Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has been telling everyone who will listen that the White House is so mad he called them out on the sequester that they're making threats. But on Thursday, the White House released the emails containing the threats. They turn out to be not that threatening.
On February 22, Woodward wrote a Washington Post column making two major points: that the Obama administration came up with the idea of the sequester, and that by asking for tax revenue in a plan to replace the sequester, President Obama was "moving the goalposts." The first part is true — and when Obama said in a presidential debate last fall that Congress came up with the idea, he was wrong. But the second part of Woodward's argument is more wrong. Even House Speaker John Boehner has said revenue could be part of the plan. According to Woodward, the White House got really mad about this column.
A "very senior person" in the White House, Woodward told CNN, "yelled at me for about a half-hour," he told Politico. Then, Woodward said, he got a mean email, which Woodward read to Politico as an example of the White House staff going way over the line in response to being questioned. The email read: "You're focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim." Politico reports:
Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. "'You'll regret.' Come on," he said. "I think if Obama himself saw the way they're dealing with some of this, he would say, 'Whoa, we don't tell any reporter 'you're going to regret challenging us.'" ...
"I've tangled with lots of these people. 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. I don't think its the way to operate"
On CNN, Woodward was dramatic:
BLITZER: You're used to this kind of stuff, but share with our viewers what's going on between you and the White House.
WOODWARD: Well, they're not happy at all, and some people kind of, you know, said, look, we don't see eye to eye on this. They never really said, though - afterwards, they've said that this is factually wrong, and they - and it was said to me in an e-mail by a top –
BLITZER: What was said? Yes.
WOODWARD: It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this.
BLITZER: Who sent that e-mail to you?
WOODWARD: Well, I'm not going to say.
BLITZER: Was it a senior person at the White House?
WOODWARD: A very senior person. And just as a matter - I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, you're going to regret doing something that you believe in.
That sounds so scary! Woodward's outspoken pushback earned him praise from conservatives. "Bob Woodward gets rare praise during meeting of conservative Republicans," The Daily Caller's Alex Pappas reported Wednesday. "I actually want to commend Bob Woodward," Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador said. Labrador said he assumes Woodward is a Democrat, but, "He's trying to show he's a journalist first and foremost." On MSNBC's Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski made it seem like the dispute was over who invented the sequester. Joe Scarborough scoffed, "Where do these people come from? ... These people are threatening Bob Woodward?!"
In response, the White House gave Politico the actual emails in question. They're between Woodward and economic adviser Gene Sperling. How scary are they? Well Sperling starts off sounding like an aspiring hip dad, using the term "My bad." Here's the full mean email:
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 diffferent. 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.
This shows the dispute is not over who invented the sequester, but what the expectations have been for what would replace it. In his response, Woodward sounded super nice:
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
The hosts of Morning Joe all agreed that while Bob Woodward is super tough, he can take harassment like this from the White House. The problem, Woodward maintains, is that a lesser reporter — someone less experienced, less famous — would be cowed by such threats. We hope Woodward never gets an email in ALL CAPS.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.