Did Woodward overreact?

As Scott pointed out yesterday, Bob Woodward has thrust himself even further into the sequestration saga by complaining that a “very senior person” at the White House warned him in an email that he would “regret” his comment that President Obama moved the goal post by asking for more revenue. Politico has presented what purports to be the email containing the threat, which was written by Gene Sperling. In context — the email is, in part, an apology — it doesn’t seem very threatening. Here is the text:

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.)

I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. 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.

If Woodward considered Sperling’s “I think you’ll regret” remark out-of-line, he didn’t say so in his 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

But Woodward’s response does seem to understand Sperling to be offering “personal advice” through the “regret” remark. So maybe he did construe it as something of a threat rather than just a way of saying that Woodward, as a professional, would regret offering commentary that is wide of the mark.

There is, to be sure, a thuggish quality to the Obama administration’s dealings with the press. It is manifested most acutely in dealings with Fox News. And, needless to say, Woodward’s sense of what a source is communicating to him deserves more weight than my reading of the same words.

Still, it seems to me that Woodward overreacted to this particular email. I’m sure that’s what I would be arguing if a Republican big-wig had written the same email to Woodward.

Whatever the case, though, there’s no denying that Woodward once again is front-and-center in a major controversy.


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