In an exclusive interview with The Washington Post's Bob Woodward on Friday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer belittled the veteran journalist for daring to reveal a contentious exchange with White House adviser Gene Sperling: "I'm a little surprised you've gone public with this. I mean, these kinds of high-energy, high-octane, high-emotion conversations and debates happen all the time between government officials and the people who cover them. You've felt the heat before. Why did you go public with this one?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
While Lauer downplayed Sperling's claim that Woodward would "regret" reporting on the White House's role in the upcoming sequester budget cuts, Woodward denounced the administration's attempt to change the subject: "This is the old trick in the book of making the press or some confrontation with the press the issue rather than what the White House has done here....[Obama's] the one who started it. He's the one who proposed it. People need to know that. And that's what the White House is trying to avoid discussion about, quite frankly."
Lauer's response to that was to conclude that Sperling's condescending treatment of Woodward was a non-story: "...in terms of the exchange then, we can both agree, no real harm, no real foul."
In contrast, at the top of the show, in an effort to get people to watch the upcoming interview, Lauer turned up the hype: "...a pretty nasty war of words between the Obama administration and noted journalist Bob Woodward. Did the White House threaten him in an e-mail?"
Here is a full transcript of the March 1 segment:
7:01AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: $85 billion in sweeping and automatic cuts will start to take effect at 11:59 tonight. The issue has caused all kinds of beltway battles, including a pretty nasty war of words between the Obama administration and noted journalist Bob Woodward. Did the White House threaten him in an e-mail? We're going to talk to Bob exclusively in just a couple of minutes.
7:05AM ET SEGMENT:
LAUER: Bob Woodward is with us now exclusively. Bob, good to see you, good morning.
BOB WOODWARD: Thank you. How are you, Matt?
LAUER: I'm doing fine, thank you. I've read what I can on this now, Bob, and to be honest with you, I'm a little surprised you've gone public with this. I mean, these kinds of high-energy, high-octane, high-emotion conversations and debates happen all the time between government officials and the people who cover them. You've felt the heat before. Why did you go public with this one?
WOODWARD: Well, I didn't go public. Politico came and asked me in a long hour interview about how I decided and what the interaction was to write that op-ed piece, really calling the Obama administration out, pointing out how the President had said Congress was the one that proposed the sequestration, these automatic spending cuts. It turns out that's not true. The White House has finally acknowledged that. They made a deal in 2011 that they wouldn't have to go back and negotiate with the Republicans on the borrowing limit and they moved the goalpost on this.
LAUER: And of course, the-
WOODWARD: So that's the substance. And the substance-
LAUER: And Gene Sperling's take on this, and your position on it, was that you're wrong in staking out that position. And-
WOODWARD: No, he's not. He's not disputing the facts. If you read the e-mail, he said, "We're just not going to see eye to eye on this." Which is, which is true.
LAUER: Right. "I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying the POTUS," President of the United States, "asking for revenues, is moving the goalpost. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend" – and I think those are very key words – "I think you will regret staking out that claim."
WOODWARD: Right. Now I've done this for 40 years, Matt, had lots of contentious exchanges with the White House. I've never said this was a threat. This is what it is, people can read. But it – but you know, it was pointed out that this is a sideshow, which it is. And this is the old trick in the book of making the press or some confrontation with the press the issue rather than what the White House has done here.
And there is even the larger issue of these automatic spending cuts, which actually make no sense, as everyone has said. The President's running around the country, saying it's going to bring a human toll to all kinds of people who are going to lose their jobs and so forth. He's the one who started it. He's the one who proposed it. People need to know that. And that's what the White House is trying to avoid discussion about, quite frankly.
LAUER: Well, but in terms of the exchange then, we can both agree, no real harm, no real foul.
So let's ask the bigger question. What does the fact that these two sides are still pointing fingers at each other, even as the sequester kicks in tonight at 11:59 or so, what does it tell us about the dynamic we're going to see between this White House and Republican leaders in Congress over the next four years?
WOODWARD: That's the question. And if you look at these automatic spending cuts, $85 billion, these are in the accounts like Department of Defense, some of the domestic programs. They don't even really touch the entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, that everyone, including the President – when I talked to the President over the summer for the book, he said it is untenable that we don't get some control of this spending on these entitlement programs, but this sequester really doesn't touch them. So I mean we have got a level of dysfunction within the dysfunction. They can't talk.
Now there is some – I can share with you some news about this. They certainly aren't going to solve it today when they meet, I understand, but some Republican senators, like Lindsey Graham, have proposed going back, accepting some new revenue under tax reform. They're going to give the White House some things that are very dear to the President, quite likely. Now whether this takes hold, whether this becomes a real solution to the problem, we don't know. But at least it's a start.
LAUER: A step in the right direction. Hey, Bob, thanks for your time this morning.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
LAUER: I appreciate it.
WOODWARD: Appreciate it.