The New York Times finally noticed what Washington has obsessed over the last few days -- the dust-up between veteran Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward and the Obama White House over an email from a White House aide (apparently Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council) who emailedhis disagreement with Woodward's characterization that the White House had moved the goalposts regarding the sequester: "I think you will regret staking out that claim."
Woodward told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he considered that a veiled threat. Yet his fellow journalists at the Times (as opposed to "conservatives") have now followed most of the mainstream media in taking the side of the government.
On Friday Christine Haughney and lead media reporter Brian Stelter mocked conservatives for their new support for the journalist who brought down Republican president Richard Nixon in Watergate: "Woodward Is New Hero For the Right (Yes, Really)."
For nearly 40 years, Bob Woodward has been considered a near-saint by many journalists for helping break the Watergate scandal and a scourge by conservatives for doing the same. This week, that flipped after Mr. Woodward publicly criticized the White House, saying he had been told he would “regret” his reporting on the fiscal impasse.
His feud with an unnamed official, first reported in Politico, which said Mr. Woodward clearly saw the administration’s choice of words “as a veiled threat,” initially drew cheers from many conservative commentators and bewilderment from many Washington reporters who wondered whether Mr. Woodward was being a tad oversensitive.
In an interview later on Thursday, Mr. Woodward emphasized that he had not said he felt threatened. “I never said it was a threat,” he said, but added that he still had concerns about how the administration handled criticism. “We live in a world where they don’t like to be challenged, particularly when the political stakes are so high,” he said.
The dust-up started last Friday, when The Washington Post published an op-ed article by Mr. Woodward that said Mr. Obama was “moving the goal posts” by insisting that a substitute for the Congressionally mandated automatic spending cuts include new revenue. “That was not the deal he made” back in 2011, Mr. Woodward wrote.
The staff of the House speaker, John A. Boehner, circulated the article to reporters immediately. By Sunday, when the article appeared in print, the headline of Politico’s widely read Playbook newsletter read “Woodward v. White House!”
On Wednesday Mr. Woodward attracted streams of new conservative friends when he said that an unnamed senior White House official had yelled at him “for about a half-hour” and warned that he would “regret this.” After Politico published his comments under the headline “Woodward at War,” Twitter lighted up with vigorous debate.
To some Republican politicians and conservative activists, Mr. Woodward’s assertions were new evidence of their belief that the Obama administration exerts tremendous pressure on a mostly cowed news media. Representative Steve Stockman, Republican of Texas, said in a statement, “Even Bob Woodward accuses Obama of ‘madness.’ ” The Fox News host Steve Doocy defended Mr. Woodward and said, “This White House is one of the most thin-skinned White Houses ever.”
But in the worlds of politics and journalism, a consensus was forming around the suggestion -- supported by people close to the White House -- that Mr. Woodward had overreacted.
On Thursday morning Politico published their e-mail exchange, which seemed remarkably polite. Mr. Sperling started by saying: “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad.” He later said “perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here” and “as a friend, I think you will regret staking that claim.” Mr. Woodward responded: “You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them.”