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.