Now that the e-mail that apparently caused Washington Post icon Bob Woodward to feel he was being threatened has been released, several new questions and observations arise:
1. In the e-mail, at least, the senior official, now confirmed to be economic advisor Gene Sperling, never denies the central point of the Woodward column at issue: that President Obama, not congressional Republicans, was the first to propose the sequester, contrary to the statements of Jack Lew and the President himself, in contradiction to the blame narrative being pushed by the White House. This means that either the White House concedes its obfuscation, or that it chose to muddy the waters and undermine Woodward’s credibility by focusing on another aspect of his analysis where it was subject to legitimate challenge.
2. Why did Woodward feel threatened by this ostensibly “friendly” message? He is a veteran of such exchanges and presumably adept at translating Washington-speak and reading between the lines. I yield to his reporter instincts, but frankly, I don’t see it. I presume the threats in his phone argument with Sperling were more overt. I don’t know that, however.
3. If Woodward did feel the message was a threat, and he has said so without qualification, why did he send such a benign response back? To wit:
“Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob”
4. If this was an effort to maneuver the media into focusing on the secondary assertion in Woodward’s article, whether the President was “moving the goal posts,” it seems to be working. CNN spent quite a while discussing Woodward’s goalpost argument with nary a mention of his whistle-blowing over the fact that the White House was trying to pin the terrible sequester gambit on the Republicans when it was a White House creation. Other alleged journalists in the President’s pocket, like David Weigel and MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, have taken the position that it doesn’t matter who first proposed the sequester, so the controversy, as Mika says, is “silly.” Unbelievable, but consistent with the Administration’s successful spinning of other lies, such as Hillary Clinton’s “what difference does it make?” tactic deflecting questions about why the Administration kept pushing the anti-Islamic video excuse for the Benghazi attack long, long after it knew otherwise.
5. It always matters when the President intentionally lies to the public to manipulate public opinion. Bob Woodward, liberal Democrat that he is, comes from a generation of journalists that understood that the public not only deserves the truth, but must have it no matter whose agenda it hurts. Journalists and commentators who say it doesn’t matter have forfeited the right to be trusted. They are corrupted.
6. There is obviously more going on here than we have been told about. And this Byzantine political-journalism shadow play is exactly why so much of the public has just thrown up their hands, despaired of ever really knowing or comprehending what is going on in their government, and now just waits to see what debris falls on them next.
7. Yes, this is an ethics train wreck, all right, and it looks as if Bob Woodward just bought a ticket. Calling Carl Bernstein!
UPDATE: This, from the Ron Fournier of the National Journal, is enlightening.
Graphic: Mother Jones
3 thoughts on “UPDATE: Spinning The Woodward-White House Dispute”
My first read-through of the email is just as you described – rather innocuous. However, the second time I read it, there were many phrases which did stand out with sinister undertones, and the voice in my head sounded a lot more like fat tony from the simpsons.
“But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim…”
“I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.”
Sperling should probably get the benefit of the doubt, here – I can see how after a half hour of arguing, the above might stand out to Woodward as threatening. Also doesn’t explain or forgive the same thing happening to the other reporters, either.
It’s bewildering, because it all could be in code. Sperling knew that the e-mail might come out, so he had to make sure it read innocently, but also that Woodward got his message, which as you say, could easily have been well-veiled Fat Tony. Meanwhile, Woodward can’t burn his bridges by writing back,” I know what you’re trying to do, you SOB; tell you boss I brought down Tricky Dick and I can bring him down too!”
What benefit would Woodward have from lying about this? I don’t think he has a need for a sensational story to pad himself at this point.
He is generally democrat leaning, his career is unquestionably secure, he’s been fairly objective on his reporting.
I submit that it is safe to assume the phone conversation lended itself to a threatening interpretation.