Does the left now have its metaphorical knives out for Bob Woodward? It sure seems that way at the moment. Many Democrats are deeply peeved at what they consider to be distortions in Mr. Woodward’s account of President Obama and the origins of sequestration. They’ve scoffed at reports that the hero of Watergate felt threatened by the White House’s own response to his charges.
“Woodward’s act is getting painfully old, and I don’t plan to pay any more attention to his feverish efforts to stay in the limelight,” writes Ed Kilgore, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, in a typical response.
Conservatives are gleeful about this and count Woodward as a “new hero," according to a headline in Friday’s New York Times. The right-wing website Breitbart.com compiled a list of what it described as lefty-leaning mainstream media types who are now, in Breitbart’s words, “throwing Woodward under a bus."
What’s going on here? Why the partisan divide? As you might expect we’ve got some comments on those questions.
Woodward's never been a liberal. Neither has the man who helped bring down President Nixon ever seemed a conservative. In recent decades he’s been something of an establishmentarian, reflecting the conventional wisdom of Washington insiders with his long, detailed books about policymaking in various administrations.
That means it would be dangerous for the right to anoint him one of their own. Next thing you know he’ll say something that outrages them. During an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Friday, Woodward was already touting a possible move by Senate Republicans to accept some new tax revenues in a sequester-fix deal. That’s not going to make the House GOP happy.
The White House "threat" was exaggerated by the media. The e-mail exchange between Woodward and White House economic adviser Gene Sperling, which created the “threat” uproar, actually seems fairly mild. Mr. Sperling says Woodward might “regret” his statements, but does so in a context which makes it appear that it refers to a possible future regret on the part of Woodward that he was factually wrong.
Woodward himself now plays this down. “I never said this was a threat,” he said this morning on “Today." He pointed out that it was Politico that used the word “threat” in its lead on a long story reporting his dispute with the White House.
The whole “threat” meme is a sideshow, Woodward said. “This is the old trick in the book of making the press or some confrontation with the press the issue rather than what the White House has done here,” he told host Matt Lauer.
(But is it the White House that’s pushing this “sideshow”? Or is the press, always desperate for conflict to cover? We’d say the latter.)
Woodward is vulnerable on substance. We’ve covered the guts of the substance here more substantially elsewhere, but we’ll just say that Woodward, while mostly technically accurate, may not be telling the full story.
One of his points is that sequestration was the Obama administration’s idea. That’s true. But as the White House says, it was an idea floated in response to the GOP refusal to raise the debt ceiling, and was never supposed to go into effect.
Another of Woodward’s main contentions is that the White House has “moved the goalposts” by insisting on new tax revenue as part of any sequester-fixing deal. This is debatable – the administration has been clear for years that it wants tax contributions from the rich as part of pretty much every fiscal deal it tries to strike. Plus, the sequester is a new problem for a new year. The way we’d describe it is that both sides have moved the goalposts, and they’re playing a new game on a new field.
One last thing: If you’d like to relive the glorious days of Watergate, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, at his “A plain blog about politics,” has updates reflecting day-to-day developments in the scandal 40 years ago.
On Feb. 28, 1973, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened L. Patrick Gray’s confirmation hearing to be director of the FBI. He mentioned that he’d let a White House aide named John Dean see FBI files on the bureau’s Watergate investigation. It was the beginning of the end of the coverup.
[Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated how long ago the Watergate scandal occurred.]