Friday, March 1, 2013

Bob Woodward: White House is using my spat as 'sideshow' 

The Washington Post reporter talks about a recent email altercation with a White House staffer, saying the administration is using it to deflect focus from sequestration, as well as his newest book, "The Price of Politics," an inside look at the crisis that led to the sequester.

By Eun Kyung Kim, TODAY contributor

Legendary journalist Bob Woodward said Friday that the focus on his quarrel with a close White House adviser over the sequester is a “sideshow” detracting from the real debate over who is responsible for the deep spending cuts about to go into effect.

“It’s been pointed out that this is a sideshow, which it is,” the Washington Post journalist told Matt Lauer on TODAY from Washington. “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.”

What the administration has done, Woodward said, is skirt the issue over whose actions put into play the deep budget cuts, known as the sequester, that automatically go into effect Friday throughout the federal government.

Woodward said he received a harsh rebuke from White House economic advisor Gene Sperling over an op-ed he wrote that attributed the automatic cuts to the president. While the White House blamed congressional Republicans for originating the sequester, Woodward said they were actually initiated by the administration, particularly Jack Lew, former White House budget director and now Treasury Secretary.

“The president is running around the country saying it’s going to bring a human toll, that all sorts of people are going to lose their jobs,” Woodward told Lauer. “He’s the one who started it. He’s the one he proposed it. People need to know that, and that’s what the White House is trying to avoid discussion about, quite frankly.”

Woodward said he never went public with his spat over the White House. He said that Politico, which covers politics in various media, approached him with questions about why he called the president out in his op-ed. Earlier in the week, he told Politico that an Obama aide “yelled at me for about half an hour.”

Politico published the email exchange between Woodward and Sperling, who later apologized for raising his voice but warned Woodward he would “regret” questioning White House assertions on the origins of the sequestration.

“I do believe you should rethink your comment about saying that POTUS asking for revenues is moving the goalpost. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim,” Sperling said.

Politico printed the entire exchange Thursday, but Woodward didn't seem concerned about the spat.

“I’ve done this 40 years. I’ve had lots of contentious exchanges with the White House," he said. "I’ve never said this was a threat. This is what it is. People can read.”

Woodward also appeared Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," where former Obama advisor David Axelrod took issue with him over the e-mail exchange and how it was portrayed in Woodward’s paper. The Washington Post originally said in a headline that Sperling had “threatened” Woodward, but the paper later changed the headline.

“When the full e-mails came out, they were as cordial as can be,” Axelrod said. “His e-mail was cordial, and your response was cordial. So if you felt threatened, why didn’t you say to Gene, ‘Don’t threaten me?’”
Woodward said that he never claimed he felt threatened.

“You are putting words in my mouth,” he told Axelrod. “I said, ‘I don’t think this is the way to operate.'”

On his Fox News show Thursday night, pundit Bill O’Reilly also addressed the topic.

O'Reilly said there didn’t appear to be an actual threat in the email Sperling sent, but said it was hard to read the note’s tone. Both he and Ed Henry, Fox News' White House correspondent, said the White House has a history of pushing back hard against journalists who report stories they consider unfavorable.

The Washington Post's Bob Woodward joins Morning Joe at the height of the controversy surrounding his emails with Gene Sperling, National Economic Council, regarding the sequester and the White House.
Sequester deadline day is here, and it's only the beginning
Bob Woodward blasts Obama "madness" in handling cuts
Budget cuts likely to be felt on Main Street

Exclusive: The Woodward, Sperling emails revealed
By: Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei
February 28, 2013 08:30 AM EST
POLITICO’s “Behind the Curtain” column last night quoted Bob Woodward as saying that a senior White House official has told him in an email he would “regret” questioning White House statements on the origins of sequestration. The official in question is Gene Sperling, economic adviser to the president. The White House has since pushed back, saying the exchange was far more innocuous than Woodward claims.
We have obtained, exclusively, the exchange. Here it is:
From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013
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.
From Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013
Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

(Also on POLITICO: Woodward at War)

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