Belmont Club

Just a Friendly Call

Jay Rosen of NYU poo-poohs reports that the Obama White House could be intimidating journalist.  Rosen tweets that “Woodward’s “threat” fantasia has become even more absurd; now we have the actual emails He thought he could play us.”

Meaning Woodward could “play us”.

That’s probably because Woodward got exactly the same treatment as the National Journal’s Ron Fournier. “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 Politico characterized as a veiled threat. “You will regret staking out that claim.”

What is interesting — though Jay Rosen doesn’t notice this — is that both incidents followed the same pattern. Bad cop. Good cop. Veiled warning. The similarities are uncanny. The emails between Sperling and Woodward have the White House staffer apologizing for raising his voice in past converations:

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.

That sounds a lot like what Fournier characterized as “vulgarity, abusive language” from his source. In both cases it is followed by the explanation that the rancor was used only in trying to set the record straight (“Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron”). Finally there was the repetition of the curious key phrase “regret” in it.

Ian Fleming wrote in his classic novel Goldfinger: “Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action’.”

Maybe this is the way people routinely talk in the White House.  Or maybe people act this way because there’s a playbook. If Bob Woodward was having a “fantasia” what are the odds that Fournier should have the exact same nightmare? The odds are low. If one more journalist comes forward with a similar story, they become astronomically low.  Maybe things haven’t changed much in Chicago since Auric Goldfinger spent time there.

Looks like the anonymous White House aide telephone and email script is getting old though. Here are some possible lines they might consider upgrading to.

Former Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter describes how he was treated by Robert Gibbs even when Obama was just a candidate.

JONATHAN ALTER, FORMER SENIOR EDITOR, NEWSWEEK: There is a kind of a threatening tone that from time to time, not all the time, but comes out of these guys this White House, but that doesn’t excuse it. And, you know, they should not play that way, but they, they feel like they’re holding the cards in the relationship. They’ve got people’s access, you know, to hold over them.

I remember one time I reported something during the and we were on the road, and we were actually in Berlin. It was on Obama’s in 2008, and they didn’t like something that I had reported, and I was disinvited to a dinner that night that reporters were having with the candidate. I was told “Don’t come” you know, you know fairly abusive email.

STEVE MALZBERG, HOST: Who told you that? Who sent you the email?

He was already the Royal Presence, even before he was president. If they can do this to Alter and Woodward and Fournier, then must be treating the average reporter like sh**t. Clearly if a Republican candidate had done this they would have crucified him. But they let it slide in Obama’s case. And now maybe it’s too late.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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