A Peek Inside The Brittle, Thin-Skinned D.C. Bubble

Every once in a while we hear about a story that gives us a good sense of the warped world of politicians and journalists in Washington, D.C.  The recent snit between Bob Woodward and the White House is one of those stories.

In case you missed this earth-shattering tale, Bob Woodward — the Watergate reporter who has since made a career out of writing turgid, insider-based accounts of Washington events — was getting ready to write about “sequestration,” the Rube Goldberg process by which $85 billion in “automatic” spending cuts will be made today because our current President can’t lead and our current Congress can’t legislate.  When Woodward told a White House aide his view on the genesis of the “sequestration” concept and the President’s approach to it, he says the aide yelled at him for a half hour, then sent Woodward an email that stated, among other things, that Woodward would “regret” staking out his position on the issue.  Woodward, miffed, disclosed the exchange, which he saw as a veiled threat.

What does this tell us about Washington, D.C.?  It tells us that the White House is focused more on spin than solving problems and is amazingly thin-skinned about criticism.  “Sequestration” — the implementation of “automatic” spending cuts that were consciously designed to be so draconian and blunderbuss that they would force the parties to sit down and reach an agreement — is an idiotic way for our government to operate.  I don’t blame the White House for trying to blur its role in putting such lunacy into place.  The Democrat-controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House, are engaging in similar juvenile finger-pointing.  The notion of accepting responsibility and reaching agreement on a rational approach evidently is too adult a concept to hold sway in the weird world of Washington.

But what of Bob Woodward? He received a dressing down from some presidential flunky and then got an email he thought was ill-considered.  Big deal!  I guess the politicians and reporters in D.C. are so chummy that a few strong words are deeply wounding and cause for scandal.  Maybe that’s our problem.  The reporters and the politicians in the D.C. fishbowl are so used to stroking each other that real reporting never gets done and real accountability never gets assigned.  I’d be perfectly happy if more politicians and aides with bloated egos did some yelling at reporters tracking down the news, and more reporters shrugged off the tirades and printed what they and their editors decided was the real story.

5 thoughts on “A Peek Inside The Brittle, Thin-Skinned D.C. Bubble

  1. Here is the actual email between the two. Tell me who is “thin skinned.” This is an example of ridiculous media-hype.

    –From: Gene Sperling … To: Bob Woodward … Feb. 22, 11:52 p.m.: “Bob: I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

    “But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying … that Potus [President of the United States] 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 bar[g]ain 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. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA [Budget Control Act of 2011]: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)

    “I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is different. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.

    “My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize. Gene’

    –From: Bob Woodward … To: Gene Sperling … Feb. 23, 7:23 a.m.: “Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob Sent from my iPhone”

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    • The email makes the whole thing even more interesting, doesn’t it? As I noted in my posting, I think they both are brittle and thin-skinned — Sperling for getting angry and yelling in the first place at the possibility that the President might be criticized, and Woodward for not accepting the yelling as part of the job and then for interpreting the email as a “threat.” What’s hard to understand is why Woodward went public with the purported “threat” in view of his conciliatory email in response to Sperling’s message, which indicates Woodward didn’t really interpret the “regret” statement as a threat in the first place.

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  2. Over the years, I’ve generally found Woodward’s reportage to be reasonable and reliable. However, if these e-mails are supposed to be the “smoking gun evidence” of a “nefarious threat from the White House,” I’m just not seeing it.

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