Woodward Says White House Threatened Him: Will Appear on Sean Hannity’s Fox Show


In 24 hours the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward has become the focus of a major media and political story. He charged that a senior White House official threatened him. GO here for details.

This then became a major story on weblogs and on ideological talk shows — with often predictable reactions depending on the writer or talker’s political party. GO here for details and to look at weblog reaction for yourself.

The bottom line: the White House official who talked to Woodward helped confirm a growing impression that this is a thin-skinned White House. Are Obama officials surprised surprised that Woodward is writing or asserting things with which they don’t agree? How many White Houses have read books or articles by Woodward and found information in them that they wished was not there, or an analysis with which they did not agree? Have they followed Woodward’s career and the credibility of his fly-on-the-wall reporting over the years?

The Republican Party is having trouble rebranding (if it wants to do so). But this kind of foot-in-mouth-disease error by the White House could help rebrand the Obama White House.

But then a new analysis started to emerge: the suggestion that Woodward was perhaps blowing the White House officials’ comments way out of proportion — and framing the officials’ words in a way beyond the shrug they would have elicited from many other reporters. And, indeed: how many (of us) who worked in the news media or worked in it had a source say if we ran with something we’d regret it? It’s often a hint the reporter has it wrong, or that the source is highly connected and there will some kind of consequences. Or its an attempt to intimidate, which inevitably is a stupid mistake: few editors or reporters will STOP reporting on a story if a source makes it clear they don’t want more coverage. In fact, a threat usually means they’re onto something and the story develops “legs.”

I had this kind of statement made to me in varying forms many times over the years, when I wrote for newspapers from New Delhi, Madrid, and Dacca, and when I worked as reporter on the staffs of newspapers in Wichita in San Diego.

My favorite one was from an official in Chula Vista, CA, in the early 1980s, when I worked in the bureau there. I had some tough questions to ask him during lunch, and he sweetly smiled, put down his fork and mentioned the San Diego Union’s then-publisher Helen Copley.

“I know reporters hate it when someone says they’re friends with Mrs. Copley. But (he paused for effect): I’m friends with Mrs. Copley.” He smiled again, picked up his fork and resumed eating.

And I went on with my list of questions, undeterred.

I told my editor at the time and he shrugged as I did. Oh: and Mrs. Copley never came running over to my desk to tell me not to ask that official questions he might not want to be asked. Nor did I expect her to do so.

The Week’s Marc Ambinder — one of the best reporters and columnists in the business — bluntly states what partisans using this flap as one more political football are not stating:

But both Woodward and the White House are correct. The sequester idea came from the White House.

And — everyone who worked on it knew that it was a place holder for a political decision that the American people would make in the 2012 elections. Republicans would cut more spending and Democrats would raise more taxes.

Now, to the threats.

The White House threatens reporters. A lot. It is sort of a humblebrag to say that people with titles as lofty as “Assistant to the President” and with titles as lowly as “deputy press secretary” have used the F-word in conversations with me. Both White House officials and journalists tend to be arrogant and self-referential, and there is a lot of healthy and sometimes unhealthy tension on the job. We yell at each other, and we butt heads, and we live to work another day.

Threats about cutting off access are fairly routine.

Just not if you’re Bob Woodward and used to deference.

I suppose there was a time in Woodward’s career when he would not have taken offense to being bluntly told that he would regret having written something. That time has passed.

It is rather odd that he would interpret the threat as something sinister.

But maybe, in the short time I’ve been away from Washington, the tone of discourse has changed.


Also read Ryu Spaeth’s piece
titled “Bob Woodward’s ridiculous war with the White House.”

But one thing Woodward has had up till now is his credibility: he is above all a serious reporter who doesn’t descend in the journalistic ideological slime that now coats so much of reportage and high profile media reporters.

Until tonight.

But now you have to ask if Woodward is about to commit as big a mistake as the politically dumb Obama official who used those words in talking to him and not realizing it would bite the official and the administration in the you-know-what: Woodward going to go on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.

To be sure, over the years Woodward has appeared on CNN, MSNBC and on Fox News.

But taking this controversy to Sean Hannity’s show will move his image in an entirely new direction.

It’s like John McCain walking away from his 2000, more pristine image, to become one more politician.

For Republicans, Sean Hannnity’s show should be titled “Softball,” since it is basically a parade of GOPers who get softball questions from Hannity to bolster their arguments, themselves, and/or the Republican Party. It could also be titled “Talking Points Memo,” except that name has long been used by a solid progressive news site.

If Democrats and others are on Hannity’s show, it’s usually because the interview will make Barack Obama and the Democrats look bad.

Woodward’s interview on Hannity will — correctly or not — definitively alter his image among many because he’s going to take his story to one of the most cravenly partisan shows on cable television which clearly wants him on for ammunition to use in its ongoing partisan and ideological narratives.

Woodward would have been wiser to have next chosen to talk to 60 Minutes in a feature story or have gone to ABC or NBC.

His choice to go on Hannity to talk more about his charge that he was threatened by an Obama administration official is as smart a choice as the Obama administration official who somehow thought his words to Woodward would not become part of Woodward’s ongoing reportage.

After he talks with Hannity and clips from that interview are run on Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and run as embeds on conservative websites and blogs, Woodward’s image as an investigative reporter who refused to let himself get sucked into the ever-tiresome political partisan wars but stayed above the partisan fray will never be the same — fairly or not.

  

28 Comments

  1. Woodward’s interview on Hannity will — correctly or not — definitively alter his image among many because he’s going to take his story to one of the most cravenly partisan shows on cable television

    Exactly right. This decision alone will cause many folks to wonder if Woodward’s judgement is all it used to be. Sometimes as we get older, egos once stroked can become sensitive when not catered to. I guess we’ll just see how this all shakes out.

  2. Sometimes as we get older, egos once stroked can become sensitive when not catered to.

    “Well as an old codger, you can cater to me by not catering to me.”

  3. I’m the same way dd, but people who have grown used to getting special treatment don’t always take it well when their powers begin to fade.

  4. So watch the link to the Wolf Blitzer interview of BW and skip Hannity if it makes you feel cleaner.

  5. “Sometimes as we get older, egos once stroked can become sensitive when not catered to.”

    I resemble that remark.

    On the substance of the piece, this narrative plays into the Chicago-thug portrayal of the Obama administration by some on the right. And, Woodward may have enough credibility to give it legs. Best perhaps if the offending staffer updated his/her resume and took a graceful powder. The Prez is riding high and this could tarnish his image with the general public. If I were advising WH, I’d play this one very, very tight.

  6. Up til now POB has had the bully/BS pulpit, but I don’t think he will come off quite as well in this affair and it could start a trend as some journalists and lesser scribblers start nipping at his heels (Achilles anyone).
    Btw: eventually more facts on Benghazi will have emerge before the 2014 elections. I just hope the Reps don’t overplay their hands when that happens.

  7. FWIW, below is a copy of the email in question from Gene Sperling. It doesn’t sound like much of a threat to me and from Woodward’s which follows, he did not appear to have taken it as such at least at first.

    Bob:
    I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

    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.

    And Bob’s response to it follows below.

    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

  8. Yes to Stephen’s comment. I just saw the remark in context for the first time. It changes my opinion, and I’ll withdraw what I said above. Here is more of the context:

    “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. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start.”

    Do with this as you please, but the context should matter.

  9. On the lighter note: Mercury went Retrograde Feb.24 to March 17.
    Mercury Retrograde is when communication and electronics go haywire… It is all about bad news and wonkiness…Also when the spat occurred Mercury was retrograding past Mars…Agitation–Aggravation…

    Just for the fun of it checked to see the time period when Woodward and Bernstein were talking with Deep Throat… sure enough during that time period Mercury was Retrograde…

    Retro Bob?

    Not suggesting this is a Watergate… but maybe it would be good to remember for the next three weeks be mindful of what and how one is communicating… :)

    For those challenged by Mercury Retrograde

    “Talk less, listen more.
    Write less, edit more.
    Dissect less, connect more.
    Direct less, assist more.
    Indulge less, serve more.”

    Mercury Retrograde Survival Guide

  10. Thanks, OS, love that MRSG.

  11. I know the HuffPost is ultra-liberal, partisan, biased and all that, but for whatever it’s worth here’s their take on Woodward’s allegations.

  12. “Talk less, listen more.
    Write less, edit more.
    Dissect less, connect more.
    Direct less, assist more.
    Indulge less, serve more.”

    Very good, Ordinarysparrow.

    I personally (after my deluge of Chuck Hagel posts),will take the second one, “write less, edit more” to heart

  13. To add to DDW’s link, here’s what I woke up to on TPM:

    Conservatives admit they “got played”

    Now, my only question is why he would make this argument when he had to know that these emails would be a matter of public record and could be released by the WH. I also laughed at the right’s sudden embrace of Bob Woodward over the last 24 hours and to be fair I also laugh when the left suddenly embraces a rightie. Only in Washington.

  14. Don’t blame the messenger. God bless Bob Woodward.

  15. I am not sure why some people see these e-mails changing anything. The message Woodward origianlly shared was spot on. The White House didn’t like it. The White House is fighting back, punch by punch. Woodward called them on it. He understood the warning/threat and we are witnessing the personal attacks.

    First it was Carney, who said Woodward was “willfully wrong”. That attacks BW’s intergrity. And then David Plouffe’s reference to Woodward’s age and mental stability.

    Lanny Davis has said he was a past recipient of White House threat.

    As well, he said: “Did Bob Woodward get a single fact wrong? He said that Barack Obama initiated the idea of sequestration as a club to get the Super Committee to do the Grand Bargain. That’s a fact. If Gene says it isn’t a fact, then explain that it’s not a fact. But when you go beyond disputing facts to passing political judgments — ‘You’re going to regret this’ … I hear that as a threat.”

  16. KP, I think it’s the “moving the goal posts” remark that has the WH pissed. They want more taxes, it’s as simple as that and of course the Reps have this strange idea that we can’t tax our way out of our fiscal problems. Dems want taxes, Reps want spending cuts simple as that, but a Gordian Knot just the same.

  17. “Talk less, listen more.
    Write less, edit more.
    Dissect less, connect more.
    Direct less, assist more.
    Indulge less, serve more.”

    Or in my case, shoot from the hip less. (but I still think BW is overreacting)

  18. I remember when Lefties ..over Ari Fleischer’s remark that people should watch what they say. It was the second coming of the brown shirts. Now, it’s all,”buck up you senile old man.”

  19. Plus, does anyone think that Sperling was as calm and measured on the phone as he was in the email?

  20. jb– that was the point of the email– Sperling was apologizing for raising his voice

  21. For those who seem to be reveling in their manufactured talking points…

    Woodward: I never called it a threat

    Bob Woodward is seeking to distance himself from reports that he felt “threatened” by the White House, more than 24 hours after criticizing senior White House aide Gene Sperling for telling him he might regret questioning Obama’s account of how sequestration came about.

    In an interview with his own paper, The Washington Post, Woodward says he never called Sperling’s comment a threat.

    Don’t worry Wiley ‘Acme Industries’ will have a new version for you tomorrow.

  22. Right you are Steve.

  23. :|

  24. Ha! That is a great cartoon as it relates to todays politics!

  25. jb, “Plus, does anyone think that Sperling was as calm and measured on the phone as he was in the email?”

    I was thinking there was probably some spittle and fritos stuck in the phone after that call.

  26. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim

    hardly a threat, make believe news and outrage.

  27. Steve K…. great cartoon for this topic….

  28. Of course it was not a ahem, threat, it was a friendly call and email between old friends discussing different view points. Nothing to call a threat, BW would regret saying that.
    BW also had nice things to say about MSNBC last night. :-)

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