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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

White House Handled Woodward Follies Well

In his post, “Woodward Does Duty With Phony Outrage Machine,” Eric Boehlert of Media Matters for America has an interesting take on the alleged complaint by Bob Woodward that he was somehow threatened by the white house:

Woodward’s hard-to-believe tale about being threatened, based on a single innocuous sounding phrase from an email sent by a senior White House aide, was cheered by Obama’s conservative critics who claimed it proved their long-running theory about the administration’s “thug” culture. But the shaky story of a threat quickly collapsed when the full context of Woodward’s email exchange with the White House aide, Gene Sperling, was revealed. Rather than a threat, the two men had simply engaged in a vigorous, respectful debate.
Yesterday, Woodward summoned two reporters from Politico to his home and told them his tale of woe. According to the Politico article, Sperling had pushed back on Woodward’s assertion that President Obama was “moving the goalposts” on the issue, telling Woodward in an email, “I think you will regret staking out that claim.”
From that, Woodward insisted he’d been threatened, even though “I think you will regret staking out that claim” doesn’t sound like very threatening language. Instead, it sounds like someone trying to tell Woodward he would regret publishing facts that are inaccurate. (Kind of the opposite of a threat, no?)
Indeed, when Politico published the email exchange in its entirety, the whole story fell apart. Sperling had actually written, “I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim.” And Woodward’s response certainly did not indicate that he felt threatened; he told Sperling, “I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening.”
Why Woodward decided to stage a media tour based on a false premise of a non-existent threat remains to be seen. But we do know Woodward’s now an honorary practitioner of the far right’s Phony Outrage Machine.
That’s where never-ending allegations of Obama misconduct are churned out on a daily, and even hourly basis. And it’s where there’s always a new claim to replace the last debunked one in an effort to meet readers, listeners and viewers’ insatiable appetite for news about Obama’s supposedly wicked ways…

Boehlert concludes, “But again, the story isn’t true. There was no threat issued. The only question that remains is why Woodward felt the need to concoct such a bizarre and public Beltway drama…By signing up for duty with the Phony Outrage Machine and by parading around on Fox News wringing his hands over a fictitious threat, Woodward does serious damage to his reputation.”
Woodward was on ‘Morning Joe’ this morning, walking everything back as gracefully as he could. To be fair, he did not use the word “threat” in his reporting of the incident, but it does appear that he was trying to imply it, when he had to know better, given the full context of the email exchange. David Axelrod confronted him on the program, pointing out that Woodward’s home paper, the Washington Post used the term “was threatened” in the headline. Give Axelrod credit for being fair and temperate in making his points.
In The Nation, Greg Mitchell’s “From Legend to Laughingstock: Bob Woodward Cites Bogus ‘Threat,’ Calls Obama ‘Nixonian’ gooses some chuckles out of the dust-up, beating up on Politico, as much as Woodward, and observing:

Published at the Politico site, this obsequious report (the writers also backed Woodward’s view on Obama as bad guy in the sequester debate) drew wide mockery on the web last night, even from some on the right. The “threat” appeared no different from someone’s simply warning another that they might be embarrassed if they continue with their current line of action or thinking…The White House quickly pointed out what most readers had already concluded: Woodward was completely hyping the alleged threat–sort of like Bush did with Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons. He had even said much the same thing in a hasty CNN appearance.
Now the White House has released the full text of the e-mails exchanged by the official, IDed as Gene Sperling, and Woodward–and they should bring (but probably won’t) full shame to Woodward, Vandehei and Allen.
Politico has released the full e-mails and they give lie to Woodward’s claim of feeling “threatened,” as you’ll see in Woodward’s reply and Sperling calling him “a friend.” Now we learn that Vandehei and Allen deliberately left out the key “as a friend” lead-in to the alleged “threat.” Sperling also wrote, “my bad,” and closed with: “My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.” Some threat!
…Dan Froomkin calls the whole affair in a tweet: “Bob Woodward’s Mad Hatter tea party with Allen and Vandehei…. All of them puffed up and delusional.” A writer at The Atlantic Wire observed: “We hope Woodward never gets an e-mail in ALL CAPS.” As Dick Cheney might put it, we are simply hearing the cries of old-line DC journos in the “death throes” of their game…Charles P. Pierce has fun with it all here, but adds, seriously, that Woodward played the pair “like the two-dollar fiddles that they are.” Even The Daily Caller admits they got played by Woodward.

And Ed Kilgore adds that the illustrious Pat Caddell has weighed in on the matter, at the Fox News web page, no less, likening Obama to Nixon and calling out Woodward for not adequately popping off about Benghazi. “C’mon into the fever swamps, Bob! The water’s fine!,” urges Kilgore.
It should be acknowledged that Woodward has given a hard time to Republicans, also, going back to Watergate, though many would agree that he has drifted rightward since then. However, as one of America’s most respected MSM reporters, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the GOP’s phony outrage machine.

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