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Bob Woodward: I Never Said It Was A Threat, But I Didn’t Disagree With Those Who Did

Last night, Bob Woodward was on television seemingly walking back much of what he’d said about his email exchange with Gene Sperling:

Bob Woodward is seeking to distance himself from reports that he felt “threatened” by the White House, more than 24 hours after criticizing senior White House aide Gene Sperling for telling him he might regret questioning Obama’s account of how sequestration came about.

In an interview with his own paper, The Washington Post, Woodward says he never called Sperling’s comment a threat.

“I never characterized it as a ‘threat.’ I think that was Politico’s word,” he said, referring to the story about his initial interview with POLITICO. “I said I think that language is unfortunate and I don’t think it’s the way to operate. . . . [Sperling's] language speaks for itself. I don’t think that’s the way to operate.”

Woodward never used the word “threat” in his interviews with POLITICO and CNN, but he frequently fastened upon Sperling’s use of the word “regret” as an example of the White House trying to exert power. Woodward has also said that the word made him feel “uncomfortable,” despite the fact that Sperling’s email has been interpreted by many reporters as cordial and friendly.

“‘You’ll regret.’ Come on. 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,’” he told POLITICO.

(…)

In his subsequent interview with CNN, Woodward said, “They have the power. When someone says ‘you’ll regret something,’ they can use their power any way they want. It’s a tone question…. I’ve been dealing with White House people going back to the Nixon years. They called us every name in the book. [This] just strikes me as not a way to deal with this. It makes me uncomfortable.”

Finally, during the course of his interview with CNN, Wolf Blitzer characterized Sperling’s remarks as a threat and Woodward accepted that characterization.

“Those of us who have known you for a long time, we know you’re not going to be intimidated or threatened by any senior official at the White House,” Blitzer said. “You’ve gone through a lot worse than this.”

“Indeed,” Woodward said.

Later in the evening, on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox, Woodward seemed to continue to provide fodder for those on the the right who see this as evidence of some kind of Nixonian regime in place in the White House:

[Woodward] described a phone call he had with Sperling as “a half hour in which he was shouting at me.” He added, “People have said, well, this was a threat or I was saying it was a threat. I haven’t used that language.”

However, even as he was denying describing the email as a threat, Woodward made clear that he saw something untoward about Sperling’s words. He said they carried weight because Sperling was, as he put it, Obama’s “economic czar,” and “not just a guy in the White House.” He was worried, he continued, about how younger reporters would react to being “roughed up.”

He also said the word “regret” was “coded” to mean “you better watch out” — a description that sounds very much like a threat.

I’m not sure what game Woodward is playing here. Given the actual text of Sperling’s email, and Wooward’s response, it’s hard to see exactly what coding Woodward is saying was going on here. Moreover, is the guy whose reporting helped bring down a Presidency really intimidated by an email from a Presidential aide?  I certainly don’t see it happening.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. legion says:

    This really needs to be the end of the “being taken seriously” part of Woodward’s career.

    I’m not sure what game Woodward is playing here.

    The same game we’ve seen time after time in the Beltway pundit scene: “I’m not in the news enough – I better say something outrageous!” For these people, there really is no such thing as “bad publicity”…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 0

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Yep. Need air time? Feeling ignored? Book not selling? Pick a stupid fight, make some asinine claims, then when the email shows you’re lying, run to Fox News.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 2

  3. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    As Conor Friedersdorf noted last night (via Twitter):

    If Woodward wants to air actual examples of Obama White House intimidating reporters I’m all for it. If Woodward wants to complain about the secrecy, the war on whistleblowers, the improper classification, that would be awesome. But he isn’t willing to speak up for the press in any way that is actually adversarial to power.

    BOOM.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 1

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Axelrod made a fool of the former reporter, turned stenographer, this morning on MSNBC.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_jgL4F7bGhM

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  5. James in LA says:

    Woodward sounds like a bit of a nincompoop these days. I think for most, his service during Watergate would have been enough. He sounds like a old piano that has not been tuned this century.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  6. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Pick a stupid fight, make some asinine claims, then when the email shows you’re lying, run to Fox News.

    You’re going to regret writing that, Michael.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Hey! Rafer’s making me feel very uncomfortable. Oh. . . Okay, no, I was just sitting on my phone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  8. G.A.Phiilips says:

    Pick a stupid fight, make some asinine claims, then when the email shows you’re lying

    lol….to bad you don’t feel this way about the global warming scam.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 21

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @G.A.Phiilips: Why do you feel that global warming is a “scam”? Do you have any evidence of this, or are you simply regurgitating what you see on Fox News?

    P.S. What would convince you that Global Warming actually exists? And if you say “nothing”, you have aptly demonstrated that you’re not interested in reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  10. mantis says:

    @G.A.Phiilips:

    to bad you don’t feel this way about the global warming scam.

    Do you ever say to yourself, “Man, it is amazing how stupid I am.”? Just curious.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  11. john personna says:

    @G.A.Phiilips:

    Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution coined a wonderful phrase. Yours is a perfect example of a self-refuting comment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  12. Franklin says:

    It’s not clear what this story has to do with global warming, perhaps a certain comment should be removed so that the adults can talk.

    So anyway, I think to really get deep into this we’d have to know the actual relationship between Woodward and Sperling. They’re described as “friends”, and I guess I don’t see any way that between friends that the sentence, in context, can seem very intimidating. I do think Sperling was trying to spin the story in a certain way (which to me was inaccurate but inconsequential), but what was the threat? That he’d disagree more vehemently? Or was there something understood between them, like access could be reduced (which doesn’t seem like something a “friend” would do)? Personally I don’t see it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. matt bernius says:

    @mantis:

    Do you ever say to yourself, “Man, it is amazing how stupid I am.”? Just curious.

    Did you read Larison’s take on what James wrote a couple days ago… it fits nicely into the larger story of Woodward and GA’s ongoing climate change denial:
    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/movement-conservatisms-misinformation-problem/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. john personna says:

    @Franklin:

    That comment does illustrate how a certain kind of mind works.

    Why can’t you trust Obama on the budget?

    “Global Warming!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  15. john personna says:

    @matt bernius:

    From that:

    The deeper problem here is that many of these outlets and writers don’t accept that the “facts on the ground” are the real facts, and so replace them with “facts” that are consistent with the party line or the ideological boundaries being enforced.

    As indeed … “Global Warming!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. mantis says:

    @matt bernius:

    Did you read Larison’s take on what James wrote a couple days ago… it fits nicely into the larger story of Woodward and GA’s ongoing climate change denial:

    I read Larison every day. I only wish that conservatives/Republicans like James, Daniel, and Conor were not the tiny minority they are. If a larger chunk of the right were as sensible as they are, we might have a government that actually functioned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    “Global Warming!”

    John don’t forget “Acorn!” and the latest iteration, “BENGHAZI!!!” (if you say that last one just right it sounds like “BANZAI!!!!)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Heh:

    It happened in the West Wing, in 2011, during a discussion about the federal budget. I suggested the Obama Administration was not doing enough to protect Medicare. Sperling got in my face, leaned into me with the entirety of his five-foot-five frame, and unleashed a verbal torrent. Had I noticed the president protected low-income seniors? Had I read the full text of the fiscal 2012 budget proposal? Had I seen the latest microeconomic forecasts? The statistical assault went on for minutes—searing, painful minutes—and I’ve never quite gotten over it. At night, when I’m trying to fall asleep, sometimes I hear Sperling’s Midwestern twang, taunting me with obscure citations from the Congressional Budget Office.

    I might never have had the courage to speak up about this, if Bob Woodward hadn’t broken the silence that Sperling’s victims have long maintained.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. G.A.Phiilips says:

    Why do you feel that global warming is a “scam”? Do you have any evidence of this, or are you simply regurgitating what you see on Fox News?

    I don’t watch FOX NEWS!!!!! I can’t stand the stupid Catholics or the libs they put on there!!! The same reason I don’t come here much anymore…

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100194166/man-made-global-warming-even-the-ipcc-admits-the-jig-is-up/?goback=.gde_44711_member_217925535

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  20. CSK says:

    Sheesh. I’m a writer, and I’ve had people REALLY threaten me. Write about crime or politics, and it pretty much comes with the turf.

    P.S. I’m a girl.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  21. Tsar Nicholas says:

    You know what’s truly surreal about this absurd kerfuffle?

    For many, many decades liberals in the media (BIRM) incessantly bashed Republican politicians. 24/7/365. Made no difference whether what the left was saying was misleading. Didn’t matter if it was accurate. Hell, it made no difference whether they were making shit up and literally pulling fake documents out of their arses. It was all OK. Move along, nothing to see. The ends justified the means.

    But now a liberal Democrat media (BIRM) museum piece happens to say a few negative things about Team Obama and the political left goes into absolute high dudgeon mode. Woodward is a hack. He’s senile. He’s a right wing loon. He should retire. He’s so yesterday, man.

    From the left’s twisted perspective it’s as if Woodward took a dump on the Mona Lisa.

    All of this speaks at such high volumes about the disorder known as leftism. Liberals are so deranged they simply can’t process, much less countenance, anything that might slightly burst a bubble or two of theirs. Any such information must be torn into little bits and pieces and buried alive. Then nuked from orbit, just to make sure.

    Wow.

    In any event, speaking of inanities and irrelevancies, back in the summer of 1997 WaPo’s stock traded around $400 per share. Now, well over fifteen years later? It’s at $395. Think about that for a few moments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @ JP…

    “…a self-refuting comment…”

    Do you really think he is capable of understanding that?
    Just curious…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. legion says:

    @G.A.Phiilips: You mean this James Delingpole?

    Mr Delingpole then inaccurately states that the Met Office has conceded ‘there is no evidence that ‘global warming’ is happening’. We have not said this at any point.

    In fact, we explicitly say this was not the case in an article, posted on the home page of our website and widely circulated, which was written in response to articles about updates to our decadal forecast.

    The inaccurate, lying nutjob? That’s what you base your worldview on? Explains a lot…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  24. Franklin says:

    @G.A.Phiilips:

    I don’t watch FOX NEWS!!!!! I can’t stand the stupid Catholics or the libs they put on there!!!

    Aside from the obvious humor here, it’s clear that you refuse to listen to anybody you might disagree with. That explains your lack of knowledge.

    /you’re welcome

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. Mr. Replica says:

    Here is Woodward’s interview with Hannity.
    (Youtube)

    Part 1

    Part 2

    I think Woodward knows he is in the twilight of his career, if not the end. He sees people on cable news networks get these un-challenging, cushy jobs that pay a whole lot of money. I think Bob likes what he sees. And I think he feels he will get paid handsomely by Ailes. All Bob has to do is toe the scripted line and all will be well.

    What other reason/s would someone like Woodward, who once was at the top of the journalism world, go on Hannity of all places and basically kiss FoxNews’ (and Sean’s) ass?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK:

    P.S. I’m a girl.

    I guess that means you have more balls than Woodward.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  27. CSK says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Nah. But my ovaries–the girl equivalent–are the size of volleyballs. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  28. al-Ameda says:

    Bob just outed himself as a second-rate Drama Queen. ‘They threatened me I tell you!’ Then, ‘well not really but, I agree with Republicans who want to use me for political purposes.’

    Pathetic, even by conservative media standards.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. CSK says:

    I once knew a reporter who used to get threatened by bad guys on a regular basis. His response was: “Take a number, dickn*se.” I always loved that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Scott O says:

    Does anyone know Woodward’s number? I want to yell at him for half an hour too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK:

    But my ovaries–the girl equivalent–are the size of volleyballs.

    Sweet little murmurs whispered in my ear will get you nowhere…. ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0