Bob Woodward is a legend in modern journalism, especially for fellow liberal reporters. But that all is for naught now that Woodward has committed the cardinal sin of criticizing the White House for an operative's use of what apparently is a fairly common tactic: a harsh bullying of the press in order to demand even more favorable coverage than the Obama-friendly press already lavishes on Team Obama. It centers on Woodward reporting that sequestration was the White House's idea. This morning Matt Lauer, on the Today Show, questioned Woodward's judgement, saying "I'm a little surprised you've gone public with this." Even, the New York Times offered no refuge for Woodward.
He isn’t the only one. Clinton operative and op-ed columnist Lanny Davis has received similar treatment, and veteran White House reporter Ron Fournier at National Journal also reported threatening emails and calls. But in today’s broadcast of Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski decided to give deference to Obama acolyte David Axelrod’s days as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune in order to portray Woodward as going over the line in his reporting on Gene Sperling's harassment:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Bob, good to see you this morning. What is the follow up? We’ve been questioning the emails between you and Gene Sperling and whether or not regret means threat, and I want to know how you got there in terms of that was a “Watch out!” point of view statement.
BOB WOODWARD: Well, it was not a – I never said it was a threat. Politico was doing this story about the column that I wrote on Sunday calling out the administration, making it clear from the reporting, and finally, to Jay Carney’s credit, that the idea for the sequester came from the White House and that they’ve changed some of the arrangements. And so I mentioned that I got an email from somebody – like lots of things in Washington, then the details leaked out. I mean, as David Axelrod knows, Gene Sperling’s one of the really decent, hardworking people. I’ve dealt with the Obama White House and Axelrod a lot, and it’s just unusual to say when there's not – this wasn't a factual disagreement. This was a disagreement about – I was challenging them on something and Gene said we're not gonna see eye-to-eye and you're gonna regret staking out this claim. And Axelrod and I have disagreed many times, but he's never said you're gonna regret reaching a conclusion that we don't like.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: He doesn't say that to you? Because he says that to me all the time.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, he said that to me – called me up
DAVID AXLEROD: I’m still waiting for you to regret something.
BRZEZINSKI: Bob, let me ask you this. Given all the reaction this has gotten, and given the nature of the emails as you read through them, do you think, because you're not, you know, a young reporter starting out who might be intimidated.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
BRZEZINSKI: You're not, you're Bob Woodward. Do you think you might have overstepped the way you described this scenario?
Brzezinski also made flippant remarks about Woodward saying, in passing, that everyone should read his books, and is beloved by those on set. However, she then allowed Axelrod to detail his own experiences as a journalist in what seemed like some bizarre compare and contrast exercise. Bob Woodward wasn't some outlier in the conversation. Woodward is the story, and to trivialize it by somehow inviting Axelrod to detail his own experiences in press intimidation when he was twenty-five, and working for the Chicago Tribune, is mannerless. It's as if Brzezinski is saying that what Axelrod, the White House mouthpiece on the show, experienced is what real journalists go through.
To Scarborough's credit, he did give an explanation as to what "regret" means when discussed inside the beltway. It means"to watch out and duck."
WOODWARD: No. I mean, the e-mails speak for themselves, and people have characterized them. But the issue here is – and this is where we get tangled up in ourselves – is the automatic spending cuts and the sequester and how we got there and what it's gonna mean to people. And it's often a technique employed by White Houses, either unintentionally or intentionally, to say, Oh, let's make the conduct of the press the issue rather than what they did, and to people out in the real world, the issue is these automatic spending cuts and the human toll they are gonna bring to real people and real families.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Bob, I want to talk about actually the news of the day that’s actually important – the sequester – but before I do that David Axlerod is – he’s a small person.
SCARBOROUGH: He wants – he wants to get involved in the mundane sort of machinations –
BRZEZINSKI: The minute.
JOHN HEILEMANN: He’s a man who lives in the weeds, David Axelrod
BRZEZINSKI: We love Bob, and read all of his books and – David I just want to ask you from your perspective, and then you can take it – because you were a journalist
AXELROD: Yes, I was
BRZEZINSKI: So, you know both sides of this –
AXLEROD: I do.
BRZEZINSKI: Take it away.
AXELROD: First of all, let me say one of the reasons why I became a journalist was because of Bob Woodward.
SCARBOROUGH: I bet you’re sorry now.
AXELROD: Bob Woodward inspired a whole generation
WOODWARD: Don’t blame me.
AXELROD: A whole generation of journalists – in fact, you talked yesterday – you say young journalists are being intimidated. I was the sitting bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune when I was 25 years old, and the mayor threatened to have me ejected from city hall because she didn’t like the coverage I was doing. So I know what intimidation is – and Bob, you know, the headline in the Washington Post – your newspaper – was, ‘Woodward Says He Was Threatened'–
WOODWARD: But I never have. I never have. Come on, you know that. No.
AXELROD: I don't know if you've spoken to your editors about that, but they got the impression from what you said that you felt you were being threatened. And you just read to the Politico one line from that email, and when the full emails came out, they were as cordial as can be. His email was cordial, and your response was cordial. So if you felt threatened, why didn't you say to Gene, don't threaten me?
WOODWARD: No, I did not feel threatened – you know, what I have said, David, and come on, you are making – putting words in my mouth. I said I don't think this is the way to operate, and you and I have had many discussions. You have never said to me, "Oh, you're gonna regret doing that." Am I correct?
AXELROD: Yes, but that's – but, but – this was a specific discussion about a specific point you had raised. It seemed like Gene was, in that e-mail certainly, was very, very polite in the way that he pushed –
WOODWARD: You should have heard the –
AXELROD: But I'm not putting words in your mouth, Bob. It's your newspaper that said you said you were threatened.
SCARBOROUGH: So, let me step in here, Bob. Of course, as I’ve said for sometime this – we’ve just been looking at what happened in this chain of emails. This comes after the White House pushing back pretty hard on you for quite sometime because the president said he had nothing to do with the sequester. You pointed out in your piece that he did. The White House started pushing back furiously. Gene called you up, and we love Gene here, but it was a thirty minute call – and as I said to David, let's not pretend here, that when you say the word ‘regret,' and this whole ‘I said it as a friend,' that sentence before – we always do that in Washington. You put your arm around somebody, bring them close, and you say ‘Hey listen, Jim, we're good friends. You know we're good friends. I love ya, okay? But I just gotta tell you buddy, if you go out there and put this amendment on my bill, you're gonna regret it. I'm only saying it because I love ya,' but you're sending the message, watch out, duck.
WOODWARD: Exactly. And this is the code. Now, look Gene is not a threatening sort of person, and I never said this was a threat. The point is – what really happened here. And we’re at one of these pivot points again in Washington about budget, and fiscal issues, God help us we’re there again, but we are. And these automatic spending, which really don’t deal with the problem of entitlements – and that’s very very significant. These automatic spending cuts everyone says are the worst are irrational. I mean, how do we get to the point where we have the government, our government, the biggest obstacle to continuing the economic recovery. That is the reality that everyone is facing.
SCARBOROUGH: Mike, Can we – can we get a shot of David’s face. Did you see that look on his face when I asked that question?
AXELROD: I think can all agree these are not the right way to move forward. The president agrees with that. But Bob, from the very beginning, he said we need a balanced way forward that includes both cuts – and that includes cuts in entitlements, and revenues –and that’s exactly what he wants to do now. And to say – I think what Gene was reacting to was that you suggested he had moved the goalposts.
WOODWARD: Well, he has.
AXELROD: The goalposts have been in the same place from the very beginning.
WOODWARD: No they have not, because in 2011 he made a deal, Biden and Senate Minority Leader McConnell made a deal, that we won't have to go back for more borrowing authority negotiations in the election year 2012, something very important to the president and to you and to the White House staff. And the agreement was, then there would be in the sequester , which we're now dealing with, no tax increases. It is a lay down case that the president has changed the argument here. Now, is that a felony? Is that a big deal? No, but it's the reality and– I'm sorry, but–
AXELROD: It's just not true. The fact is that the president said that -- the sequester was never meant to go forward –
WOODWARD: Ah, but it has.
AXELROD: – the way to solve it is a balanced approach that includes both revenues and entitlement reform, and as we've discussed here, it's the only way it can move forward. He still believes that, that's what he's said all the way through 2011, 2012, and 2013. The goalposts are right where he put them in the first place.