Yeah, sadly, Bob Woodward made a fool of himself

Bob Woodward from Wikipedia

So here’s why I get paid an incredible amount of money to do my job:  People shout at me.  Every day.  News flash.  Journalists are less popular than Congress and Congress is less popular than cockroaches.

I mention all this because Bob Woodward titillated the political world in the build-up to today’s sequester by arguing that the White House was trying to brush him off the plate with an ominous email.

According to Woodward’s account, a top Obama administration official told Woodward that he would “regret” sticking to a narrative about the sequester that didn’t jive with the White House’s version.

Woodward has suggested repeatedly that the email was a veiled threat, and somehow falls outside the bounds of civil engagement between government, people in power, and the press.

To which I reply:  Hokum.  Piffle.  Baloney.  What’s worse, Woodward clearly knows it.

You don’t cover the most powerful politicians in the world for half a century, as Woodward has done, without learning that people sometimes raise their voices.

I’ve been called things by government officials that would turn your hair white (it actually did turn my hair white).  And those are people I still drink beer and ski with.

Politics ain’t bean bag, a the saying goes, and neither is the art of telling true stories about politicians.

Yet in an interview last night with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Woodward repeated his chiding, injured tone, suggesting that he was given some kind of inappropriate dressing-down:  “It’s not the way to operate in a White House.”

But first of all, that is exactly the way the White House has always operated from, like, the first time we had a White House.

And when you read the email exchange, you find that it was — in the world of political journalism — astonishingly cordial, profoundly non-threatening.

What’s more, the notion that anyone in Washington can “threaten” Bob Woodward, or would try to do so on a story as small-beer as the sequester, is simply laughable.

The conclusion across the jouralist-industrial complex — right left and center — is that Woodward made a fool of himself and for once the conventional wisdom is right.

Woodward committed the cardinal sin of trying very hard indeed to make the story about himself.  Then one of the deans of the American compounded his error by turning out to be full of hot air.

Then he compounded the error yet again by peddling his sad tale to anyone who would listen, up to and including one of the deans of hot air Sean Hannity.

This is a guy who stood up to the malignancy of the Nixon machine, who penetrated some of the thickest veils of secrecy in Washington.

And now he’s got his nickers in a twist about a government official — a good friend of his, by the way — who got a little hot under the collar?

Yes, my friends, American journalism is not what it once was.

28 Comments on “Yeah, sadly, Bob Woodward made a fool of himself”

Leave a Comment
  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It seems deeper than the current incident. It seems that Bob Woodward has become less of a straight journalist and more of a conservative cheerleader. He wasn’t as bad as Judith Miller in his push for the war in Iraq, but he was pushing it. This seems like more of the same.


  2. Rancid Crabtree says:

    I agree completely Brian. I just read the whole email and the “threat” is not there. I do note however that it’s clear from the email that the sequester is exactly what I said it was- blackmail, leverage, a way to get more entitlements and taxes. That’s not good IMO.

    Woodward is just trying to remain relevant, just like Jimmy Carter. They aren’t, they had their day and it’s over. Time to move on.

  3. mervel says:

    I like him, I wonder though if he considers himself a journalist anymore? As Brian points out journalists get fired at and yelled at all of the time, but others maybe those who consider themselves above the fray don’t like it. I think he likely is reading his own press, he is a living legend, and when you believe you are a living legend it probably impacts you not in a good way.

  4. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, his response to an apology email:

    Woodward, who would later profess to be unnerved by Sperling’s email, replied very calmly:

    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.

    This is beyond being caught up in his own sense of greatness, he is blatantly misrepresenting the situation — and that is the end to credibility for a journalist.

  5. Daniel says:

    So, another email subject to misinterpretaiton. Where did I see another article like this?

  6. Mayflower says:

    Mr. Woodward stopped, long ago, being a journalist. Today he is a professional insider who relishes being the BFF of those in power. It gets him book contracts, backdoor access, and lots of invitations to parties and golf games.

    Consequently, he was genuinely and deeply offended when a White House official treated him like a (mere) journalist.

  7. Kathy says:

    Perhaps Woodward is tired of how the WH has operated over the years and used this (poorly) as an opportunity to vent.

  8. Kathy says:

    … and expose.

  9. Pete Klein says:

    I’ve never been a fan of Woodward, primarily because I am not a fan of reporters using unnamed sources.

  10. JDM says:

    I think it’s revealing that the media would throw Woodward under the bus for Obama.

    Circle the wagons, peeps.

  11. Brian says:

    But that’s not what happened, JDM. What happened is that in the first 24 hours after he made his claim, the media accepted his side of the story as factual. There was near-universal condemnation of the White House’s behavior, from Salon to CNN to Fox to the Washington Post and on and on.

    Then the emails were released by the White House. And everyone read them. Including the most conservative journalists who were willing, ready and eager to buy Woodward’s narrative. They read the email and said, “Wait. This isn’t intimidation. This is goofy. And embarrassing.”

    –Brian, NCPR

  12. Gary says:

    Brian, your missing a very important point. Yesterday I saw a poll which showed half of the people in this country don’t trust the media to report the news accurately. What the White House is doing reinforces the publics distrust!

  13. Brian says:

    Gary – Really? By sending an email arguing a factual point with a reporter, the White House is eroding trust in the free press? I’d say Woodward is doing a fine job of that on his own by crying wolf. If a government official threatens a reporter — and there are places in the world where real, physical threats and threats of serious intimidation are leveled against journalists every day — that’s a big story. Getting your ear chewed by an angry official? That’s called being a reporter.

    –Brian, NCPR

  14. Mervel says:

    “Today he is a professional insider who relishes being the BFF of those in power. It gets him book contracts, backdoor access, and lots of invitations to parties and golf games” Mayflower, well given the choice between that and a journalist I can see why he relishes being a professional insider!

  15. PNElba says:

    I think Woodward is fighting the malignancy of the Obama White House. After all, Benghazi was worse than Watergate.

  16. Paul says:

    This is part of the reason that these media companies are going down the tubes.

    Eventually technology will eliminate the need for any of these middle-men (and women). Don’t worry Brian I think you are safe for a while yet!

  17. Paul says:

    One thing I don’t get. I thought he was talking about a verbal discussion he had and not just an email? How can you “raise your voice” in an email?

    Was there a horse head in his bed this morning?

  18. Paul says:

    On an NPR blog they had a good quote from the senior CBS news White house correspondent. He said that if they are mad than you are onto something. Woodward should know that from experience.

  19. Brian says:

    Paul – They had a phone conversation and then the White House guy emailed to apologize for raising his voice. That’s when he used the word “regret” that got Woodward’s knickers in a twist.

    Brian, NCPR

  20. newt says:

    My unnamed sources (some tweet I saw some TV news show) allege that Woodward did this because his latest book on the Obama White House is not selling, and he thought this, (White House threatening retribution for his daring expose), might be a good way to goose sales.

    Or, not.

  21. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Is he starting to regret anything?

  22. jeff says:

    That mistake, if it is one, doesn’t destroy a body of work. Horses nicker. Knickers get knoted. Mistakes can be overcome.

    If he has stumbled will the industry blacklist him?

    His relevance over the last 4 decades is clear given the three books of his I’ve read in the last 3 years.

  23. Paul says:

    Brian, thanks.

    So is it pretty common for folks to tell you that you will “regret” a story you have planned. I defer to you here, if the guy is a fool in this case than I am sure he is.

  24. Brian says:

    I know we’ve mostly milked all the interest out of this issue, but I can’t help noting the kind of nonsense that continues to get peddled here.

    Kathleen Parker, a conservative who writes for Woodward’s paper, wrote a column that appeared today defending the broad narrative that Woodward was threatened.

    What’s remarkable, though, is that her entire piece rests on two categorically untrue propositions.

    Here’s what she writes:

    Again, Woodward’s kneecaps are probably safe, but the challenge to his facts, and therefore to his character, was unusual, given Woodward’s stature. And, how, by the way, might Woodward come to regret it? Sperling’s words, though measured, could be read as: “You’ll never set foot in this White House again.”

    First, real journalists have their facts challenged — in loud, grown-up voices — by P-R people all the time. It’s not remotely unusual. What’s more, it doesn’t always represent a knock on our character and in this case the emails make it clear that they were not. This was a heated exchange between friends.

    Second, Parker engages in a series of make-believe statements which are equally goofy. She imagines ways that the White House might force Woodward to “regret” crossing the President. But the email exchange doesn’t give any indication that such a threat is intended or implied. She then makes up from whole cloth a demonstrably false concept, the idea that Bob Woodward might “never set foot in this White House again.”

    Parker clearly knows that no White House is going to banish Bob Woodward, certainly over an issue as (relatively speaking) small as this. The idea is farcical. It’s a non-starter. Illustrated here is how far people will go to sustain a favored culture war narrative — in this case, Obama is a svengali who manipulates the press in new and unprecedented ways — even when the facts simply don’t support it.

    –Brian, NCPR

  25. mervel says:

    Also consider the feeling of entitlement and victim hood of someone being “punished” by the government through the penalty of “never setting foot in the white house again”. What happened to the guy who thought his life was in danger from the crazy Nixon White House, who now feels threatened by not getting to hang out in the White House?

  26. mervel says:

    Actually his reaction is really interesting and I think shows the danger of balancing access to power with becoming a servant or shill for power. If Nixon had let Woodward hang out in the White House and courted him as he seems to expect from Obama, would the Watergate story have broke at all? Now Woodard writes a marginally critical article about Obama and is worried about his White House invites, well if not getting a White House invite makes him upset, I wonder how many stories he HAS NOT written because of fear of pissing off his high level friends and buddies in politics?

  27. “Mr. Woodward stopped, long ago, being a journalist. Today he is a professional insider…”

    Mayflower: that’s what most Washington (and Albany) journalists are nowadays. The real journalism is being done by those outside the corridors of the Capitol or capitals. Whether it be people like Brian Mann or those like Seymour Hersch (New Yorker) or Pro Publica…

Leave a Reply