Did Gene Sperling effectively handle his interactions with Bob Woodward? Hardly, says friend and former colleague Lanny Davis.
“He should know better,” Davis told POLITICO. “Did Bob Woodward get a single fact wrong? He said that Barack Obama initiated the idea of sequestration as a club to get the Super Committee to do the Grand Bargain. That’s a fact. If Gene says it isn’t a fact, then explain that it’s not a fact. But when you go beyond disputing facts to passing political judgments — ‘You’re going to regret this’ … I hear that as a threat.”
Davis is not only a friend of Sperling's, he also has extensive White House experience and knows how this works.
So, are outsiders going to argue with a Lanny Davis and keep arguing with Woodward; the guy who understand the full context and subtext of what happened?
Politico obtained the email exchange (Gee, I wonder from whom?) between Bob Woodward and Obama's economic advisor, Gene Sperling. The emails back up Woodward's claim that he was told by a top White House official he would "regret" his reporting.
The emails also reveal a kind of psychological manipulation and intimidation with which many should be familiar. I call them "screamers." Others might call them bullies; but these are people who intimidate through screaming when they don't get their way. Then, when that doesn't work, they always come back and apologize, but the passive-aggressive bullying remains. The "is it or isn't it a threat" wording is almost always a part of the apology.
As you'll see below, Sperling admits to losing his temper at Woodward, but it's only an excuse to take another swing at the reporter:
From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013
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 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 different [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.
From Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013
Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob
What's remarkable about all this is that even some conservatives are siding with the White House after reading this email exchange. It seems ridiculous to me to make that kind of judgment without understanding the full context of the full exchange between the two men, especially when we have others claiming they too have been intimidated in the exact same way: Lanny Davis and CBS News's Sharyl Attkisson, just to name a couple. [Added: Ron Fournier.]
Psychological manipulation is a game of chess, not checkers, and those claiming Woodward is exaggerating need to take into account more than just these two moves.
Bob Woodward isn't always right, but to say he deserves respect and the benefit of the doubt over a White House with a track record of intimidation is an understatement.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC