Did the White House really threaten Bob Woodward?
If The Washington Post's Bob Woodward wasn't already feuding with the White House, he is now. The legendary Watergate reporter has been claiming this week that a "very senior" aide to President Obama threatened him for challenging the president's account of how the looming sequester budget cuts originated. Woodward says that the official — since identified by several sources as Gene Sperling, Obama's top economic adviser — "yelled at me for about a half-hour," then followed up with an email saying Woodward would "regret" his sequester claims.
The evidence seems to contradict several of Woodward's points.
Politico has obtained the purported email from Sperling to Woodward, along with Woodward's reply. Sperling starts out by saying, "I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad." He goes on to say that he understands why Woodward disagrees with the White House's account of the origin of the budget cuts in 2011, but that he thinks Woodward should reexamine his conclusion that Obama is "moving the goal post" by suggesting the sequester should be replaced with a deficit-reduction plan that includes new revenue instead of only spending cuts. "I know you may not believe this," Sperling writes, "but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim."
"That's it?" says Henry Blodget at Business Insider. "That's the 'threat'?" There's no mention of any retribution against Woodward for publishing his version of events. "He was saying Woodward would regret it because Woodward would be proven wrong."
I am sure that on many occasions, White House officials have completely lost it at journalists, possibly even threatening them. But in the annals of PR professional-journalist communications, the "threatening" email that Woodward received is actually quite polite and respectful.
"Perhaps we will not see eye to eye here?"
The official didn't even tell Woodward he was an idiot! [Business Insider]
There’s major push back from the White House and supportive media this morning over whether Bob Woodward was “threatened,” with the emails indicating that the “you will regret” language came in a broader email. The defense of the White House is pretty typical, try to isolate not only the dissenter but also the language.
Woodward took the “you will regret” language as crossing the line after a heated conversation with White House official Gene Sperling, and after a week of the administration orchestrating attacks on Woodward. The “you will regret” language can’t be viewed in isolation — indeed Woodward in his explanations as to how he took the language didn’t view it in isolation, but as part of the overall campaign to isolate him.
Woodward was pretty clear about the context of the “you will regret” language prior to the emails being released, and the emails do little to change the context described by Woodward:
Actually, "the release of the emails, which is being greeted by Obama defenders with great fanfare, really doesn't change the story," says William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. The White House and its media lapdogs are trying to dismiss Woodward's interpretation of the events by focusing on a few isolated words — "you will regret" doesn't amount to a threat, they say. But Woodward knows the whole story, and his detractors don't.
Woodward took the "you will regret" language as crossing the line after a heated conversation with White House official Gene Sperling, and after a week of the administration orchestrating attacks on Woodward. The "you will regret" language can't be viewed in isolation — indeed Woodward in his explanations as to how he took the language didn't view it in isolation, but as part of the overall campaign to isolate him. [Legal Insurrection]
Conservatives were right to pounce on this initially, says Matt K. Lewis at The Daily Caller, "as it confirmed our suspicion about the Obama Administration's 'Chicago-style' of politics." Plenty of mainstream journalists bought it, too, "reflexively believing anything the great Bob Woodward says." The full emails, however, make this look more like a stunt by Woodward to drum up publicity for his books than a case of intimidation.
Sperling's email eventually does say, "I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." But this is clearly not a veiled threat of retaliation, but rather a warning that the reporter was about to get the story wrong.
When Woodward tells of being warned he would "regret" challenging Obama, it sounds ominous. But if Politico's reporting today is correct, it seems much more innocuous than that.
Looks like we were played. [The Daily Caller]