Gene Sperling is President Obama’s economic adviser and Bob Woodward is an award winning journalist who works for the Washington Post and along with Carl Bernstein exposed the Watergate conspiracy. There are sufficient credentials on either side of this supposed “disagreement,” and frankly, from what I have read, the whole thing was blown completely out of proportion. I believe even Woodward made this comment, which was echoed by White House spokesman, Jay Carney.
In an exclusive, Politico obtained and released the following emails between Sperling and Woodward:
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 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 bargain 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 different. 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
From there on it’s ‘he said,’ ‘he said’ with Woodward commenting at one point, "I never characterized it as a 'threat.' I think that was Politico's word." But Woodward at least implied that the “I think you will regret staking out that claim,” was a veiled threat and of course at that point it went viral. It wouldn’t mean diddly squat had it been said by some lesser known journalist than Bob Woodward, especially with his connections to Washington and insight into Beltway politics. It must have been a slow news day.
But the New Yorker had a different slant. John Cassidy said, “The real rap on Woodward isn’t that he makes things up. It’s that he takes what powerful people tell him at face value; that his accounts are shaped by who coöperates with him and who doesn’t; and that they lack context, critical awareness, and, ultimately, historic meaning.” Further, Joan Didion wrote:
“’…that “measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent’” from Woodward’s post-Watergate books, which are notable mainly for “a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.”
Cassidy states that in one of Woodward’s books about the Bush admin. he says that, “…President Obama bungled negotiations with congressional Republicans, and portrays him as overconfident, underprepared, and confrontational.” Yet Ryan Lizza in a piece about Eric Cantor said, “…the House Republican virtually admits it was he who torpedoed the debt-ceiling negotiations.” Cassidy confirms that Obama “was clear all along that, when it came to replacing the sequester, it would demand a balanced package of spending cuts and revenue increases.”
Cassidy added that Sperling’s history is a matter of record with “little to apologize for.” But Woodward’s background is basically untarnished in a business that requires near-perfection in what you are doing. Let’s just call it a draw and move on.