Bob Woodward Retreats: Death of the Free Media
Appearing in CFP.
Last week establishment journalist Bob Woodward of Watergate fame walked back the initial reports that claimed he had been threatened by the Obama White House’s economic adviser Gene Sperling regarding his reporting that President Obama had moved the goal post on the sequester by seeking additional taxes/revenue. Woodward insisted that he had never used the word “threat.”
“I think that was Politico’s word,” he said, “I said I think that language is unfortunate and I don’t think it’s the way to operate. . . . [Sperling’s] language speaks for itself. I don’t think that’s the way to operate.”
Woodward took issue with Sperling’s use of the word “regret” during an email exchange from Sperling to Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013 that read in part: “But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying [sic] that Potus 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.”
No, that’s not the way an administration should operate in America where the media is supposed to be the watchdog instead of this hybrid fan club cult-of-personality-false-idol-worship journalism we see now. A real journalist should never regret reporting the truth.
That said I have to ask with all due respect where has Woodward been all these years when scores of journalists and citizens have been threatened, marginalized or smeared by their government for daring to speak truth to power?
During the Clinton era that would include anyone who dared to challenge the official narrative during the investigation into the death of Vince Foster or Oklahoma City bombing. Remember how Chinagate and Pardongate were shut down? Did Woodward not see how people were trashed during impeachment? How about getting a straight answer from both the Bush and Obama administrations about their mutual unwinnable war policy called “catch and release” where year after year troops have been sent to war and ordered to catch terrorists only to release them? How many books has Woodward written on these administrations six, seven, eight? I don’t recall him ringing any alarm bells, do you?
No, instead of using his prominent stature to always speak truth to power and stand with others who do despite being threatened or smeared, Woodward’s response to being made to feel “uncomfortable” by his friend of 20 years in the Obama White House was to preserve his access.
Email from Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013:
“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”
The dirty little secret politicians and editors do not want you to know is how access has been used by elected leaders and their political appointees to compromise the integrity of journalists for decades. Those in power do not take kindly to journalists who ask tough questions and deny them access. Editors demand their reporters have access. Woodward is legendary for his extraordinary access. However access does not always mean the public is told the truth. The public is told what the players want them to know by granting access. It’s called publicity stunts disguised as news. More and more journalists act like stenographers and have abdicated their critical role as truth tellers to stay employed.
And now the media’s gradual slide over the last two decades towards becoming a state media is accelerating. As I reported in The Whistleblower referring to the Clinton era treatment of the press that is being repeated today in the Obama White House:
“The more Linda [Tripp] spoke, the more I saw that the press took whatever they could get as the Clintons Hollywood-ized politics and ultimately the justice system, by controlling what was reported and more importantly, what was not reported in the court of public opinion. Writing a critical article about the Clintons, for example, meant no access for that journalist. Getting access to boost circulation and ratings meant having to play by the Clinton White House rules. That nifty trick was a Hollywood maneuver where publicists deny reporters’ access to their celebrity clients unless their clients receive selective and fawning press coverage. This hard-nose tactic to control the narrative saw daylight during Hillary’s failed 2008 presidential bid when Politico reported, “Clinton Campaign kills negative story,” recounting how GQ Magazine was instructed to kill the piece they were writing on the infighting in Hillary’s campaign or lose access to Bill Clinton for their “Man of the Year” December issue. GQ Magazine caved in and spiked the story.
History repeats itself. In April 2011, Obama White House officials “banished” a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who had videotaped protesters interrupting an Obama fundraiser—then claimed they didn’t after they were exposed. Shortly thereafter, the regime refused full press access to the Boston Herald claiming pool reporters are chosen based on whether they cover the news “fairly,” and yelled at a CBS reporter for asking about the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation, a Justice Department and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) operation that allowed Mexican drug cartel intermediaries to purchase guns at licensed U.S. firearms dealers and then cross the border.”
There is good reason why a recent Rasmussen poll showed that only “6% rate news media as very trustworthy.” It is a mystery that Woodward is shocked that the Obama administration played fast and loose with the truth. Again, where has he been?
My personal hope is that Woodward will write an unauthorized book using the information he accumulated over decades of having access that never saw the day of light to maintain that access and speak uncompromising truth to power, stand with others who have faced the heat in what has been a long history of an abuse of power coming from the executive branch to control the media. Will Woodward use his mighty stature to help restore the media’s dwindling credibility?
Unfortunately that appears to be wishful thinking. Yesterday on Bob Schieffer’s CBS’s Face the Nation Woodward offered his version of a publicity stunt disguised as news like the “beer summit” when he invited Obama to his house to make nice. “[Gene Sperling] is a peacemaker,” Woodward said, “I’m in the business of listening, and I’m going to invite him over to my house, if he’ll come. And hopefully he’ll bring others from the White House — maybe the President himself. … [T]alking really works.”
Talking really works. Speaking truth to power would restore the media’s credibility and ensure America’s elected leaders are held accountable for the sake of the Republic. What a sad epitaph to a once celebrated media career.