The “regret-gate” storm over whether Bob Woodward misrepresented his exchange with White House head economist Gene Sperling over sequester paternity misses a major problem that the sequester spin battle has created for the Obama White House crew.
Woodward’s book and his Washington Post article last weekend, along with a string of stories over the last week in Politico and elsewhere, constitute the start of media pushback on the White House’s heavy-handed use of intimidation — the threat of no access — to get reporters to spin stories their way or not write them at all. The president has been inaccessible, but his staff has got the message that stories/reporters he doesn’t like are to be dealt with harshly.
The sequester stories are a case in point. As the president and White House staff began to realize that the sequester would happen and that the president’s histrionics about how awful it was going to be would look downright silly once March 1 passed and the world didn’t end, stories from an influential writer-insider like Woodward that accurately described the sequester as an Obama creation must have enraged the president. Cabinet secretaries like Arne Duncan were co-opted into saying silly things like the sequester was creating “pink slips” for West Virginia teachers. The Washington Post checked and reported that the story was flatly untrue.
The sequester may turn into a Waterloo for the heretofore Teflon Obama. It has become pretty clear that this emperor has no clothes. The stories to reinforce that image are beginning to ooze out. And we haven’t even got started yet on the even nastier and more important battle surrounding the looming March 27 continuing-resolution deadline. Get ready for a government shutdown and an even meaner blame game.