Never Pick a Fight With a Man Who Buys Ink By the Barrel

The story of the day in the Right Blogosphere and, possibly, in the major media outlets is the dispute between the White House and Bob Woodward. To refresh your memory, Mr. Woodward had a WP op-ed (about which I commented at the time) challenging the president’s account of who first proposed the sequester and has since remarked that a White House official whom he declined to name, subsequently revealed as economic advisor Gene Sperling, threatened him. Glenn Reynolds has a round-up. I honestly don’t see how the White House’s position on the origins of the sequester, what “balanced” means in the context of “balanced between spending cuts and revenues”, or on the purity of its conduct can be maintained. It’s becoming increasingly clear that threatening the press is a routine tactic for the White House. That has been substantiated by multiple media outlets including ABC and USA Today.

IMO the best thing for them to do right now is to shut up about it. If they’re determined to counter-punch, they may find themselves flailing at friends and enemies alike.

18 comments… add one
  • steve

    According to Ambinder, threats for loss of access are not uncommon coming from White House aides. Woodward is just used to having some deference. Most reporters just get past it and keep doing what they do. If you read the actual email where the “threat” was made it sure isnt much of a threat. But, you are right about Woodward. He is treated as an icon, so best to leave him alone.

    Matt Cooper hits on the larger issue. Each successive WH is more tightly locked down. The current WH has been very aggressive on stopping leaks, maybe too much so.


  • Sam

    The whole thing is lame. Who cares whose idea it was in the first place? Everyone signed on to vote for it. All I care about is fixing it – if indeed it actually needs to be fixed. This is all just showmanship to pump up your side. No one’s actual opinion of Dems/GOP will change.
    The “threat” can be interpreted as anything from a real threat, to Woodward simply being exposed as wrong, to “if you say this I’m not going to talk to you anymore”. Yawn.

  • Who cares whose idea it was in the first place?

    Well, apparently the president does because he’s flying all over the country telling a different story. IMO he should come back to Washington, stop trying to assign blame, and start trying to hammer out an agreement, even with an unwilling Congress.

  • Ron Fournier
    David Jackson

    I don’t think the claim that the White House’s attitude is just Woodward getting uppity holds water.

  • Drew

    I was disappointed in JJ’s piece on this at OTB. I repeat my comment:

    “The naivete astounds. I’ve seen intentional exculpatory email exchanges in my day, but this is one for the ages….”

    The water carrying for the administration is approaching an out and out farce. I can’t send a Navy ship out because of the sequester? The nation will shut down? Really? This is absurdity gone wild.

  • jan

    Obama ran on many themes, back in ’08. I’ve already mentioned two of them in a post below — he wanted to cut the deficit in half and was against raising the debt ceiling as it showed a lack of leadership. That now is all in the past, and he is plowing ahead towards a $17 trillion deficit (up from Bush’s $10 trillion one), and arm-twisting for more debt ceiling increases.

    Transparency was another promise, and that two has been discarded with an abrupt 180 degree turnaround. And, not only is said transparency becoming cloudier, but the so-called free press is being side-lined more for the WH’s own customized social media outlets, and even punished if they don’t tag along with the appropriate story line. Woodward has not been the only journalist chastised. Lanny Davis is another high profile Clinton aid who received the same treatment. Then you have Politico, who after running a ‘Puppet-master’ piece on Obama, was excluded from a WH briefing.

    Basically, honest access and probing questions are literally becoming extinct with the Obama administration. And, that does not serve the interest of the people well, in the precedence set or the defects of his governance exposed allowing for the checks and balances of push-back and justified remedies applied.

  • jan

    The price of speaking truth to power

    Larry Johnson, of No Quarter Blog fame, has been roundly dissed in OTB circles. However, no matter what credibility the left or right attributes to him, he does have the distinction of going against the political tides of both parties. Consequently, his advice to Woodward, is to not let the nay-sayers get to him and simply write/speak it how you see it:

    You may not like what I write or agree with my positions. But understand this (and this is advice for Bob Woodward as well)–I am not writing to win friends or accolades. I write what I know, based on my experience and take positions that I believe are morally and ethically correct.

    So, I watch the blowback and switching of positions underway with respect to Bob Woodward with a twinge of nostalgia. Been there done that. Bob, my advice to you is simple–just tell the truth and be true to yourself. You may lose popularity and following, but you will at least have your integrity intact.

    Larry Johnson has more intrigue for me as one who has been both booed and regaled by talking heads on both sides of the aisles. Someone like this merits being at least taken seriously, before you judge whether his opinions are BS or not.

  • Drew:

    Exculpatory, adj.: clearing of guilt or blame.

    Is that what you meant? Or did you mean the opposite?

  • Icepick

    The nation will shut down? Really? This is absurdity gone wild.

    Depends one how the cuts are made. Choose the appropriate places to cut the budget and one can throw a big monkey wrench into things. (Note that I agree that this SHOULDN’T be that big a deal.)

    But it doesn’t matter. The President and the Congress are now playing a game of Wreck the Nation. The objective is to make the other guy look like the one responsible. If they don’t completely fuck things up this time, they will with the continuing resolution at the end of March, or at some other point in the very near future.

    We have the absolute worst President the nation has ever had, and we’ve now had (at least) three Congresses in a row that are neck-and-neck in the race for worst Congress ever. And we’ve got voters that are so stupid they re-elected the whole goddamned lot of them expecting something OTHER than this.

  • Drew


    I write on the fly, typos and all. Let me try to be perfectly clear here.

    What I meant is really an observation of insideous intent born of now 55 years of life experience, and whatever experience since the email age arrived: people write emails knowing full well they might – no, with full intent – that they will be discovered and provide cover.

    No one with half a brain should not understand that the power of the White House behind words like “you will regret” are chilling, no matter how carefully crafted the full text of an email. Its absurd on its face to think otherwise. Now we have Davis and Fournier.

    Some of us did not need this episode to understand Obama and this administration. I refuse to believe you do not understand. You know IL politics like the back of your hand. You know the players and the cesspool Obama was spawned in. This is an extreme version of the usual bad acting politicians.

    I know this sounds like a well worn inquiry. But seriously, can anyone reading this look themselves in the mirror and honestly say that the press would not be howling in indignation, taking on the issue like a dog with a bone – and DEMANDING remedial action – if of the administration actions had the heading Bush, rather than Obama? It is just becoming farcical.

  • Tom Strong

    Oh, come on Dave. I flip over to OTB and immediately see the post about Vandehei’s publication of the actual exchange.

    Fournier makes some good and important points, but fact is Woodward is lying. And you’re being dishonest by not acknowledging that.

  • michael reynolds

    Tom is right, you guys not right. Woodward, desperate for air time and relevance, blew this up. It’s an absurd charge and an absurd overreaction. The White House clearly won the exchange.

  • Tom is right, you guys not right.

    Could be. As I wrote at the opening of the story, until yesterday it was a Right Blogosphere story. Yesterday the Left Blogosphere started doing damage control. Also, Mr. Woodward appears to be backtracking. I don’t know what to believe.

    There seem to be two narratives emerging. One narrative is that Woodward is blowhard who is not to be believed. The other narrative is that there’s a pattern of imperious behavior at the White House. They could both be true and there’s evidence for both.

  • jan

    The left is circling their wagons around the Obama WH’s storyline. What else would you expect? I don’t see Woodward backtracking at all, just clarifying some of the wording being used, such as calling the aide’s language a ‘threat.’ He refuted using this description in relaying this latest incident with the WH.

    Woodward, however, is continuing to stick with his original stance that the WH is grooming media stories to fit their message. And, for those who don’t go along with this practice, they then become a persona non gratis, repudiated, and shut out from further contact with the POTUS. Younger reporters, in particular, he says are subject to be intimidated, becoming less courageous to seek and report on the truth. Woodward went on to warn about the consequences of a democracy in darkness….in other words unquestioning government servitude can lead to a democracy dying.

  • PD Shaw

    But Dave wasn’t being “dishonest.” This is a blog entry, a reaction piece; not the paper of record.

  • PD Shaw

    I would find it hard not to believe both that Woodward is a self-centered prima donna and the White House is festered with annoying apparatchiks that can go too far in trying to control the message.

  • Tom Strong

    PD – a fair point. Misleading then. And to Dave, I apologize for the implied insult. I don’t comment much on blogs anymore, and probably reacted a bit hastily.

    But opinion writers have an obligation to get the facts right too. Which Dave does, 90% of the time. We all have our off days.

  • We all have our off days.

    Sadly, they seem to come more frequently as the years go by. 😉

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