By the time the Washington Post's Bob Woodward appears on Sean Hannity Fox News show tonight to tell his tall tale of intimidation, is anyone even going to still care about the reporter's ominous claim that he was threatened by the White House for daring to raise questions about its ongoing sequestration battle with Republicans? Or more specifically, is anyone outside the right-wing media bubble going to care?
Woodward's hard-to-believe tale about being threatened, based on a single innocuous sounding phrase from an email sent by a senior White House aide, was cheered by Obama's conservative critics who claimed it proved their long-running theory about the administration's “thug” culture. But the shaky story of a threat quickly collapsed when the full context of Woodward's email exchange with the White House aide, Gene Sperling, was revealed. Rather than a threat, the two men had simply engaged in a vigorous, respectful debate.
Yesterday, Woodward summoned two reporters from Politico to his home and told them his tale of woe. According to the Politico article, Sperling had pushed back on Woodward's assertion that President Obama was “moving the goalposts” on the issue, telling Woodward in an email, “I think you will regret staking out that claim.”
From that, Woodward insisted he'd been threatened, even though “I think you will regret staking out that claim” doesn't sound like very threatening language. Instead, it sounds like someone trying to tell Woodward he would regret publishing facts that are inaccurate. (Kind of the opposite of a threat, no?)
Indeed, when Politico published the email exchange in its entirety, the whole story fell apart. Sperling had actually written, “I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim.” And Woodward's response certainly did not indicate that he felt threatened; he told Sperling, “I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening.”
Why Woodward decided to stage a media tour based on a false premise of a non-existent threat remains to be seen. But we do know Woodward's now an honorary practitioner of the far right's Phony Outrage Machine.
That's where never-ending allegations of Obama misconduct are churned out on a daily, and even hourly basis. And it's where there's always a new claim to replace the last debunked one in an effort to meet readers, listeners and viewers' insatiable appetite for news about Obama's supposedly wicked ways. (He's assaulting liberty!)
And what would fit that narrative better than a claim that Obama's top West Wing hands were trying to muscle Woodward off a story; that they were sending him ominous threats about what the ramifications of messing with the White House would be?
Of course, the GOP Noise Machine embraced the story and hailed Woodward as a hero. And of course Hannity invited Woodward to appear on his show tonight, so the two men can marvel at the White House's unvarnished nasty streak.
But again, the story isn't true. There was no threat issued. The only question that remains is why Woodward felt the need to concoct such a bizarre and public Beltway drama.
Bob Woodward remains the most famous journalist of the Baby Boomer generation. And as I argued a few years ago, his often methodical, behind-the-scenes reporting can provide real insights. But by signing up for duty with the Phony Outrage Machine and by parading around on Fox News wringing his hands over a fictitious threat, Woodward does serious damage to his reputation.