Last night on CNN reporter Bob Woodward, the same man partly responsible for breaking the Watergate story, claimed that the White House made him feel “uncomfortable” over his stories on the sequester. The quote gaining the most attention is Woodward’s claim that a “senior White House official” told him “you will regret this.” Woodward has been critical of the Obama administration’s stance on the sequester, claiming that President Obama is being irrational by demanding more revenues as part of deal to avoid the sequester. The Obama administration disagrees, which evidently led to a testy exchange between the two parties.
Two competing narratives have emerged over Woodward’s allegations.
The first narrative, advocated by conservatives, states that Woodward is being threatened in a very real, “Nixonian” way. Like Nixon, the narrative goes, President Obama feels threatened by the truth that Woodward is reporting and is now sending his minions to try and scare Woodward into backtracking.
The second narrative, advocated by progressives, states that Woodward is something of a drama queen. Many reporters have noted that is not uncommon to have heated conversations with the staff of a politician who tells the reporter they will “regret” running the story they are about to run. Most reporters accept this as part of the game, and do not view as a “threat” to their professional or physical well-being.
So which narrative is right?
Thankfully, Politico released the full emails between Woodward and the now-named White House senior official. Woodward was conversing with White House economic adviser Gene Sperling. In the emails, Sperling admits to raising his voice to Woodward, but also apologizes. Sperling did not say “you will regret this.” Instead Sperling told Woodward in the email,
“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.”
Sperling goes on to give very calm, rational reasons for his disagreement with Woodward.
Perhaps the most damning evidence against the conservative narrative comes from Woodward’s response. Far from being threatened, Woodward seems to welcome what he calls a “serious discussion” with Sperling,
“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”
In the email, Woodward does not sound like a man hurriedly packing his bags to go to hideaway to be safe from the White House gestapo. He sounds like a man having a debate, sometimes heated, with a White House official.