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02/28/2013

All the President's mensches

Bob Woodward
Carl Bernstein (L) and Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal in the 1970's, stand outside Woodward's home in Washington, June 1, 2005. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Back when he was busy taking down Richard Nixon, the now-legendary Bob Woodward played with journalistic fire so hot you could easily envision the powers that be simply taking him out, one way or another, to save the White House.

Small wonder, then, how intense the flames of Twitter become late Wednesday, after Woodward revealed that right here and now, four decades later, the Obama White House is up to similar tricks, ominously threatening Woodward with an uncertain fate over his interpretation of who should wear the blame for Washington's latest fiscal crisis.

First, an Obama aide "yelled at me for about a half-hour," Woodward told Politico. Then, in a followup email from the White House, that same aide warned Woodward "I think you will regret staking out that claim" that Obama deserves the blame for the sequestration crisis.

Woodward, in revealing the flap to Politico, lingered upon the words "you'll regret," making clear he saw it as a veiled threat.

The thick-skinned Woodward didn't seem especially worried, but he wondered how a less experienced reporter might have reacted. "I've tangled with lots of these people. But suppose there's a young reporters who's only had a couple of years -- or 10 years -- experience and the White House is sending him an email saying, 'You're going to regret this.' You know, tremble tremble. I don't think it's the way to operate."

Cue Internet frenzy. The right-wing blogosphere pounced, with banner play atop The Drudge Report and, soon thereafter, megaphonic fury from Fox News' Sean Hannity. This is naked "intimidation," said Hannity, by a "fearmongering, demagogue president."

Ah, but the heat went cold today, when Washington watchers got a look at the actual emails from Gene Sperling, Obama's economic adviser.  Far from Soprano's-style muscle-flexing, the full text of the White House missives are actually rather innocuous, suggesting -- in a hand-wringing, apologetic way -- that Woodward might suffer reputational damage for mistakenly concluding Obama was "moving the goal post" in the budget crisis.

The full "regret" sentence from Sperling reads: "I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim."

As the frenzy died down, Washington blogs harrumphed there was little to see, move along folks. Matt K. Lewis of the Daily Caller concluded "Bob Woodward trolled us -- and we got played."

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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