Woodward said he stands by the idea that Sperling’s language was over the line but stops short of suggesting outright intimidation. “I never characterized it as a ‘threat,’” he said. “I think that was Politico’s word. I said I think that language is unfortunate and I don’t think it’s the way to operate. . . . [Sperling’s] language speaks for itself. I don’t think that’s the way to operate.”…
In an interview with CNN Wednesday night, Woodward also never used the word threat or that he felt threatened. But he also said Thursday, “They [the White House] have the power. When someone says ‘you’ll regret something,’ they can use their power any way they want. It’s a tone question. . . . I’ve been dealing with White House people going back to the Nixon years. They called us every name in the book. [This] just strikes me as not a way to deal with this. It makes me uncomfortable.”
Q On a different topic, at last year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, the President said he values a free press that is not afraid to ask questions, to examine and to criticize. Has he ever spoken to his aides about the tone he’d like them to take, you all to take, when talking to the press?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President expects us to fully explain his policies, to answer questions about his positions, and to make clear when we believe factual errors are being stated, which is what we do. And look, I think as anyone who has done this from either side of this podium can tell you, these are about real issues. These are about the concrete effects of policy on people’s lives, on our national security, on our children’s future. And everybody who’s involved in these issues feels passionately about them. But we are enormously respectful of the work that you do, that I used to do, and we also believe it’s important for us to make clear when we think, as we have in the past, somebody is out there getting the facts wrong.
“It’s not a big deal. You’ve been yelled at by people in the White House, I’ve been yelled at by people in the White House — I’m sure this has happened to a thousand people in Washington,” Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, who deals with the White House frequently, told POLITICO. “The whole thing seems like a tempest in a teapot.”
“I get emails like this almost every hour, whether it’s from the White House or Capitol Hill,” said Chuck Todd, the NBC News political director and senior White House correspondent. “For better or worse, flacks get paid to push back.”…
“This is part of a bigger systematic problem: Go up to the Hill and see how long you go before a press secretary tells you to ‘F-off.’ I bet you don’t make it to lunch. And if you’re a press secretary, you may not make it to brunch before a reporter tells you to ‘F-off,'” [National Journal editorial director Ron Fournier] told POLITICO. “I only see the Sperling and Woodward exchange as interesting and relevant in the bigger story, which is that we need to start treating each other with more respect.”
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.
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.
“Woodward represents the Washington establishment that never bought into Obama, and has no real connections to the inner circle — a circle that disdains the press corps and the gray beards in it, and probably didn’t play much ball with him on his books,” said a former Administration official…
“I think Gene’s e-mail back to him was OK. I know I shouldn’t say that, because it takes away the drama of this whole thing,” said a Republican Senator…
“Of all the kind of insignificant things that have been discussed about the sequester, this is the dumbest,” a Democratic operative close to the White House said. “Nobody outside of the beltway cares what Bob Woodward thinks. I think engaging with him elevates it to an actual legitimate topic of conversation,” the operative explained.
The question is for those in the space between the Huffington Post and the Washington Post. For the Jake Tappers and the George Stephanopouli. Will they let Woodward get swallowed whole, tut-tutting as Team Obama eats him alive or will they dig in their heels and decide that no matter how horrible Republicans may be, Team Obama is on a dangerous power trip?
Woodward is under attack because he believed, as Washington believed, that Obama was a secret moderate who would do a deal once the liberal base out in those other cities had delivered re-election. His cardinal sin was expressing bewilderment that Obama was not doing as promised.
Woodward helped unseat the last president who despised Washington and its conventions the way Obama does, so he might have seen this coming.
But the next generation certainly knows better. They know Obama, he of the unlimited donations, permanent campaign and pitiful press access. And they know that if the president will treat Woodward this way, they’d be totally toast if Plouffe and Co. decided that any of their more moderate musings were deemed dangerous to Obama’s prime directives.
Having said that, the White House is right: Woodward will probably regret making himself the martyr for journalistic integrity in his battle with the globe’s most powerful executive office. When the White House decided to go to war with another reporting outlet – Fox News – few fellow journalists vocally objected. The nation’s ethicists were silent. If Woodward thinks his own stature will force the media to abstain from indulging in their reflexive instinct to protect the White House, he will find he has miscalculated…
Without a doubt, Woodward’s status as a canonized saint of modern journalism will impose a crisis of conscience on America’s Fourth Estate. He is holding up a mirror to the institution of journalism, and the reflection is an ugly one. It is one that America’s reporters will turn from – the truth is too painful.
When they came for Fox, they did not stand up because they did not work for Fox. The media’s lot is now well and truly cast with the administration – their fates are linked. Whatever his contribution to journalism, Bob Woodward will soon find that no single reporter is irreplaceable.