Don’t mess with the White House’s messaging on the sequester. That’s essentially what Bob Woodward, the famous Washington Post journalist, was recently told by an Obama Administration official.
Woodward, who released a book last year about the events that led to the sequester, wrote last week that the spending cuts set to take place tomorrow were the White House’s idea and he has been making television appearances for several days now repeating that claim.
During an interview last night on CNN, Woodward told Wolf Bitlzer that he was willing to debate the sequester with someone from the White House. Biltzer explained, “We invited the White House to send someone here to debate this issue with you, and they declined.”
“Why? Why? Because it’s irrefutable — that’s exactly what happened,” Woodward flatly stated. Woodward then noted that he was getting some pushback, telling Bitlzer that a “very senior person” at the White House told him that he “will regret doing this.”
“It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters ‘you’re gonna regret’ doing something that you believe in,” Woodward explained.
While writing the editoral, Woodward apparently let the White House know what he was doing and he was met with resistance from Gene Sperling, a top economic aide, who raised his voice at the journalist.
After the exchange, Sperling e-mailed Woodward to discuss the call and further discuss the planned editoral. The White House released those e-mails, which have been posted by Politico this morning.
“I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad,” wrote Sperling to Woodward. “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.”
He added, “But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying [sic] 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 White House has denied that there was intent of a threat, but it’s hard to read anything else but that into those words. Of course, no one is taking it to mean a physical threat, but one can easily read some sort of a professional threat. Woodward has covered several administrations, gaining access that few journalists are able to receive. To cut him off, which could be what Woodward inferred from those words, could damage to him professionally.
Either way, telling a reporter that he “will regret” something isn’t good. The media should — at least, in theory — thrive on independence. It shouldn’t be a mouthpiece for anyone, including presidents or politicians. Perhaps the White House has just gotten too used to having the media as its lapdog.