Legendary journalist Bob Woodward said Friday that the focus on his quarrel with a close White House adviser over the sequester is a “sideshow” detracting from the real debate over who is responsible for the deep spending cuts about to go into effect.
“It’s been pointed out that this is a sideshow, which it is,” the Washington Post journalist told Matt Lauer on TODAY from Washington. “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.”
What the administration has done, Woodward said, is skirt the issue over whose actions put into play the deep budget cuts, known as the sequester, that automatically go into effect Friday throughout the federal government.
Woodward said he received a harsh rebuke from White House economic advisor Gene Sperling over an op-ed he wrote that attributed the automatic cuts to the president. While the White House blamed congressional Republicans for originating the sequester, Woodward said they were actually initiated by the administration, particularly Jack Lew, former White House budget director and now Treasury Secretary.
“The president is running around the country saying it’s going to bring a human toll, that all sorts of people are going to lose their jobs,” Woodward told Lauer. “He’s the one who started it. He’s the one he proposed it. People need to know that, and that’s what the White House is trying to avoid discussion about, quite frankly.”
Woodward said he never went public with his spat over the White House. He said that Politico, which covers politics in various media, approached him with questions about why he called the president out in his op-ed. Earlier in the week, he told Politico that an Obama aide “yelled at me for about half an hour.”
Politico published the email exchange between Woodward and Sperling, who later apologized for raising his voice but warned Woodward he would “regret” questioning White House assertions on the origins of the sequestration.
“I do believe you should rethink your comment about saying that POTUS asking for revenues is moving the goalpost. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim,” Sperling said.
Politico printed the entire exchange Thursday, but Woodward didn't seem concerned about the spat.
“I’ve done this 40 years. I’ve had lots of contentious exchanges with the White House," he said. "I’ve never said this was a threat. This is what it is. People can read.”
Woodward also appeared Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," where former Obama advisor David Axelrod took issue with him over the e-mail exchange and how it was portrayed in Woodward’s paper. The Washington Post originally said in a headline that Sperling had “threatened” Woodward, but the paper later changed the headline.
“When the full e-mails came out, they were as cordial as can be,” Axelrod said. “His e-mail was cordial, and your response was cordial. So if you felt threatened, why didn’t you say to Gene, ‘Don’t threaten me?’”
Woodward said that he never claimed he felt threatened.
“You are putting words in my mouth,” he told Axelrod. “I said, ‘I don’t think this is the way to operate.'”
On his Fox News show Thursday night, pundit Bill O’Reilly also addressed the topic.
O'Reilly said there didn’t appear to be an actual threat in the email Sperling sent, but said it was hard to read the note’s tone. Both he and Ed Henry, Fox News' White House correspondent, said the White House has a history of pushing back hard against journalists who report stories they consider unfavorable.