Ed Driscoll

Working for the Clampdown

“The world came to an end this morning as the federal budget sequester took effect. In other news, Bob Woodward, the legendary Washington Post reporter who was half the team that broke the Watergate story, is on the outs with the White House,” James Taranto writes today in his latest Best of the Web column at the Wall Street Journal. After recapping Woodward’s travails with the Obama White House and the JournoList, its media extension, Taranto adds, “If Woodward isn’t claiming the White House threatened him, two other Beltway media figures are.”

Those figures are Lanny Davis, the former Clinton aide, and Ron Fournier, formerly with AP, now with National Journal:

Fournier writes of having received “several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase” that Sperling used in his email to Woodward. The last straw came after Fournier responded sarcastically on Twitter to Jay Carney’s Woodward tweet: “Obama White House: Woodward is ‘willfully wrong.’ Huh-what did Nixon White House have to say about Woodward?”

Whereupon the unnamed source “sent me an indignant e-mail. ‘What’s next, a Nazi analogy?’ the official wrote, chastising me for spreading ‘bull**** like that.’ ” Although Fournier says he was “not offended,” he “didn’t want to condone behavior that might intimidate less-experienced reporters, a reaction I personally witnessed in journalists covering the Obama administration.” So Fournier wrote to the official not to email him again.

“Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron,” the official wrote back. Fournier answered by warning that “all future e-mails from you will be on the record–publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you.” That seems to have gotten the message across.

What’s oddest about this piece is that Fournier goes out of his way to deny that Obama is responsible for his aides’ bad behavior. Fournier follows his description of his own tweet with this disclaimer:

Reporting by Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered Watergate misdeeds and led to the resignation of President Nixon. My tweet was not intended to compare Nixon to Obama (there is no reason to doubt Obama’s integrity–period) but rather to compare the attack to the press strategies of all the presidents’ men.

The distinction is fair enough, but that parenthetical is deeply weird. Above all, what kind of reporter would grant–or indeed even think it in his power to grant–a politician he covers blanket absolution from all doubt about his integrity? (The kind who invented “accountability journalism,” ironically enough.)

The tone of the parenthetical is oddly defensive. Maybe Fournier is just trying to protect himself from the sort of attacks leftist ideologues have waged against Woodward. (If so, good luck with that.) But if there’s no reason to doubt Obama’s integrity, why does Fournier need to say it so categorically and emphatically? Jimmy Carter never had to declare, “I am not a crook” (though CNN reports Obama said today, “I am not a dictator”). It’s as if it requires an exertion for Fournier to convince himself not to doubt Obama’s integrity.

The closing paragraph of Fournier’s column bolsters this hypothesis:

This can’t be what Obama wants. He must not know how thin-skinned and close-minded his staff can be to criticism. “I have the greatest respect and admiration for what you do,” Obama told reporters a year ago. “I know sometimes you like to give me a hard time, and I certainly like to return the favor, but I never forget that our country depends on you.”

That sounds like the kind of rationalization one invents to sustain a bad romance–specifically, a romance in which one is head over heels with an ambivalent or indifferent partner: I’m sure he doesn’t mean to hurt me. He once told me he has great respect and admiration for me.

And it’s not just Fournier. Here’s what Woodward had to say In his CNN interview:

I think if Barack Obama knew that was part of the communication’s strategy–let’s hope it’s not a strategy, that it’s a tactic that somebody’s employed–and said, look, we don’t go around trying to say to reporters, “If you, in an honest way, present something we don’t like, that, you know, you’re going to regret this.”

If only Barack knew . . . Try to imagine Woodward saying the same thing about Nixon–or about any other president from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush. What Woodward, Fournier and more than a few other Washington journalists ought to regret is the degree to which they have allowed themselves to become personally attached to the presidency of Barack Obama.

In “The Battle of Bob Woodward.” Michael Walsh adds:

Which is why the hostility directed toward Woodward by the punks from the kindergarten klass of 1990 is so laughable, since they wouldn’t know a story if it came up and tried to change their red diapers for them. Mistaking ideology for ethics, the Juicers are incapable of understanding what the function of journalism used to be; hence their attack on Woodward for daring to correct the Emperor Hussein while the rest of them pull down paychecks from the Ministry of Propaganda and guard against any deviance from the prevailing orthodoxy, whatever it happens to be on that particular day.

And another member of the Palace Guard has circled the wagons as well to defend The One: “Truth to Power: in War Between Woodward and Government of the United States, The Onion Bravely… Goes After Woodward.”

Hey, look on the bright side: At least this time around, they’re not calling a nine year old girl a c***.