Wednesday night on CNN, legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward stated that a “very senior person” in the Obama administration had told him in an email that Woodward would “regret” it if he continued to press the point that President Obama was the originator of the idea of sequestration, bore responsibility for it, and needed to stop redeploying defense resources to make political points. The Obama aide, Woodward told Politico, “yelled at me for about a half hour” as well. “I’ve tangled with lots of these people,” Woodward said. “But suppose there’s a young reporter who’s only had a couple of years – or 10 years’ – experience and the White House is sending him an email saying, ‘You’re going to regret this.’ You know, tremble, tremble, tremble. I don’t think it’s the way to operate.”
This is an incredible case of the White House attempting to bully the most iconic reporter of the 20th century – the reporter who, along with Carl Bernstein, took down a president of the United States. So you might expect the rest of the media to stand with Woodward. You’d be wrong. They’re too busy spending time playing defense for the White House.
It began with Politico itself, which downplayed the entire incident, even as it acknowledged that Woodward’s “play-by-play is basically spot on” with regard to reporting the sequestration. “White House officials are certainly within their rights to yell at any journalist, including Bob Woodward,” said official Obama buddies Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. Allen and VandeHei merely suggested that the battle with Woodward was “a major distraction at a pivotal moment for the president.” They added, “Watching and now having interviewed Woodward, it is easy to see why White House officials get worked about him.” Poor Obama, having to deal with such issues.
Next, the White House went to its favorite outlet, Buzzfeed, and their favorite BenSmithing reporter, Ben Smith, to leak the source of the Woodward “regret” email. It’s clear why they did it – Smith spun the entire incident for the White House. After announcing that the email came from Gene Sperling, director of the White House Economic Council, he proceeded to pretend that the threat email wasn’t a threat email at all – actually, Woodward was making a rookie mistake by misinterpreting a kindly tip as a threat: “Officials often threaten reporters that they will ‘regret’ printing something that is untrue, but Woodward took the remark as a threat.” Nothing to see here. Move along. Just to clarify, Smith later added via Twitter, “Am I crazy to read ‘regret’ here as ‘regret being wrong’? This is something flacks yell at reporters a lot.”
That meme was picked up by the White House’s favorite palace guards, including Dave Weigel at Slate (he retweeted Smith, tweeted, “Theory: Woodward is trolling,” then added via retweet that the whole situation was “boring”); BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, who mockingly tweeted, “Every reporter who deals with flacks/campaign advisors/politicos/ on a daily basis finds that less than threatening”; Justin Green, who edits David Frum’s blog at The Daily Beast, tweeted, “I rarely rarely report, and I’ve had flacks say worse. Not that rare”; Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic tweeted, “As a reporter, I don’t think this was a threat”; Dylan Byers of Politico tweeted, “tweets, I’m no Woodward but broadcast/cable TV PR reps use that ‘regret’ tactic a lot”; Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo tweeted, “Who goes birther first, Scalia or Woodward?” The messaging was universal from the leftist Obama-supporting media: Woodward hadn’t been threatened, and was an amateur or a crazy old coot to think he was being threatened. Matt Yglesias of Slate summed up the general Palace Guard Media take: “Woodward’s managed to make me suspect Nixon got a raw deal.”
The gall of this is astounding. All of these reporters combined might equal one tenth a Bob Woodward in the journalistic pantheon; the notion that their treatment at the hands of press flacks in any way reflects the general or appropriate treatment of someone like Woodward is absurd on its face. But the junior varsity is all too happy to gang tackle a reportorial Hall of Famer on behalf of their beloved President.
Imagine if one of George W. Bush’s deputees had dealt with Woodward this way. The left would have gone insane. Now they just call up the White House for a pat on the head and a nice scoop in return.
The saga with Woodward began over the weekend, when Woodward said that Obama was “moving the goal posts” with regard to sequestration spending. Obama, said Woodward, had originally designed the sequester to focus on cuts rather than contemplating additional tax increases. This drove the White House to call Woodward “willfully wrong,” despite the fact that White House press secretary Jay Carney admitted that the sequestration was originally Obama’s idea.
“It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, ‘You’re going to regret doing something that you believe in,’” Woodward told CNN. Wednesday morning, Woodward told MSNBC that Obama’s decision to redeploy an aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf thanks to the possibility of the sequester was irresponsible, the “kind of madness I haven’t seen in a long time.”
That madness has now infected the mainstream media. They’re too busy defending President Obama to defend the American people – or even their fellow members of the press – from Obama’s thug White House.