Obama can't bully his way out of this one

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Who'da thunk a spat so trivial would do what the murder of a U.S. ambassador and running guns to Mexican drug cartels could not?

It began when the Washington Post's Bob Woodward noted in a column Feb. 22 the budget sequester President Barack Obama is denouncing was his idea.

The White House was peeved. Mr. Woodward was "willfully wrong" to assert Mr. Obama is "moving the goalposts" on sequestration, said Press Secretary Jay Carney. Mr. Woodward is a washed up old hack, Senior Adviser David Plouffe implied on Twitter.

National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling "yelled at me for about a half hour," Mr. Woodward said. He would "regret" publishing that story, Mr. Sperling said.

That didn't intimidate Mr. Woodward. It irritated him. Mr. Obama is exhibiting "a kind of madness I haven't seen in a long time" for claiming the sequester will prevent the deployment of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf, he said last Wednesday (2/27).

"Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying, 'Oh, by the way, I can't do this because of some budget document?'" Mr. Woodward asked MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

Bigfoot journalists paid more attention to the flap than ever they had to Benghazi or Gunwalker. More important to many of Mr. Woodward's colleagues than whether the administration is exaggerating the impact of sequester cuts is whether what Mr. Sperling said constituted a "threat."

"Is he really afraid of a little aide who said that to him?" asked Mika Brzezinski, Mr. Scarborough's co-host. "Really?"

"When did Bob Woodward become such a weenie?" wondered Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It was a reporter for Politico, not Mr. Woodward, who described what Mr. Sperling said as a "veiled threat." Mr. Woodward never said he, personally, felt intimidated by it.

These facts matter no more to Mr. Woodward's critics than do the facts concerning the president and the sequester. More important to them than the truth was who was helped by his telling of it.

"Woodward became the spokesperson for the Republicans over the weekend," said NBC Chief Political Correspondent Chuck Todd.

So it became imperative to journalists of Mr. Todd's ilk to divert attention from the substance of what Mr. Woodward said, and to besmirch his credibility. This is a tactic these journalists employ often against Republicans. But now they were attacking one of their own.

Fissures formed in the media wall of Omerta. Reporters who had never before noticed when Mr. Obama strayed from the truth noted the variance between what the administration was saying about the sequester, and the facts.

Others confirmed a pattern of intimidation. We've been threatened, too, said National Journal Editor Ron Fournier, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, and former Bill Clinton aide Lanny Davis.

"I had a young reporter asking tough, important questions of an Obama Cabinet secretary," Maureen Callahan of the New York Post said she was told by a "DC veteran." "She was doing her job, and they were trying to bully her. In an e-mail, they called her the vilest names."

Mr. Obama plans to focus sequester cuts on the most visible and critical government functions to inflict as much pain as he can, and then to blame Republicans for it. For his strategy to work, the main stream media must repeat his charges uncritically.

Always in the past, the president could count on the MSM to be his cheerleaders. But when the panel on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program mocks him for his "doomsday rhetoric," and even former New York Times Editor Bill Keller(!) mentions he is not telling the truth, there's been a big change.

The attack on Mr. Woodward has prompted many of his colleagues to put down their pompoms and to do what journalists are supposed to do. No worse fate could befall an administration that depends on being able to lie with impunity.

It was foolish for Team Obama to think they could bully Mr. Woodward, who was a Washington institution long before they arrived in the nation's capital; suicidally stupid to pick a fight with their most effective allies. There are costs to being more arrogant than smart.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. He can be reached at jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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