L’Affaire Woodward

by Jonah Goldberg

So Bob Woodward says he was threatened by . . . Gene Sperling.  

I guess I’m just off the reservation on this whole thing. Now, I think Woodward’s reporting is trustworthy — on this (I don’t always take his version of events as gospel. See Bill Casey’s deathbed confession). But the “threat” thing strikes me as exaggerated. I expressed this view last night on Twitter and a lot of friends on the right leapt to defend Woodward’s interpretation. “He’s been around, he knows what a threat looks like” seemed to be the general attitude. 

Well this morning we have the full text of the actual threatening e-mail, courtesy of Politico. And, well, meh. Sperling apologizes for raising his voice and says “you’ll regret this” not in a “your prized racehorse’s head will be in your bed by morning” kind of way but in a “don’t make a mistake” tone. At least that’s how I read it. And, it seems from his response to Sperling that Woodward read it the same way:

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

That said, I do find the desperate race to defenestrate Woodward from the penthouse suite of the establishment pretty hilarious. I think this e-mail from a friend in academia says it well:


Have we ever seen a White House play the media as effectively as this one? The Plouffe tweet just says it all, really.

For me, the instructive thing in all of the push back on Woodward is that “Truth” some how has an ideological position. When he was writing on Watergate, the Republicans were very angry and accused him of being on a witch hunt. As far as I can tell, the Watergate stories were grounded in fact but what Congress/the WH did with those facts was at issue. Woodward was a hero.

Once again, as far as I can gather, Woodward is reporting the facts. Yet, now that the truth is inconvenient to the WH, Woodward is being attacked and vilified. “Truth” is no longer determined by what is factually accurate, but by what is politically necessary. Woodward shouldn’t be a “hero to conservatives” suddenly . .  .he should be a hero to Americans who want their office holders held accountable regardless of partisan affiliation.

 It will be interesting to see what happens to Woodward’s reputation as a result of this. One would think he has enough “reputation capital” saved up that he will survive. The phrase “Only Nixon could go to China” seems appropriate….only Woodward could challenge this White House. 

I’d guess Woodward comes out of this fine. Presidents are temporary. Woodward is forever. 


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