This week, seasoned reporter and Washington Post columnist Bob Woodward administered a selfinflicted beating to his starry reputation when he effectively slandered comments by Senior Economic Adviser Gene Sperling, claiming them to be threats.
Last year, the veteran reporter of the Watergate and Bush Eras debuted his book The Price of Politics, the research for which provided him with a unique perspective on the impending sequester. While Woodward’s most recent book did not drum up controversy, he made up for it this week in his column for the Washington Post. In that column, he claimed that Obama was "moving goal posts" on the sequester rather than trying to avoid it altogether. The content of the column, however, is not what sparked the media firestorm, but rather the charade Woodward proceeded to put on that has forever tarnished his reputation.
Woodward reported on February 27 that he had been threatened by the Obama White House for challenging their position on the sequester. He went on to say that Sperling yelled at him for a half hour over the phone before the column ran in the Post, and wrote a scathing e-mail after the column ran saying Woodward would "regret" challenging the Administration. Had this been the case, Woodward would have been right in what he proceeded to do. He publicly admonished the White House for pushing back on his claims and "threatening" him, asserting that it is the job of a reporter to challenge the powers that be.
In an interview with Politico, Woodward spoke of his fear for the future of the relationship between the press and the government. Woodward characterized himself as a victim, the lone man who still respects the First Amendment. He described to the interviewers his desire for America to have an independent and factual press. (Some would argue that we already do have that with fact-checking blogs and public broadcasting, but that’s beside the point).
Woodward turned up the heat by harping on the words "you will regret" and comparing the emails to the Nixon Administration’s relationship with the press. Conservative pundits and media outlets were happy to support him against what Ben Shapiro on Fox News called the "Obama defense brigade." As quickly as it started, the jig was up.
On Thursday morning, Politico got hold of and posted the e-mail correspondence between Woodward and the White House’s Gene Sperling. Where Woodward claimed Sperling threatened that he would "regret" challenging the Administration, the e-mail actually says, "I know you might not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." Sperling closed his message with, "My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize."
Threatening, eh? To add insult to injury, Woodward’s response is, "Gene, you do not ever have to apologize to me ... this is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat." Clearly Woodward is not actually threatened here, so what’s going on? Nobody knows.
So far, the winding down and the aftermath of the debacle have been somewhat bizarre. The right-wing media accepts that it was played by "troll" Woodward. The previous comparisons made to Nixon-era intimidation of the press look ludicrous. Nixon was out to kill a reporter while Sperling was out to ... apologize. Finally, Woodward continued to do the opposite of anything logical and appeared on Sean Hannity’s show Thursday night. That is a place no one should go when they want to redeem their legitimacy.
Whatever Woodward’s motivations were, they backfired. He lost credibility on all sides. This was plain and simple a boy crying "wolf!" Very few will take him seriously in the future. It is sad, but also ironic considering his plea in his Politico interview for a fact-based press. Was he trying to show us what not to do?
Now that Woodward has shut up, why don’t we focus on the real issue at hand: the sequester.