Frankel: Woodward article prompts unwarranted cries of censorship

An op-ed penned by famed Watergate investigative journalist Bob Woodward in The Washington Post on Feb. 22 ignited a firestorm that provoked a veiled threat from the White House. Woodward accused President Barack Obama of “moving the goal posts” by requesting new revenue as part of a substitute for the automatic budget cuts that took place on March 1. 

In response, Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling emailed Woodward telling him he would “regret” making such a claim. Though the right-wing media has tried to make this issue about Obama’s White House censoring journalism, the issue at hand is the shoddiness of Woodward’s reporting.

Woodward strongly insinuated that the White House had threatened him prior to the publication of his article. In an interview with CNN, Woodward said, “It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters ‘you are going to regret’ doing something.”

The emails of Woodward’s exchange were eventually released, painting a significantly different, less hostile picture. 

“But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying [sic] that [the 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,” wrote Sperling.

As it turns out, Sperling was right to advise Woodward to rethink his comments. Obama has been advocating for revenue increases since 2011. In fact the entire sequestration itself was drawn up during the debt ceiling debates two years ago as a means of forcing the White House and Congress to compromise on the issue of revenue increases. The White House drew up the ludicrous spending cuts under the assumption that the GOP would not put partisanship above the well being of the economy and reach a compromise before the cuts took effect. Clearly, that was a mistake.

The media has largely covered this debacle as if it was a matter of freedom of the press, but the reality is far less sensational. Woodward wrote a misleading article overstating Obama’s role in the sequestration. He is now trying to shift attention away from his shoddy journalism to a fictional act of journalistic suppression.

The sequester, designed to gut already shrinking areas of government, enacts drastic spending cuts to defense, public housing, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, NASA and dozens of other areas of federal spending. The worst of the sequester will not occur for some time, as the cuts will take 10 years to take full effect.

Both the Democrats and Republicans are at fault. Republicans in Congress were presented ample opportunities to pass substitution bills, all of which ended up getting shut down. Of course, the White House did construct the sequestration. The possibility that Congress would refuse to cooperate should have been given more consideration.

Woodward effectively placed the blame entirely on the White House by saying Obama “moved the goal post.” He makes it seem as if Congress was entirely blindsided by Obama’s proposal for revenue increases, when the president’s intentions were well known beforehand. Sperling, who was directly involved with the construction of the sequester package as we know it, was not threatening Woodward, but merely correcting him. Perhaps Woodward should take Sperling’s advice a little bit more often.