The Sequester Ethics Train Wreck: The White House Shows Its Dark Side To Bob Woodward

"Deja vu, Bob?"

“Deja vu, Bob?”

[ UPDATED] It is time to upgrade, or perhaps downgrade is a fairer term, Washington’s sequestration battle to a full-fledged ethics train wreck. This is one that may cause far reaching damage, and anyone, including the White House and the Republicans, who thinks it is predictable or controllable is deluded. You don’t control a train wreck; it controls you, once you are on board. The White House, and thus President Obama, are riding right up front.

Today Watergate-busting journalist Bob Woodward revealed that after he dared to interfere with the White House disinformation campaign—-designed to re-write history and assign Congressional Republicans responsibility for the introducing irresponsible, certifiable and reckless sequester device (voting for it was bad enough)—by writing in a Washington Post column that it was White House staff that initially proposed the gimmick, he was threatened by a senior White House official. “I think you will regret staking out that claim,” the official wrote to him. Woodward told both CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Politico that he regarded the statement as a thinly veiled threat, especially after the same official (now identified as Gene Sperling) had screamed at him over the phone for the cardinal sin of letting the facts interfere with the White House’s public opinion manipulation strategy. Woodward told Politico,

“‘You’ll regret.’ Come on. I think if Obama himself saw the way they’re dealing with some of this, he would say, ‘Whoa, we don’t tell any reporter ‘you’re going to regret challenging us.’ ”

Why in the world does Woodward think that? More than four years into Obama’s administration, and Woodward really thinks the President doesn’t control his own staff? Does he really believe that Obama hasn’t set the boundaries and standards? This was a senior staff member, and the President is directly responsible for what he does. I believe using threats backed by White House power is business as usual for this White House. It is also a Chicago political mainstay. I believe that a White House that has the audacity to threaten a revered truth-teller like Bob Woodward has had its confidence bolstered by successfully doing the same to other, lesser, and less courageous reporters. Even with the mainstream media’s disgraceful and unethical bias toward Obama and his policies, this is the only way to explain the media’s negligence, torpor, and lack of diligence in reporting the depths of the Obama administration’s incompetence and dishonesty.

Obama has personally, and un-Presidentially, attacked other media figures who displeased him by name, as well as an entire news network, Fox. This Presidency that was sold to us on the promise of unprecedented transparency and honesty seeks to control the free press with threats, so that the truth about a calculated, coordinated lie–“The sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed”—- will never get through to a befuddled, barely attentive public. And, with the exception of Woodward, it is still working. Here is Politico spinning its own story:

“And that contention has made Woodward, once Public Enemy Number One to a generation of Republicans, the unlikely darling of the right wing. Conservatives suddenly swoon over him, with his stepped-up appearances on Fox News and starring role in GOP press releases. And while White House officials are certainly within their rights to yell at any journalist, including Bob Woodward, this very public battle with a Washington legend has become a major distraction at a pivotal moment for the president.”

You see? Ooooo…conservatives like Woodward now; he must be bad and untrustworthy, just like them. Politico can’t bring itself to side with a fellow journalist–White House spank!

Who says White House officials are within their rights to yell at journalists for doing their jobs? As Woodward noted,

“But suppose there’s a young reporter who’s only had a couple of years — or ten 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.”

Of course it’s not the way to operate! It’s an unethical and coercive way to operate.  It’s a dictator’s way of operating: force the press to serve you, rather than the public interest. Moreover, the White House deceiving the public and threatening a legendary reporter for exposing its lie isn’t a “distraction.” Politico minimizes the significance of the incident as if it was a flat tire or a case of the hiccups. This is the story:

  • First, there is the calculated lie that the news media allows to take root.
  • Then President and a White House communications apparatus that have habitually misled the public, ducked accountability for failures and  mistakes, and are  exposed by a journalist who can’t be dismissed as biased.
  • Next, the response of the White House to that journalist, after it can’t bully him into doing its’ bidding, is, in essence, ‘You’ll be sorry.’

That’s no “distraction.” That’s a symptom of a breakdown in leadership and democratic institutions. There is a reason why Bob Woodward is alarmed.

He’s seen this before.

________________________________

Pointer: Mark Levin

Facts: Politico 1, Politico 2

34 thoughts on “The Sequester Ethics Train Wreck: The White House Shows Its Dark Side To Bob Woodward

  1. Even Nixon didn’t go this far when it came to the press. That said, given now-jailed Governor Blago’s attempts to get the Chicago Tribune to fire editors who criticized him, this does not come as a surprise. It’s simply, as you note above, the Chicago way of operating. Polluted ethical soil bears poisonous fruit. I think Woodward was either taking the last chance he had to give the President the benefit of the doubt, or just possibly putting himself in a place where he could walk his comments back or give the President a way out. James Malone’s (Sean Connery’s character) lines in the movie The Untouchables about what constitutes “The Chicago Way” are only embellishments on the ruth to make it sound more dramatic, and even if Woodward can’t be “gotten to” directly, almost anyone can be “gotten to” through those near and dear to them. Obama has an agenda and he is determined to push it through, just like Spitzer was in NY, and I think he might see himself as the same steamroller who’ll roll right over anyone who gets in his way.

  2. “Obama has personally, and un-Presidentially, attacked other media figures who displeased him by name, as well as an entire news network, Fox”

    The Rupert Murdoch/Roger Ailes’ Fox is not a news network. It is a commentary network that will occasionally report news. Your use of the word “audacity” is not without calculation and shows some contempt. Do you really believe that this Administration is in the same ball park when it comes to media manipulation, distorted facts and outright lies as the Cheney/Bush Administration? Yes, I know this alone is no justification for any leader to practice any deception, but I believe some context is important, nonetheless. Moreover, regarding today’s GOP, whose sole purpose is to obstruct, diminish, filibuster, saddle, delay any and every attempt by the Obama Administration (aka “The McConnell Doctrine”) to push forth a legitimate agenda designed to help ALL Americans and not just the top 2%, it is disingenuous to parse discussion about the sequester without this prominent backdrop. The President has shown many times he is willing to negotiate with any GOP lawmaker and has often agreed with many a GOP plan only to have them pull the rug out from him and change their minds. Given this adherence to the GOPs disciplined strategy, it is difficult not to assume their positions are being dictated by a corporate agenda and not their voting constituency. This is low-hanging fruit. In the context of the sequester, even if it were initially a suggestion from the White House, it is reasonable to see this as another effort to come to some consensus, ill-conceived as it may be. Personally, I view the sequester the same as I view term limits: any instrument that allows Americans to abdicate their responsibilities as Constituents of the US Government diminishes Americans’ power and therefore diminishes our democracy. That’s my take.

    • Finnegan, the world thanks you for this completely unbiased and thoroughly thought out exposition on how, without any prejudices involved, Republicans hate everyone and Obama has been the only rationally behaving person in all this.

      Idiot.

    • Let’s have a quick summary of Obama’s ever changing narrative on the budget crisis as a paraphrase:

      1) “Let’s take unprecedented action: Let’s have a sequester to make sure both parties are too scared to solved the budget problem.”

      2) “Let me be clear: DEAR GOD THE FISCAL CLIFF!!! WE NEED TO FIX THIS MY WAY!!! But the Republicans won’t compromise by agreeing to everything I want and nothing they want!!!!”

      3) “I reiterate: We’ve got to fix this problem and I’ll veto any idea the Republicans come up with!”

      4) “Make no mistake! This sequestration was the republican’s idea and the fiscal cliff is the republican’s Fault!”

      5) “Let me be unprecendentedly clear: Sequestration wasn’t my idea!”

      6) “I reiterate: Sequestration means DOOM! Everyone will suffer horribly by this Friday!”

      and the latest, as of yesterday:

      7) “Let me be clear: Sequestration is only a minor bump, not that big of a deal”

      • After this last post, let’s make “misstep” plural. You use quotes implying that the President actually said all of these things in your faux summary redux. In the grand scheme of things, your commentary seems to be designed more to inflame than enlighten; more to vent than articulate. Kind of odd to see this kind of thing in an ethics blog. It is more a propo for a strident right-wing radio show or a Hannity broadcast, especially given your propensity for name-calling. While I have previously avoided your goading, offering up more light-hearted responses, I am fairly certain your discourse here violates Mr. Armstrongs’ well-written comment policy.

        • No, I identified them as summary and paraphrase. Nice try.

          And if you are surprised to see this kind of post in an ethics blog, then you must surprise yourself every time you post. I have yet to see a non-partisan non-programmed response from you on any topic, other than the random attempts at snarky humor you occasionally shower us with.

          This is further evidence of how deluded Leftists like you are. You think your opinions are so truly unbiased (which they are not) and so absolutely true (which they are not) that they indeed are centerline ideas, whereas anything else must be whacko kookery…

          • What is apparent is your own myopia to your own arrogantly adhered biases, which must be tough to see given that you are commenting in a blog that sees and responds to alleged liberal biases much more vigorously than conservative views that have more resonance with your own. You have a relatively friendly audience in this blog and it is notable that many off your misses are either addressed cursorily, or unchallenged altogether. Certainly, I have yet to see the investment in categorically disputing your points made here as have been leveled toward mine, and yet, there is nothing in your posts that pass the test of vetting for accuracy any more than do mine. (See your summary list, for example). You have resorted to name-calling and a sweep of demeaning terms and phrases in the absence of a legitimate and honest point, accused me of distortions by using your own brand of deceit and vitriolic hyperbole. That you have attacked me personally means to me there is something going on with you that is beyond this mere blog. I never suggested I am without biases, it is a fairly common human trait. Who are you to assume what I think? But I do have a pretty good idea about what has been wrong with our government in the past 30+ years, and it is based on extensive reading, learning, and observation from a broad array of resources and my own experience. That I place much blame on an insidious and far-reaching influence of transnational corporations loyal to no sovereignty but their own boards upon our US Government is not something I invented, nor is this a myth concocted by conspiracy freaks. I don’t have a complete picture by any stretch, but neither do you. Neither do we swim in the same info pools, apparently. Perhaps the only common ground we could possibly agree upon is a shared hope for the best for our country and people, but even in this, I won’t be waiting for any endorsement from you.

            • “Kind of odd to see this kind of thing in an ethics blog.” -Finnegan

              A comment by you in reference to a political counter-comment which responded to your own wildly biased political comment is very inconistent. If meant disapprovingly, it borders on hypocrisy.

              “a blog that sees and responds to alleged liberal biases much more vigorously than conservative views ” -Finnegan

              Jack’s blog is an ethics blog. I’m not too familiar with him taking specific political stances as much as he comments on the ethical behavior of politicians and the ethics of how they push their agendas. So, if it seems Jack ‘counters’ liberalism more than conservatism, it may be more likely the methodologies employed by the Left in recent memory have been drastically less ethical. Ought to be a wake up call.

              “You have a relatively friendly audience in this blog and it is notable that many off your misses…” -Finnegan

              Seems split about 50-50 in terms of politics from what I’ve observed. What misses?

              “You have resorted to name-calling and a sweep of demeaning terms and phrases” -Finnegan

              I called you an idiot…once…and not without warrant. If once is troublesome, don’t get into a disagreement with TGT — he fires off ‘idiot’ like a gatling gun, and often receives the same in like volume.

              “there is nothing in your posts that pass the test of vetting for accuracy any more than do mine. (See your summary list, for example)” -Finnegan

              For anyone who has followed the news, with open eyes and ears, they know the President’s narrative on the fiscal crisis has followed that summary.

              “I never suggested I am without biases, it is a fairly common human trait. Who are you to assume what I think?” -Finnegan

              Well, when people wish to discuss rationally, they tend to try and suppress their biases and start from an objective stance. Your almost formulaic straight from the Left opinions betray that you don’t try this.

              “That I place much blame on an insidious and far-reaching influence of transnational corporations loyal to no sovereignty but their own boards upon our US Government is not something I invented, nor is this a myth concocted by conspiracy freaks.” -Finnegan

              Other than what sounds like some paraphrased Howard Zinn non-sense, I’m not sure what you are trying to address… this is diversion territory.

              “Neither do we swim in the same info pools, apparently.” -Finnegan

              I like the pool of reality — the water is turbulent and you have to have your wits about you.

              “Perhaps the only common ground we could possibly agree upon is a shared hope for the best for our country and people, but even in this, I won’t be waiting for any endorsement from you.” -Finnegan”

              Clever, also idio… never mind.

    • This is just a political screed, and beneath you. You say “He did it too!” is no excuse, but you use it as an excuse, just as the President has successfully used it to deflect from his own responsibility and accountability.

      The Fox comment is either dishonest, ignorant, or wildly biased. I monitor all the news networks. You have accurately described MSNBC, which has no legitimate news component. Fox’s rightward slant in its news coverage, not its commentary, which is often ridiculous, is more open and less generally extreme than the leftward slant at the other networks, whose active cheerleading for Obama has been obscene, frankly, since the 2008 Democratic primaries. Their biased coverage is worse, moreover, because 1) they pretend and posture otherwise and 2) they are colluding with a government in power, being uncritical when they should be critical, partisan when they should be objective, and compliant when they should be defiant.

      I have hard time watching Fox, because so much of it is pitched to viewers with IQs below freezing, but everyone, including you, should be grateful it is out there. The stories that would have been swept under the rug without them is frightening.

      And no, you cannot fairly judge Obama by Bush-Cheney standards, because he specifically rejected those standards on many levels, and promised to meet higher ones.

      Your take is one of unapologetic partisan excuse-making, which makes any ethical analysis functionally impossible. Shape up.

    • “Do you really believe that this Administration is in the same ball park when it comes to media manipulation, distorted facts and outright lies as the Cheney/Bush Administration?”

      As a matter of fact I do, and in fact it’s worse because Obama campaigned on playing the game differently and I don’t remember GWB ever threatening a journalist who disagreed with him or openly bringing press corps members who agreed with him to the White House for a de facto propaganda meeting.

      • Or scolding them publicly, or kicking them out of the room, or declaring war against particular reporters/networks. When Bush and his team manipulated and spun, they did so with the full knowledge that the media would be working their hardest to criticise and counter-spin. Obama and his team relax in the knowledge that the media will start spinning things in their favor before they even need to get the ball rolling. They just have to be careful to spot those one or two reporters who do try to provide counter-spin (let’s not forget Sherryl Atkisson’s fast and furious inquiries) and quash them before they do. Good thing for team Obama it doesn’t happen often, eh? Otherwise even the clueless people might begin to notice a trend…

        • That is, indeed, a key difference, Aaron. Obama and Clinton proved time and again that, when the press (be it by ideological or financial inclination) is on your side from the get-go and to the extent that it has no ethical qualms about how they present that inclination to their public, then virtually any lie or political crime is possible. That this is in direct contradiction to the basic purpose of a free press seems to be no longer a factor in their business-as-usual.

    • It won’t be. Obama’s media echo chamber is already pushing the narrative that such “pushback” is normal, and that Woodward “over-reacted.” It’s a good litmus, test, actually, regarding which networks and reporters are de facto Administration flacks.

    • Bigger still, this should be the “tipping point” that the honorable webmaster here alluded to in another post. The elected government is entitled to a presumption of good faith and a certain level of trust, but threatening journalists who are supposed to be independent and make sure the government remains worthy of that trust is an unacceptable step down the road to tyranny. No, I am not saying Obama is a WWII-era tyrant in the making, but the founding laws of this nation include freedom of the press specifically to avoid tyranny. We are not at the point where we need to start compromising those principles, if ever we were or will be, and compromise of those principles is compromise whether it comes from a Texas-twanged Republican or a smooth-talking Chicago Democrat.

      • I don’t think that Obama is a WWII era tyrant in the making, either. I think he’s worse than that. A pre-WWII tyrant, in my opinion- utilizing, as he apparently is, the playbook of Vladimir Lenin.

        • I really, really didn’t want to go there and invoke Godfrey’s Law, since that’s a conversation killer, however, there are some disturbing similarities between Obama’s class on class tactics and Lenin’s empty promises of “peace, bread, and land” (which provided none of the above). Obama is also content to use those who further his agenda and kick them to the curb when they do not, when it was Lenin who coined the term “useful idiots.” The Bolsheviks also were masters of propaganda and making things sound good, even their own name, which loosely means “the majority,” when that’s at least up for discussion. Frankly I find the latest turns of events slightly nerve-wracking, maybe even more so than GWB’s piggybacking Iraq on the more justifiable war in Afghanistan, since a war abroad is abroad, but some of Obama’s policies are aimed a lot closer to home. I do not know which is worse, attempting to impose American values abroad by force, or attempting to impose the values of SOME of America on ALL OF America at home by governmental bullying.

  3. Well, now Bob Woodward has seen the pendulum swing and gain intensity. Now he sees the new enemies list and he is on it. Anyone who challenges this administration is viewed as a traitor by Democrats and the liberal media. I’m not sure Woodward was expecting that. With Nixon, he was opposing an administration. In Obama, he is facing not just a government, but a monolithic, “official” news organization that stretches from sea to shining sea. He is now a dissident trying to oppose Pravda as well as the totalitarian regime.

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