Bob Woodward offered his side of the White House "threat" story to Sean Hannity on Thursday night, presumably to defend himself from the firestorm of criticism over this week's weird incident. But rather than inviting the Fox News audience and the journalists who are so irked about how the veteran journalist has handled a small spat with senior white House official Gene Sperling, Woodward ended up just shoveling more coal into the stove.
If you haven't been following the story, the breakdown is simple enough. Last week, Woodward wrote a sharply critical piece about President Obama's handling of the sequester prompting Sperling, a White House economic advisor, to contact Woodward by phone. According to Woodward, the senior Obama administration official yelled at him "for about a half-hour" and afterwards sent a follow-up email. "But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying [sic] that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post," wrote Sperling. "I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." We emphasized that last part, because that's basically all that anyone's been talking about. Woodward took the phrase "you will regret" straight to the press resulting in a storyline — most prominently in Politico — that involved the White House threatening Woodward. New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter describes Woodward's positioning as an "overreach." In other words, Woodward took Sperling's statement out of context and spun it as an example of how the Obama administration bullies journalists.
Woodward had the chance to redeem himself on The Sean Hannity Show. And, as he did in an interview with one of his colleagues at The Washington Post earlier in the day, Woodward tried. "People have said, well, this was a threat or I was saying it was a threat," Woodward told the Fox News host. "I haven't used that language." Woodward told The Washington Post, "I never characterized it as a 'threat.' I think that was Politico's word." He added, "I said I think [Sperling's] language is unfortunate, and I don't think it's the way to operate." Mind you, this is all after Woodward told Sperling in an email that was recently made public, "Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. … I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance." Woodward rounded out his Hannity appearance by saying that the word "regret" was "coded" to mean "you better watch out."
This is where that shoveling coal into the stove metaphor comes in. Woodward just won't let this fire die. He was so close! The Washington establishment had audibly groaned at the Politico story that called Sperling's email a threat and challenged Woodward's interpretation of the events. He even said, "I never characterized it as a 'threat.'"
Well, Bob, what do you think people hear when you say Sperling's wording was code for "you better watch out?" To awkwardly extend that coal stove metaphor, Woodward is really smearing soot on his face at this point. But from a conservative's point of view it might as well be war paint. Woodward secured his status as the right's new hero when he told Hannity on Thursday night, "I get calls and e-mails from people telling me I'm insane to come on your show. I say, now, wait a minute, you let me say what I want." He added. "You dig into things."