They came to me.
That’s a point that famed author Bob Woodward wants to make with particular emphasis on Day 3 of Regretgate. He didn’t come out of the blue with excerpts from his e-mail conversation with White House economic czar Gene Sperling.
“I wasn’t running around complaining,” says Woodward in a Friday afternoon chat with the Erik Wemple Blog.
The way Woodward tells it, the whole thing finds its roots in the Feb. 18 article by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen in Politico titled “Obama, the puppet master,” regarding the president’s expertise in pushing around the media. Published under Politico’s “Behind the Curtain” banner and panned in some quarters, the piece interested Woodward. Later that week, Woodward wrote his opinion column arguing that the Obama White House was moving the goal posts in the sequester negotiations. The Politico guys spotted the piece, which was generating a great deal of conversation, and asked Woodward for an interview on the provenance of the story.
Woodward said yes and gathered some files.
Among those files was the e-mail exchange of the week, in which Sperling quite gently instructed Woodward that he’d “regret” his position on the goal posts. Though Woodward insists he didn’t use the term threat in the interview, that’s how VandeHei and Allen wrote it up, saying that the way Woodward narrated the language from Sperling (who was an unidentified White House official at that point) made it “clear he saw it as a veiled threat.” Woodward’s take on the progression: “They came and asked me, and in my file is this e-mail, and I said I don’t think that’s the way to operate. They said that I was threatened,” says Woodward, noting that this claim made it into the newstream. “VandeHei and Allen go do their piece and focus on this,” says Woodward.
So is Woodward complaining about VandeHei and Allen’s interpretation? Maybe. On the night that the Politico piece hit, I spoke to Woodward about the dispute, and he voiced not a syllable of complaint about the VandeHei-Allen collaboration. When pressed on his apparent satisfaction with the piece upon its publication, Woodward responds, “Who would read that piece and think that’s going to become the new narrative for the next 48 hours?” he says.
The unfortunate result of it all, says Woodward, is one giant distraction, and a casualty of accountability. “Let’s discuss what the reporter did, not what they [the White House] did,” says Woodward. “It’s a terrible example of something that gets going and feeds on itself.” Correction: It’s something that gets going and feeds on The Post, Politico, Fox News, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, many others and Woodward himself.