Embarrassing

02.28.13

Bob Woodward and Politico and the Worst of Washington

Twitter is afire with thoughts on the Woodward-Politico-Gene Sperling imbroglio. How amazingly shallow this whole thing is can't be overstated. If you've not yet read the emails, here they are. Sperling:

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying 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 barain 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. 

That's a threat? Insane. Sperling and Woodward, as the tone of the emails makes clear, have known each other for years. I know Sperling too. He's not the threatening type. First of all he's about five-seven or something, but that aside, it's obvious to anyone who knows him that he meant Woodward would regret having a big factual error hanging around his neck for the sake of his historical reputation.

And let's remember that that is what this is about: A big factual error Woodward made over the weekend that is misleading in very important ways. He said that Obama and his people were lying ("moving the goalposts") when they claim that revenues have been understood to be part of any sequester deal. He is wrong. Dead flat-out wrong.

He doesn't correct this, and the Politico story linked to above, which started this whole thing, doesn't correct it. The Politico piece is in fact incoherent on this point. Here's one graf:

The Woodward reporting has caused the White House spin machine to sputter at a crucial time. The president was running around the country, campaign-style, warning that Republicans were at fault for the massive cuts set to hit Friday. What Obama never says: It was his own staff that proposed sequestration, and the tax hikes he now proposes — aimed at replacing half of the cuts — were never part of that very specific plan.

The first criticism of Obama there is fair. But the second assertion, that tax hikes were never part of the plan, is just false. And literally two grafs later, the Politico piece says:

The truth is that Obama and Republicans supported it because everyone believed it was a such a stupid idea that the grown-ups in Washington would never actually let it happen. They thought Obama and Congress would come up with a grand bargain on spending, entitlement cuts and tax increases, instead of allowing the sequestration ax to fall. They were wrong.

So in one graf, tax hikes were "never part" of the plan. Then two grafs later, everyone thought from the start that a grand bargain would include "tax increases." So which is it? I suspect that Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen wrote that first graf very, very carefully. What "very specific plan" are they referring to? The earlier context isn't completely clear on this, but they appear to mean the sequestration cuts.

It's extremely clever and misleading wording on their part. Technically true--tax hikes weren't part of the sequestration plan. But they were always understood to be part of the solution, as the authors acknowledge in the second graf I quote. What Woodward wrote last weekend was that revenues were not part of the solution. He was wrong. The Politico piece doesn't state this plain fact.

So instead of a piece calling Woodward on the carpet for getting a very important thing wrong, we have a piece that ignores right and wrong and tries to turn one sentence from an email into something it obviously wasn't.

And all this is happening, of course, in a larger context in which you have one side, the side that lost the last election by the way, taking a "negotiating" position that is supported by 19 percent of the people and refusing to budge from it one inch. Which is somehow Obama's fault because he just needs to show "leadership." The economy is at serious risk here, and this is what our agenda-setters are feeding us? These people are children, and this is really as bad as Washington gets.

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Does Bob Woodward have a case against the White House?