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.