Bob Woodward vs White House: Full of sound and fury, signifying (almost) nothing

February 28, 2013

Washington is a-twitter today with the back and forth between famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and the White House regarding his recounting -- in a weekend op-ed -- of how the idea of the sequester came into being.


Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. AP photo.

But here's a little secret: This "incident" -- to the extent it really even is one -- is less than a blip on the radar for most Americans.  It's a classic Washington tempest in a teapot that elicits, at most, a shrug of the shoulders from most folks.

Here's why -- in two simple steps:

1. As has been well documented in this space, people simply aren't closely following the sequester and large numbers have no idea what it would even do.

2. At issue between Woodward and the White House appears to be whether the word "regret" constitutes a threat or not. (Not kidding, that's the issue. Who says Washington is out of touch?) And, for what it's worth, the emails in question between Woodward and Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling seem to be broadly inoffensive -- detailing that most common-place thing in journalism: a disagreement between a reporter and his/her source.

Combine the general lack of knowledge (or interest) in sequestration with the fact that the fight between Woodward and the White House is one of semantics, and it's hard to see how the whole thing has any impact beyond Washington and the world of Twitter, which has been ablaze with Woodward commentary since Wednesday night.

In short, the people who care about this tend to be partisans whose reactions to the "controversy" are decidedly predictable.  Republicans view it as the latest example of a White House trying to bully the media into telling a one-sided story. Democrats think Woodward is over-reacting to a non-story.

That's not to say there is no impact from the showdown.  There has been a long running frustration within the media world with how the White House treats reporters and how it parcels out information. (This is not unique to the Obama Administration; technology like Twitter, You Tube etc. increasingly allows presidents -- and other politicians -- to end-run the media "filter".)  But, when Woodward, who is, without question, the most famous political reporter in the country, voices these same frustrations it gets far more attention solely because of who he is.

Will Woodward's complaints change anything in the way the White House interacts with reporters? The Fix isn't a betting man but if we were, we would lay all our money on "no."

And so, this story is one that animates a Washington grown bored with the plodding certainty of the coming sequester on Friday but has virtually zero impact either on the broader debate about who owns sequestration or what the country should do about its debt and spending issues.

(Standard disclaimer: The Fix has met Woodward on several occasions and, obviously, he is affiliated with the Washington Post.)

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · February 28, 2013