Bob Woodward discusses the White House “threat” with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
This business with Bob Woodward—the White House’s Gene Sperling told him he might “regret” making a certain claim blaming Obama for the sequester debacle; Woodward told Politico he heard that as a veiled threat; conservatives crowed that all this proved Obama has lapped even Richard Nixon as a political thug; then the actual full exchange with Sperling, when it came forth, made it painfully obvious that the offending words were about as threatening as a light misting rain on a warm summer night—reveal most of what you need to know about Bob Woodward’s usefulness these days as a guide to how Washington works. That is to say, he is utterly useless in explaining how Washington works. But he is almost uniquely useful as an object lesson in displaying how Washington works—especially its elite punditry division.
All credit to David Folkenflik of NPR for having the presence of mind to invite us to turn to page 105 of All the President’s Men to remind Woodward what a real White House threat sounds like: John Mitchell in September 1972 telling his partner Carl Bernstein that if The Washington Post published what it knew about Mitchell personally approving the payment of political spies, Post publisher Katherine Graham was “gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer.”
They ran it anyway, of course. They ran it even though Richard Nixon’s re-election juggernaut was proving impermeable to Woodward and Bernstein’s ongoing Watergate full-court press, and many among Georgetown’s cocktail set had begun to consider the Post’s ongoing indulgence of the story a bit of an embarrassing obsession, kind of the way a blogger like Glenn Greenwald is looked upon now. Because back then, Woodward had guts. He’s something different now: a barometer of Washington conventional wisdom, who more appears to say what he chooses to say based upon his continually evolving sense of who is up and who is down among precisely that same Georgetown cocktail set.
Think that claim is harsh? Here’s an almost scientific case study to prove it. Consider Woodward’s three-volume series of books about George W. Bush’s foreign policy. I reviewed the series in 2006. The first, published in 2002, called Bush At War, was composed back in those heady days when his president’s approval ratings were up above seventy percent. “The George W. Bush who strides across the pages of Bush at War,” I wrote, “was a superhero…. And while the picture of the commander in chief in Plan of Attack (2004)”—modestly subtitled “The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq”—“was rounder, the White House found if flattering enough to put it on the recommended reading list as they prepared for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.”