Democrat defenses against accusations that the Obama White House has threatened Bob Woodward have come in a few forms. One, Woodward is old, doesn’t know what he’s talking about and should retire. Or two, it’s just Obama’s staff making the threats, not the president himself.
The first defense is childish and ageist. The second is laughable.
The staff who are accused of threatening Woodward and now Lanny Davis and others work for the president. These staff have evidently been threatening and cowing journalists for years. They operate as they do because they have reason to believe that their actions fall in line with the president’s wishes. If the president did not sanction such behavior, his staff would not engage in it. If he fires no one after these revelations, he implies approval in front of the whole nation.
Another reporter has come forward today, claiming that he too has received “you’ll regret this” threats similar to the one Gene Sperling issued to Woodward. Ron Fournier of the National Journal says it happened to him, too.
I had angered the White House, particularly a senior White House official who I am unable to identify because I promised the person anonymity. Going back to my first political beat, covering Bill Clinton’s administration in Arkansas and later in Washington, I’ve had a practice that is fairly common in journalism: A handful of sources I deal with regularly are granted blanket anonymity. Any time we communicate, they know I am prepared to report the information at will (matters of fact, not spin or opinion) and that I will not attribute it to them.
This is an important way to build a transparent and productive relationship between reporters and the people they cover. Nothing chills a conversation faster than saying, “I’m quoting you on this.”
The official angered by my Woodward tweet sent me an indignant e-mail. “What’s next, a Nazi analogy?” the official wrote, chastising me for spreading “bull**** like that” I was not offended by the note, mild in comparison to past exchanges with this official. But it was the last straw in a relationship that had deteriorated.
As editor-in-chief of National Journal, I received several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Woodward called a veiled threat. “You will regret staking out that claim,” The Washington Post reporter was told.
Once I moved back to daily reporting this year, the badgering intensified. I wrote Saturday night, asking the official to stop e-mailing me. The official wrote, challenging Woodward and my tweet. “Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron,” the official wrote.
I wrote back:
“I asked you to stop e-mailing me. All future e-mails from you will be on the record — publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you. My cell-phone number is … . If you should decide you have anything constructive to share, you can try to reach me by phone. All of our conversations will also be on the record, publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you.”
I haven’t heard back from the official. It was a step not taken lightly because the note essentially ended our working relationship.
Bob Woodward, Lanny Davis, USA Today, National Journal. We have a trend here, both in the threats and now the threatened coming forward.