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February 28, 2013 9:41 AM Woodward Outfoxes Himself

By Ed Kilgore

I should begin by admitting a shameful secret: I have never, ever, not for a moment, fished into the Bob Woodward Myth. I lived through Watergate and was happy to see the back of Richard Nixon, but found the whole saga fairly irrelevant (other than a few revelations like Nixon’s plan to sic the IRS onto his “enemies list”) to why he was so dangerous a man. So I was not disposed to think of Woodward or Bernstein as Heroes of the Republic, and if anything, the rush of people from my generation into journalism that was apparently spurred by their example pushed me into the opposite direction.

I say all this to explain that this week’s grotesque self-exposure by Woodward and his subjequent adoption as an unlikely hero by the Right hasn’t shattered any of my illusions or destroyed any cherished icons. And he certainly invited the ridicule he is going to get today by posing as a martyr to the First Amendment bravely enduring “threats” from the Obama White House.

Politico, displaying its ambiguous value as both a destroyer and creator of ridiculous Beltway controversies, got hold of the email exchanges between Woodward and Gene Sperling which were the supposed vehicle for these evil, Nixonian “threats.” Here’s what Sperling said:

Bob:
I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.
But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.) I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.
My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.
Gene

Woodward replies by assuring Sperling there is no need for apologies.

Yeah, boy, I can definitely get a whiff of Goebbels in Sperling’s solicitude for Woodward’s reputation.

Now Woodward knew what was in that email, and should have known it would get out. Why on earth would he talk about “threats” when he knew infallibly it wasn’t true and wouldn’t stand the light of day? Was it because he figured his new right-wing fans wouldn’t care whether it was true or not? Or is because something funny happens to a person’s sense of perspective once he’s been played by Robert Redford in a movie and has been told repeatedly he saved his country?

I dunno, but Woodward’s act is getting painfully old, and I don’t plan to pay any more attention to his feverish efforts to stay in the limelight.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Josef K on February 28, 2013 10:02 AM:

    Was it because he figured his new right-wing fans wouldn’t care whether it was true or not?

    Safe bet, this one. Between this and Erickson's job offer yesterday, I'd say the field of accurate political journalism is now safely confined to this and a few other websites. The only thing I look in the paper anymore are the horoscopes and op-ed letters.

    Woodward? He stopped being relevant or credible when he started water-breathing for the Bush Adminstration.

  • max on February 28, 2013 10:12 AM:

    I lived through Watergate and was happy to see the back of Richard Nixon, but found the whole saga fairly irrelevant (other than a few revelations like Nixon’s plan to sic the IRS onto his “enemies list”) to why he was so dangerous a man.

    The only thing I remember is Nixon resigning. That said, I continue to be amused by the notion that hard right security state conspired to bring the guy down for being soft on commies. (The hippies were just filling the role of the guard dogs.) Kinda exactly like the helped conspire to bring down Allende. (Shades of Seven Days in May!) Which makes Woodward the careerest and willing puppet of the sorts of people who thought Franco was a great guy. And that in turn implies that all the impeachment sagas of post-WWII years have been driven by crazy right-wingers. How the worm does turn.

    Or is because something funny happens to a person’s sense of perspective once he’s been played by Robert Redford in a movie and has been told repeatedly he saved his country?

    Given his repeating fellating of Bush the Younger, I am thinking he was the sort of centrist quasi-social liberal type that was radicalized by 9/11 and now watch Fox all the time. Which means that Obama is obviously some kind of Muslim Anti-Christ or something in Woodward's eyes.

    max
    ['Say what you else you want about Al-Queda, 9/11 was an overwhelming operational and strategic success for bin Laden. He got the US to take the bait big time.']

  • Lifelong Dem on February 28, 2013 10:17 AM:

    Gene Sperling is obviously the 21st century version of Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and G. Gordon Liddy all rolled into one evil person and must be stopped at all costs.

  • c u n d gulag on February 28, 2013 10:19 AM:

    Jayzoos H. Keerist, frowning down from Heaven on the Christians being persecuted by Romans putting them in the gerbil's den, I can see why Booby Woodenword sought shelter in the open sunshine of the MSM!

    Why, this e-mail is exactly what an appartchik of Stalin would send, right before sending the overnight KGB shift to knock down his door at 3am, and haul him off to a GULag, or one of Hitler's banal bureaucrats would send before the Gestapo came to pull him into a small windowless cell to be tortured, before being sent off to some Concentration Camp.

    The horror.
    The horror.
    The horror...

  • Larry Reilly on February 28, 2013 10:21 AM:

    Woodward has jumped beyond the shark.

  • biggerbox on February 28, 2013 10:37 AM:

    My theory is that he's auditioning for a job on Fox News. Showing up at a studio to blather for a few minutes every day has got to be easier work than actually writing those books, and Woodward's not getting younger.

    In just a few days, he's lobbed the "moving the goalposts" comment, the aircraft carrier thing, and the "threat" email.

    I'm telling ya, it's got to be that he's trying to get Roger Ailes' attention.

  • DRF on February 28, 2013 10:54 AM:

    Once you read the Sperling email in its entirety, it's clear that Woodward is in the process of making an absolute fool of himself. A rational person couldn't possibly read this as some sort of threat. Going on Hannity's show isn't exactly going to help is already damaged credibility.

    I suspect that Woodward got swept up in the initial thought that he was going to get another chance to play the role of courageous reporter, standing up to the White House in the face of threats, pressure etc. Either this is an incredibly cynical move on his part or he just fixated on the word "regret" (which is, after all, the word a television writer would use to suggest a threat) on was overcome by visions of a second chance a national fame and adulation.

  • Samuel Knight on February 28, 2013 10:58 AM:

    Yeah - glad you too thought that the myth of Woodward was bizarre.

    Look this guy wrote books saying Bush was an admirable war president, Greenspan was a Maestro and Powell was a brave truth teller. Basic stories that we all know are hogwash. But somehow people were conned into believing it was the real story. It wasn't and hasn't been. Don't forget Woodward was also the editor who didn't catch that one of his journalists was just making stuff up.

    He's always been a purveyor of BS. And boy I don't get why any White House would waste time talking to the guy.

  • Registeredguest on February 28, 2013 10:59 AM:

    Woodward is picking up a lot of fans over at breitbart.com.

    It's looking more and more like Woodward is Garfunkel to Bernstein's Simon.

  • thisdave on February 28, 2013 11:04 AM:

    Biggerbox: Right on. He's grown long at the tooth writing the same book every few years, and lately he's likely been feeling the cold breath of irrelevant old age at his neck.

    Time for a comfy first-class berth on the Fox Train. If Ailes can trust Woodward not to undermine the corporate message too often, it'll be his biggest catch in a long time.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 28, 2013 11:13 AM:

    And he certainly invited the ridicule he is going to get today by posing as a martyr to the First Amendment bravely enduring “threats” from the Obama White House.

    Wonder what the Obama Administration is gonna do to Woodward. Arrange to have his newspaper thrown in the bushes every morning?

    Yeah, I saw him bloviating at his most windy on CNN last night. Even if Woodward genuinely believes that Obama "moved the goal post" re the sequestration, that is probably the softest criticism anybody can lay on Obama right now. Folks on the right (and even on the left) have more threat-deserving critiques of Obama than Woodward.

  • Anonymous on February 28, 2013 11:29 AM:

    It's looking more and more like Woodward is Garfunkel to Bernstein's Simon.

    I don't think that quite works, because Simon has been much more visible than Garfunkel since the break-up, while it's the opposite with Woodward and Bernstein.

    Maybe it's more like Woodward is Loggins to Bernstein's Messina?

  • Peter C on February 28, 2013 11:30 AM:

    The title of the post could just as easily say, "Woodward Soils Himself ..." seeing veiled threats in what is objectively a contrite apology.

    Sometimes public figures who are part their prime become excessively concerned and fearful of public rebuke, even when it is couched in the mildest terms.

  • LAC on February 28, 2013 11:31 AM:

    I don't know what is funnier: watching Woodward implode before my very eyes, reading this email and seeing a picture of the person who wrote it (wow, my mom could take him), or seeing that Jennifer Rubin is wetting the bed in excitement over something to take the sting out of getting zilch over Bengazi and Hagel.

  • punaise on February 28, 2013 11:39 AM:

    @ Registeredguest


    It's looking more and more like Woodward is Garfunkel to Bernstein's Simon.

    badaboom! rim shot.

  • Denis Gordon on February 28, 2013 11:47 AM:

    I have never understood why anybody working in a Democratic President's White House would talk to this guy. If I were President, that would be a firing offense!

  • lou on February 28, 2013 12:29 PM:

    The design of the whole deal was that the freaking goal posts would be moved.

    Woodward is just one of several D.C. journalist sharks who are circling their own chum.

  • Anonymous on February 28, 2013 12:33 PM:

    It's because "something funny happens to a person’s sense of perspective once he’s been played by Robert Redford in a movie and has been told repeatedly he saved his country."

    But Woodward was never a god. He made a mistake. Right to call him out on that but come on, problem is over. He's been exposed

  • Kim on February 28, 2013 12:51 PM:

    There's the stink of Donald Trump's pathetic need for relevance on Woodward now.

  • low-tech cyclist on February 28, 2013 1:07 PM:

    I think the last Woodward opus I read was "The Brethren" which I think came out back in the 1970s. It didn't exactly whet my appetite for more Woodward.

    He's obviously been an Establishment shill for decades.

    He'll be 70 next month, and I wonder if he's genuinely losing it. Happens to some earlier than others.

  • R L Fast on February 28, 2013 1:12 PM:

    It's not just Woodward misrepresenting how the sequester came about. The Associated Press has boilerplate that they use repeatedly to distort the facts:

    "The sequester was designed as an unpalatable fallback, meant to take effect only if a congressional supercommittee failed to come up with at least $1 trillion dollars in savings from benefit programs."

    This is plainly wrong - the supercommittee was not charged with finding "savings from benefit programs." It was supposed to look for deficit reduction from any and all sources, including revenues and cuts to military spending.

  • PJM on February 28, 2013 1:28 PM:

    I'm much more dismayed by the fact that Gene Sperling, a Wall Street, corporate Democrat -- one of many Robert Rubin acolytes and coatholders who blight the Obama administration -- is a leading policy maker than I am by the silly comments of the overrated and over-the-hill Bob Woodward.

  • scottc on February 28, 2013 2:30 PM:

    "It's looking more and more like Woodward is Garfunkel to Bernstein's Simon."
    That's unfair to Artie, for he has a lovely voice and talent. But, yes, Simon was the brains in the outfit and I think that makes him a good metaphor for Bernstein and Woodward.
    When I was a Hill rat back in 1979-80, I had the odd chance to be part of semi-intimate separate lunches with both Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein was erudite, witty, and obviously a very smart man, though his straddling of Washington and Hollywood in those more innocent days had already made him the butt of jokes.
    Woodward was plodding, dull, even a bit dull-witted, and not particularly well-informed, though he tried to speak very slowly in the manner of people who think that trait makes them appear more intellectual. Woodward gets kudos, I suppose, for his doggedness, but I have everafter thought his success was that he simply bored his sources into talking--if just to shut Woodward up. The man is almost all myth with very little substance.

  • Robert Flynn on February 28, 2013 3:24 PM:

    I voted for Nixon in 1972, but I did not know that he had committed treason in 1968. Republican Chair John Mitchell and Texas Senator John Tower, with Nixon's permission, sent the widow of Flying Tiger hero, Gen. Claire Chennault to persuade the South Vietnamese to withdraw from the peace negotiations because Nixon would offer them a better deal. The South Vietnamese walked away from the table and never returned. Anna Chennault revealed her part in the act in her autobiography, "The Education of Anna." Seymour Hersh reported it in his biography of Nixon, and Bui Diem, South Vietnamese ambassador to the US, reported it in at least one of his books. LBJ knew about it but did not reveal it for fear it would destroy the nation, already fractured over the war, and that it would destroy the Republican Party. He did call Everett Dirksen and told him about it and that it was an act of treason. Dirksen agreed. In 1972, Nixon had Kissinger send a letter to the Chinese that the US would accept a Communist Vietnam. The war would continue for three more years. The media know this but few Americans do.

  • Zoffa on February 28, 2013 3:43 PM:

    Call me naive, but I find it astounding that conservatives continue to tout this after the full email thread came out. The theory being Woodward says he was threatened therefore he was threatened and nothing anyone else says matters, actual reality be damned. These are the people we have to negotiate with in order to keep the country running?

  • G.Kerby on February 28, 2013 5:25 PM:

    Robert Flynn: I voted for McGovern that year, but I too only learned of the '68 treason recently. It just made me all the more disgusted with repubs in general, and Tricky Dicky specifically.