Woodward White House “Regret Threat” Source Revealed; Somewhat Disappointing

Bob Woodward Sequester Threat

The great “You’re going to regret this” Obama administration-to-journalist melodrama finally has a name to attach to the idle threat… Gene Sperling.  I’ll pause for the collective “WHO?”

For those of you wondering, Gene Sperling is the director of the White House Economic Council.  Yeah, I had to look him up as well.  And just in case you’ve not been following the story, the journalist at the center of it is Bob Woodward – formerly of Watergate fame.  He’s more or less considered one of the most accomplished journalists of this generation.  In a nutshell, he’s kind of a big deal.

The controversy began when Woodward dared to assert that President Obama’s attempts to blame Republicans for sequestration were both disingenuous and factually inaccurate.  When the administration caught wind of the coming story’s release, Woodward was told he’d “regret” the decision to challenge the president’s narrative.  That “threat” caused quite a national stir among journalists and political news followers alike.

And now we have the source of the “threat”; and the email that contained it.

From Politico:  [From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013]


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 saying 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 idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain 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: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)

Read the full email exchange here…

“Threat” seems a bit harsh, no?

If you read the email exchange, it’s clear to see that Woodward and Sperling are – at the very least – acquaintances; maybe even friends.  One could easily argue that what Bob perceived to be a threat was really nothing more than a word of caution for a colleague – that the “truth” would paint his work in an unfavorable light.  That said, if Woodward and Sperling are “close”; who am I to judge what is or could be interpreted as a threat between two people that know one another?

Beyond that, friend or no friend, if this was any reporter – not named Bob Woodward – the email probably would have been received as a threat.  Just the threat of denial of access to White House officials could potentially kill a Washington reporter’s career.  Imagine a beat writer for the New York Yankees being barred from the club house.  Think he’s going to have his job for long?

What’s the takeaway here?

I’m inclined to say… this is pretty much the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from this White House.  Is anyone out there really all that surprised to find out that administration officials are capable of trying to control what news is reported about this president?  If so, have you been paying attention for much of the last four years?

Don’t get me wrong.  To some degree short of threats, that’s their job.  They work for a man who works in the industry that is American politics.  It’s a dirty business.  If you’re not framing the debate in a light most favorable to your boss, the other side will certainly do it for you; albeit less favorably.

The White House wants to chain sequestration around the necks of House Republicans; and they’re succeeding at doing so.  One can only wonder how many other journalists were threatened to assist the cause.

Not the only threat?

Did you really think it was?

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