My colleague Henry Payne’s column and blog post on the “threat” made to reporter Bob Woodward are premised on such a willful misreading of the incident that I think it only fair to tell you the rest of the story.
First, a summary: Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, says White House to blame for sequestration and for “changing the goal posts” in negotiating a way out of it. White House aide yells at Woodward on the phone. White House aide calls, apologizes, but also says tells Woodward, “as a friend,” that he would “regret” taking his position. Woodward goes on national TV, telling anyone who would listen that the White House is trying to intimidate him.
“Suppose there’s a young reporter 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,’” Woodward said. “You know, tremble, tremble. I don’t think it’s the way to operate.”
Conservatives ran with the storyline. “Obama White House threatens Bob Woodward” is a storyline that helps shore up Obama’s-the-worst-since-Nixon meme percolating on the right. What’s more Nixonian than threatening a reporter? Better yet, the same one who brought down Nixon?
Problem is, Bob Woodward wasn’t threatened. Not by the eyeball test — Read the emails yourself. And not in his own words. (Click to the :58-1:05 range).
“I never characterized it as a threat” — Woodward to The Washington Post, an item covered by that left wing media outlet The Blaze, owned by Glenn Beck. He would repeat the same to Sean Hannity.
Once the full context of the emails became known, (most) conservatives backed off the “threat” line. It was no longer credible. So said RedState founder Erick Erickson. So said longtime conservative journalist Byron York. So said most people who read the emails.
But people who are still running with the “threat” line at this late date have fallen prey to Obama Derangement Syndrome.
Obama Derangement Syndrome has afflicted the right since 2008, when it became clear the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois could win the presidency and the world was first introduced to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is what caused Republicans to try to pin a minister’s words to Obama even as they deny that Republican candidates like Todd Akin or Mitt Romney meant the words that came out of their own mouths.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is what caused conservatives who happily cast two votes for George W. Bush to morph into deficit hawks in 2009. It causes Republicans who supported comprehensive immigration reform to oppose it, because Obama supports it, even as the American electorate grows browner and enforcement-only measures like “self-deportation” go over poorly.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is why Republicans spent an entire summer screaming “You did build that!” into microphones while failing to speak to the vast majority of Americans who will either never start a business or who have started a business and have the humility to realize they didn’t do it alone.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is why Republicans can’t get their story straight on whether sequestration was (a) Obama’s fault, and a bad thing or (b) The tough medicine America needs to swallow.
And Obama Derangement Syndrome is what causes (some) conservatives to actually think Bob Woodward was threatened. It’s not a position anyone would reach based on the evidence. You would have to already believe the “Chicago politics” narrative and, hey, Michael Barone said it, so why not?
Tell me Obama is bad on civil liberties and I’ll agree. Tell me he’s turning America into Detroit/Europe/Zimbabwe/a Chinese debtor state and I can see how that might move people. Tell me Gene Sperling’s email is your AHA! moment, proof that Obama runs a gangster government, and I can’t help but think you’re missing a real opportunity.
There is a lot of meat on the bone for Obama’s critics. But running with every little story, especially one requiring as willful a misreading as the Bob Woodward situation, is the political equivalent of crying wolf. It will only dull the voices of the wolf-criers when they do have a legitimate criticism to make.