Woodward revealed an email from an unidentified administration official that read, "You're focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here... I think you will regret staking out that claim."
"Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat," write Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. Woodward goes on to say, "I've tangled with lots of these people. But suppose there's a young reporter who's only had a couple of years' — or 10 years' — experience and the White House is sending him an email saying, 'You're going to regret this.' You know, tremble, tremble. I don't think it's the way to operate."
Firstly, there's the obvious point that it may not have been a threat at all. As Ben Smith at BuzzFeed writes:
Am I crazy to read "regret" here as "regret being wrong"? This is something flacks yell at reporters a lot. politi.co/Xk1NOJ
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) February 28, 2013
And what on earth is Woodward implying? That chief of staff Denis McDonough will be waiting for him with a garrote in a dark alley?
Secondly, Woodward's highly public accusation against the White House, which he repeated for good measure on CNN, comes amid much mockery of his "goal post" analysis. According to Woodward, Obama can't ask for a balanced deficit-reduction package because he initially agreed that the sequester — $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that are set to start taking effect on Friday — would be composed only of spending cuts. One look at the sequester legislation, which passed with grudging support from both Democrats and Republicans, shows that Woodward is factually incorrect. As Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo explains:
But in this case Woodward is just dead wrong. Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It's true that John Boehner wouldn't agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon — sequestration — is composed exclusively of spending cuts. But the entire purpose of an enforcement mechanism is to make sure that the enforcement mechanism is never triggered. The key question is what action it was designed to compel. And on that score, the Budget Control Act is unambiguous.
First: "Unless a joint committee bill achieving an amount greater than $1,200,000,000,000 in deficit reduction as provided in section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(II) of the Budget Control Act of 2011 is enacted by January 15, 2012, the discretionary spending limits listed in section 251(c) shall be revised, and discretionary appropriations and direct spending shall be reduced."
Key words: "Deficit reduction." Not "spending cuts." [Talking Points Memo]
In other words, Woodward has betrayed a deeply embarrassing misunderstanding of the sequester. His story has, however, made him a favorite among Republicans, not least because he also identifies the Obama administration as the originator of the sequester idea. (Whether it matters that the White House came up with the sequester, given that Republican leaders signed off on it, is another matter.) His latest accusation, weak as it is, has already led conservatives to reach some damning conclusions about the president. "Barack Obama is becoming the Democrats' Richard Nixon," proclaims Erick Erickson at Red State.
In addition, Woodward apparently has the support of Politico, which has, amazingly, bought his cringe-worthy analysis wholesale. Allen and VandeHei write, "It was [Obama's] own staff that proposed sequestration, and the tax hikes he now proposes — aimed at replacing half of the cuts — were never part of that very specific plan."
This is mindlessly obtuse. It is surreal to see it printed. And it only bolsters criticisms that Politico is more interested in ginning up controversy than reporting the issues with seriousness.
Allen and VandeHei go on to say that "the Obama White House is out to discredit" Woodward. Sorry, but the only one who has discredited Bob Woodward in this case is Woodward himself.