The Today show on Thursday allowed a scant 16 seconds, out of a possible four hours, to the claim by veteran journalist Bob Woodward that the Obama White House is trying to intimidate him and attack his coverage of the sequester cuts. The NBC program also avoided using the word "threat."
ABC's Good Morning America gave the most coverage to the battle, offering a full report and a news brief. [See video below. MP3 audio here.] CBS This Morning covered the story as part of a bigger report on the looming cuts. On Today, reporter Kristen Welker blandly explained, "As a backdrop to all of this, veteran reporter Bob Woodward is telling reporters that the White House is lashing out at him for writing an article which claimed that the sequester was all President Obama's idea." She then helpfully presented the President's case: "The White House has made the point that Republicans overwhelmingly supported the plan as well." This was the extent of Today's coverage.
Bob Woodward has long been a favorite of NBC. Network reporters often interviewed him or featured his books, especially when they were attacking Republicans.
Co-host Robin Roberts on GMA opened the show by hyping the story: "Woodwardgate. Did a top White House aide threaten legendary investigative journalist Bob Woodward over his latest reporting on the President?"
Reporter Jon Karl played up the controversy in reference to Woodward's journalistic importance: "Woodward isn't just any reporter. He's the one portrayed, along with Carl Bernstein, in the movie All the President's Men as taking down Richard Nixon."
Karl added, "Woodward said a top White House official responded by yelling at him for 30 minutes. And then following up with what he said was an E-mail threat."
On CBS This Morning, Norah O'Donnell wondered if this was all just the normal way a president would treat a reporter. She began by acknowledging that Woodward is "accusing the White House of threatening him." O'Donnell added, "Is Obama crossing the line or is this part and parcel of what happens with journalists in the White House?"
CBS political director John Dickerson backed up Woodward: "The President had tried to suggest that his team had not been the one who came up with the sequestration idea. That was disingenuous. Republicans voted for it, but it was a White House idea and Woodward nailed them on it."
Of the three morning shows, only Dickerson hinted at White House accusations that Woodward is "over the hill." He was referring to this tweet by former Obama adviser David Plouffe: "Watching Woodward last 2 days is like imagining my idol Mike Schmidt facing live pitching again. Perfection gained once is rarely repeated."
A transcript of the GMA segment, which aired at 7:10am EST, follows:
ABC GRAPHIC: White House Threat?
ROBIN ROBERTS: Woodwardgate. Did a top White House aide threaten legendary investigative journalist Bob Woodward over his latest reporting on the President? We'll tell you what set off the clash.
ABC GRAPHIC: War of Words Over Massive Cuts: White House Vs. Bob Woodward
ROBERTS: But back here at home, to the extraordinary public clash between the White House and Bob Woodward, escalating right now. The veteran journalist accusing a very senior person in the Obama administration of threatening him over his reporting on the massive budget cuts about to go into effect tomorrow. ABC's Jon Karl joins us, now, from the White House. What's going on here, Jon? Good morning.
JON KARL: Well, Robin, what's happening here is the White House suddenly finds myself in a war of words with the most famous investigative reporter in America. Legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is accusing the White House of threatening him.
BOB WOODWARD: It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, you're going to regret doing something that you believe in.
KARL: Woodward isn't just any reporter. He's the one portrayed, along with Carl Bernstein, in the movie All the President's Men as taking down Richard Nixon. Now, he's accusing the Obama White House of being dishonest about the President's responsibility for those automatic spending cuts set to go into effect tomorrow. First, Woodward reported that the cuts were the President's idea. Then, in a Washington Post op-ed, he said the White House was trying to change the agreement by asking for tax increases, something the White House says is just flat wrong.
JAY CARNEY: That's nonsensical.
KARL: Woodward said a top White House official responded by yelling at him for 30 minutes. And then following up with what he said was an E-mail threat. He read the e-mail to Politico.
WOODWARD: I think it's important for people to understand, he says, you know, says, "I think you will regret staking out that claim."
KARL: Now, the White House acknowledges that e-mail was sent. But that Woodward is just wrong how he interprets it. A senior White House official telling me, quote, "Of course, no threat was intended. The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the spending cuts because the observation was inaccurate. Nothing more." And, Robin, the White House says that Woodward responded to that supposedly threatening E-mail with a friendly exchange back to that senior White House official.