I was busy with something else and somehow missed the big Bob Woodward spat last night. Toward the end of the evening I reconnected with Twitter and caught up with a few exhausted tweets from people who were tired of the Woodward thing, or disgusted with the Woodward thing, or whatever, but I didn't quite realize that something genuinely new had happened.
But yes. It's splashed all over Drudge: "White House Threatens Woodward"! WTF? Well, one of the nice things about missing this in real time is that the whole story has now played out and I can catch up with it in a few minutes. Basically, Woodward told CNN that a "very senior person" at the White House had threatened that he would "regret doing this" if he published a story saying that the sequester originated with Obama. After fast forwarding through an entire day of confused stories, it turns out the official is Gene Sperling, and here's the email he sent Woodward last Friday:
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.
Woodward responded the next day that Sperling had no need to apologize. "I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance."
Some threat, huh? As a friend put it via email, "It's odd that a reporter who you would have to assume has had many run-ins, shouting matches, accusations, etc. would go public with his perceived slights. I can't imagine a junior reporter taking this tack now and not being chastised for mishandling it."
Something very odd is going on with Woodward. The point of Sperling's email is clear: he's not taking issue with the idea that the White House proposed the sequester, but he does think Woodward is wrong when he says both sides agreed that the sequester substitute would be purely spending cuts with no tax increases. Virtually everyone in Washington agrees that Woodward is wrong about that, yet he's been repeating that line for the past week in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary.
What's more, Sperling quite clearly didn't threaten Woodward, and Woodward didn't take it as a threat at the time. Again: WTF?