As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Another Victim of White House Abuse Pops Up

Veteran reporter Ron Fournier, the former Associated Press chief White House reporter who now is editorial director for National Journal, shares his own experience with White House bullying, which was occurring apparently even as the whole Bob Woodward episode was going down.

From his story this morning:

I tweeted: “Obama White House: Woodward is ‘willfully wrong.’ Huh-what did Nixon White House have to say about Woodward?”

. . . The (senior White House) official angered by my Woodward tweet sent me an indignant e-mail. “What’s next, a Nazi analogy?” the official wrote, chastising me for spreading “bull**** like that” I was not offended by the note, mild in comparison to past exchanges with this official. But it was the last straw in a relationship that had deteriorated.

As editor-in-chief of National Journal, I received several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Politico characterized as a veiled threat. “You will regret staking out that claim,” The Washington Post reporter was told.

Once I moved back to daily reporting this year, the badgering intensified. I wrote Saturday night, asking the official to stop e-mailing me. The official wrote, challenging Woodward and my tweet. “Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron,” the official wrote.

I wrote back:

“I asked you to stop e-mailing me. All future e-mails from you will be on the record — publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you. My cell-phone number is … . If you should decide you have anything constructive to share, you can try to reach me by phone. All of our conversations will also be on the record, publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you.”

I haven’t heard back from the official.

Fournier is no wimp and he values his sources. He is, in short, one of a handful of reporters in town I really respect. It must have taken heavy torrents of verbal sewage for him to put an end to the relationship.

It occurs to me. What kinds of people are these exactly? They show up for work every day at the most prestigious address in the world and spend a certain portion of their time acting in the most vile manner imaginable.

And they’re running the country. You can’t tell me they isolate this type of behavior and attitude to their phone calls to reporters.

And the president of the United States has no objection. This is our leadership.

Woodward is Probably Wrong

Bob Woodward appears to either be mistaken or to have exaggerated when he claimed that a senior White House official – who turns out to have been White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling – threatened him in response to Woodward’s statements about the White House handling of the sequester.

With the release of the complete emails today by Politico, it is clear that Sperling was most likely suggesting to Woodward that as a policy matter he is wrong, and that he would for this reason “regret” saying that the White House had “moved the goalposts” by seeking tax increases to replace the sequester.

This doesn’t mitigate the fact that the White House routinely bullies the press in order to suppress speech in a systematic way that is light years beyond what any previous White House I’ve covered has done. This is not, as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to suggest today, an strong airing of differences of opinion. It is a preconceived attempt to alter reporting that the White House in many cases knows is perfectly legitimate and an effort to intimidate reporters into not doing their job with tough journalism the next time around.

Nor have I seen a rebuttal to a claim by Democrat Lanny Davis that the Washington Times, for which he writes, was also threatened by the White House.

But unless there is more context that I’m not aware of, there does not appear to be a threat implied by Sperling.

Below is the text of the emails:

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.


From Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013

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

Sperling’s apologies may or may not be sincere. Half an hour of screaming seems like a standard White House tactic to get journalists to change their story.

But Sperling, were he threatening Woodward, would probably not have been so incredibly subtle. And Woodward’s response is hardly the outraged protest of someone who thinks he is in danger of retribution.

Report: Gene Sperling Threatened Woodward

Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith is reporting that a “source familiar with the exchange” said National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling is the senior White House official who berated Bob Woodward for half an hour and then threatened him in an email over his reporting on the sequester.

Sperling is a veteran Democratic official who held the same position as NEC Director in the Clinton White House. He’s part political operative and part economist, and if he is indeed the one who bullied Woodward, it wouldn’t be surprising because he is directly involved in both the sequester and the politics of the issue.

Lanny Davis Also Threatened by the White House

Former Clinton White House official Lanny Davis today said he too was threatened by a White House official.

Lanny DavisSpeaking this morning on Washington radio station WMAL’s Morning on the Mall program, Davis said a White House official had threatened the Washington Times over Davis’s column in the paper, warning that the newspaper could lose its access to the White House.

“That exact thing happened to me,” Davis said. Davis said his editor at the Times, John Solomon, “received a phone call from a senior Obama White House official who didn’t like some of my columns, even though I’m a supporter of Obama. I couldn’t imagine why this call was made.”  Davis says the Obama aide told Solomon, “that if he continued to run my columns, he would lose, or his reporters would lose their White House credentials.”

Davis said he decided to mention the incident after Bob Woodward came forward and said the White House had threatened him over his reporting about the sequester.

Breaking: WH to Expand Aid to Syrian Rebels

Secretary of State John Kerry announced today that the United States will provide limited new assistance to the Syrian rebels by sending in military rations and medical supplies. The offer is well short of the armaments the rebels want. I don’t know, this is almost a kind of joke. I really don’t understand incrementalism. If… Continue Reading

Woodward: The White House Threatened Me

Legendary Washington reporter Bob Woodward said  a “very senior person” in the White House threatened that he would “regret” reporting that has been critical of White House handling of the sequester. Normally this doesn’t surprise me, it’s how the White House operates, bullying reporters who write things it doesn’t like. Frankly, it’s Nixonian. This is… Continue Reading

Lew Confirmed as Treasury Secretary

Former White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew was confirmed in the Senate today by a 71-26 vote. President Obama released a statement saying he was “pleased,” and, At this critical time for our economy and our country, there is no one more qualified for this position than Jack. Actually, there a lots of people… Continue Reading