Saturday, February 13, 2016

Woodward's 'Threatengate'

The flap over Bob Woodward the White House threatening him is almost comical and yet another Washington insider distraction from the lack of Washington leadership.

Woodward's 'Threatengate'

Bob Woodward. (Associated Press)
Bob Woodward. (Associated Press)

Okay, couple things.

First, it's a tad ironic that right-leaning media and White House opponents are clinging to Bob Woodward and The Washington Post over charges by Woodward that he was threatened by President Obama's National Economic Council chief Gene Sperling.

As The New York Times puts it Woodward is the new hero of the right.

Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman says, "Even Bob Woodward accuses Obama of 'madness.'"

Rush Limbaugh says the story here is lamestream media siding with the White House and throwing one of its own under the bus.

Really? Woodward and The Post are now victims?

Second, anyone working in journalism for more than six months that doesn't annoy those he or she is covering should probably look for another line of work.

Third, anyone remotely familiar with political journalism and the fragile egos of those in politics knows that "threats," subtle and overt, are common and that journalistic lifelines, namely access, are commonly cut off as the result of stories, columns, editorials, photos or cartoons that those in power find offensive or unflattering.

Woodward, a nationally respected reporter, columnist and author who helped take down a president, is an American icon and a role model for a generation of journalists. But in this case he is a whining wuss.

Look at the full emails in question, remembering that emails cannot convey tone or emphasis.

Sperling begins with an apology for raising his voice in an apparently heated discussion over Woodward's reporting on sequestration and Obama's role in making it happen the way it's happened.

But if you consider the context of "the threat," it seems no threat at all. Sperling contends Woodward is wrong in assertions that Obama changed his position regarding seeking revenues to settle sequestration. Sperling writes, "As a friend, I think you'll regret staking out that claim."

This sounds more like advice than warning.

And how upset was Woodward to receive it? Well, his emailed response includes Woodward writing that he welcomes Sperling's personal advice. Here's the full Woodward email.

"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"

So, you know, gimme a break. People in power always try to intimidate journalists. And any notion that Woodward would retreat from his own beliefs or reporting because of either friendly advice or overt threat to do so is nonsense. Sperling knows that. And Woodward knows that.

And the attention this "threat" has gotten is something both no doubt "regret."


Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

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