The Woodward "Regret" Emails Surface: Did The Obama Administration Try To Intimidate Him?

by
Owen Poindexter
Bob Woodward is suddenly embroiled in a controversy with the White House over an email exchange he had with them. Now we have the emails. Who was right?

Veteran political journalist Bob Woodward is making an incredibly bold claim about the Obama Administration: that they tried to intimidate him out of writing something bad about Obama and the sequester. The White House says that Woodward is being ridiculous. Is the Obama Administration trying to block Woodward from telling the truth? Is Woodward creating a controversy to get attention and market himself as an edgy journalist? This is one case where we can assess for ourselves, because Politico has obtained the emails between Woodward and White House senior official Gene Sperling that started this whole thing.

So, reading comprehension test. Please describe the tone of this letter. Is it:

a) Angry
b) Apologetic
c) Threatening
d) Friendly

"Bob: 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 ... that Potus [President of the United States] 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 bar[g]ain 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 [Budget Control Act of 2011]: 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. 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. Gene'

Alright, so, correct me if I'm wrong (comments, twitter) but this seems apologetic, spoken in friendship, looking to find common ground, etc. Sperling expresses a lot of these sentiments to Woodward in phrases like: "I apologize," "My bad," "I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement," and finally, "my apologies again...feel bad about that and truly apologize."

But could there be coded messages here? And what to make of Sperling's repeated apologies to Woodward? What did he say that he now feels the need to back off of so hastily? We can actually get the answers to those as well, because we have Woodward's response:

"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 Sent from my iPhone"

Alright. So, two friends, one a journalist, one a White House staffer had a heated discussion over a hot political topic of the day, but there is no bad blood and they proceed with plans to talk more to hash out their differences. That's what I see here, and again, let me know if I'm missing something.

Because, according to Woodward, I am missing something:

All of a sudden, Woodward is very uncomfortable with Gene Sperling's email, and is very focused on being told he will "regret" writing something. This doesn't just seem to contradict the tone of Sperling's email, it runs contra to Woodward's response. Again: "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"

Woodward's claim of intimidation centers around the word "regret." Yes, it sounds really bad for a White House senior official to tell a journalist "you will regret" writing something unfavorable about the Obama Administration, but in context, it seems clear enough that the regret would be because time would tell that Woodward's claim was wrong. Not because the trenchcoated intimidation squad would start following Woodward around, because he was misinterpreting the original point of a piece of legislation.

So, you have as much evidence as everyone else, including the right wing blogosphere which is going nuts with this story. Last question. Is Bob Woodward:

a) A heroic journalist, fighting against intimidation tactics of the most powerful government in the world.
b) An attention whore, playing the victim for his own personal gain.

Let's get a tally going in the comments.

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