Woodward, Lanny Davis, and now Ron Fournier. How come it’s the older, more established D.C. hands who are piping up about being strongarmed by the White House and not the younger, less established ones? Is it because the young’uns have developed a thicker skin from being challenged more often? Because they’re small enough potatoes that Team Hopenchange doesn’t bother wasting much time yelling at them? Because Woodward and Fournier are better positioned career-wise to challenge the White House? Or because younger liberal journos are “team players” for The One in a way that older reporters simply aren’t?
Anyway. Another ray of sunshine:
I decided to share this encounter because it might shed light on the increasingly toxic relationship between media and government, which is why the Woodward flap matters outside the Beltway…
The official angered by my Woodward tweet sent me an indignant e-mail. “What’s next, a Nazi analogy?” the official wrote, chastising me for spreading “bull**** like that” I was not offended by the note, mild in comparison to past exchanges with this official. But it was the last straw in a relationship that had deteriorated.
As editor-in-chief of National Journal, I received several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Woodward called a veiled threat. “You will regret staking out that claim,” The Washington Post reporter was told…
Once I moved back to daily reporting this year, the badgering intensified. I wrote Saturday night, asking the official to stop e-mailing me. The official wrote, challenging Woodward and my tweet. “Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron,” the official wrote.
He ends, as did Woodward and as any indictment of White House boorishness evidently must as a matter of professional obligation, by noting that St. Barack would surely frown upon such treatment — even though Obama chooses to surround himself with people like Rahm Emanuel and Fournier’s source and he not-so-secretly disdains the media despite their adulation of him. Let’s pick a narrative, guys. Either (a) this sort of antagonism is wholly unremarkable for modern presidential administrations when dealing with the press behind the scenes, in which case there’s no reason to assume Obama doesn’t know or approve of it, or (b) it is remarkable in its nastiness, in which case either Obama’s a much nastier customer than thought or he’s lost control of his inner circle vis-a-vis media relations. Reason’s Mike Riggs spent some time today compiling stories from the past few years about Obama lackeys freaking out or even cutting off access over coverage that threw a little sand in the gears of their image-management machine. Is that normal for the White House in eras past, or is it so crucially important to the Celebrity Presidency that his aides are forced to get a bit rougher with reporters than usual? Only the media knows, but between the risks of losing access, harming their careers, and hurting “the cause,” they have little incentive to come clean. You need someone like Woodward or Fournier who’s well established and particularly pissed off to gain any insight. Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for hints:
— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) February 28, 2013
Woodward himself is now toning things down a bit, per Erik Wemple at WaPo:
Pressed moments ago on whether he’d ever used the term “threat” or “threatened” by the e-mail, Woodward responded, “No, I have not….I am uncomfortable because it is not the way to operate,” he said. When asked whether he felt there’d be payback on this front, Woodward declined to get into that matter.
But there already has been payback, not from the White House but more broadly from what Matt Welch labels Planet Liberalism. NBC’s now calling Woodward a “temporary spokesman” for one of the two major parties with not a hint of irony. Like Noah Rothman says, whether it’s Team O or just their fans in the media doing the dirty work, Woodward will end up regretting this.
Update: Via Josh Kraushaar, no threats, just a little reputational tear-down:
“Inside the West Wing, Woodward is viewed, one top Democrat said, as a “self-righteous kook,” while an administration official said he “has been going nuts for no good reason.”