Late yesterday, Bob Woodward — the journalist who was instrumental in blowing the lid off Watergate and has since proved to be a thorn in the side of President Obama — said he had been threatened by the White House for holding them to the same standard as the Nixon administration. Woodward said on CNN that a “very senior” aide to the president warned him in an email that he would “regret doing this,” referring to his criticism of Obama for saying he would not deploy an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf because of budget concerns. Woodward told Wolf Blitzer, “It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, ‘You’re going to regret doing something that you believe in.'”
Woodward’s initial criticism, delivered on “Morning Joe” on Monday, included the observation that Obama was exhibiting a “kind of madness I haven’t seen in a long time,” adding, “Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?'”
This morning, Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei revealed the identity of the White House staffer. It was Gene Sperling, economic adviser to the president. And the White House is now claiming that the email exchange was more innocuous than Woodward is claiming. Judge for yourself. Here is the email Woodward received. The phrase containing the threat has been highlighted.
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 [sic] 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 [sic]. 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.
It’s hard to see a context in which the highlighted “advice” is non-threatening. If the matter at hand were a factual misstatement by Woodward that was independently verifiable, one could argue that Sperling was trying to spare a journalist friend embarrassment. But what Woodward offered up on Monday was an opinion.
What is more is that the history of the Obama White House to date is not one of openness or collegiality toward the press. The president has unusually thin skin, especially for someone so fond of going on the offensive against his opponents, and his hostility toward members of the fourth estate — and even those who have had his back — has been manifest repeatedly.
P.S. Speaking of members of the media who have Obama’s back, a headline at Salon that attacks Woodward’s original critique of the White House is priceless. It reads: “Bob Woodward demands law-ignoring, mind-controlling presidential leadership.” The article’s author, Alex Pareene, seems to be intimating that the descriptors used don’t apply to Obama.
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