On CNN yesterday, Bob Woodward, an icon of American journalism, clearly suggested that he was threatened by someone, someone quite high up, in the White House for a column he wrote accusing President Obama—falsely, it turns out—of “moving the goal posts” in his dealings with Republicans over sequestration.
Today, we know that Bob Woodward, an icon of American journalism, has lost a lot of his, well, iconishness.
Woodward has told anyone who will listen, or read, that the sequester nonsense was the White House’s idea, personally approved by President Obama. Republicans and their supporters in right-wing media have, for once, loved Woodward’s reporting.
But what Woodward the iconic reporter doesn’t tell folks, at least very clearly, is that the sequester nonsense was sort of a last ditch effort to stop Republicans from destroying the country’s credit worthiness and wrecking the economy in August of 2011.
Lest we forget, the idea behind the sequester was to avoid for a time the debt ceiling issue and to present something so stunningly stupid that both sides would bend their wills to avoid it and a compromise could be reached. If Obama made a mistake, it was in underestimating the Republican leadership’s fondness for stupidity.
In any case, Woodward’s column last week included this falsehood:
So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts.
Woodward claims that when Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell reached that now infamous deal in 2011, it “included an agreement that there would be no tax increases…” We know this is false for at least three reasons:
1) President Obama has always, since the fight with Republicans began, talked about the need to raise revenues, as part of a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction.
2) The law resulting from the deal (the Budget Control Act) contradicts Woodward’s claim, for reasons you can clearly see here.
3) Woodward’s own book on the subject, The Price of Politics, contradicts the Woodward talking and writing today, as Dave Weigel (“How Bob Woodward’s Book Debunks His Big Washington Post Op-Ed”) and others have pointed out.
All of which brings us to Woodward’s suggestion to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that some high Obama administration official threatened him, which CNN reported this way:
Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Wednesday he was threatened by a senior Obama administration official following his reporting on the White House’s handling of the forced federal spending cuts set to take effect on Friday.
Woodward would not reveal to Blitzer who the offender in the White House was that sent him this supposed threat in an email, but he did reveal the email he received to Politico, which reported it this way:
Digging into one of his famous folders, Woodward said the tirade was followed by a page-long email from the aide, one of the four or five administration officials most closely involved in the fiscal negotiations with the Hill. “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today,” the official typed. “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. “ ‘You’ll regret.’ Come on,” he said. “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.’”
Today, of course, the alleged offender in the White House fought back. Again, from Politico this morning:
POLITICO’s “Behind the Curtain” column last night quoted Bob Woodward as saying that a senior White House official has told him in an email he would “regret” questioning White House statements on the origins of sequestration. The official in question is Gene Sperling, economic adviser to the president. The White House has since pushed back, saying the exchange was far more innocuous than Woodward claims.
Innocuous? Well, yes. Very innocuous as you will see when you read the email below (as well as Woodward’s response to it). But I want to first say that I have watched Bob Woodward’s appearances on MSNBC’s Morning Joe for a couple of years now, and the more I have heard him talk, the more I have noticed that he seems to enjoy being “the story” more than the storyteller, and this sad episode appears to confirm that.
Here is the email, via Politico, from Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama, followed by Woodward’s response:
February 22, 2013
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. 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. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)
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.
My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.
From Woodward to Sperling on February 23, 2013:
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