msnbc | March 03, 2013
>> the white house and veteran watergate reporter bob woodward became a big story last week. in fact, depending on who you talked to, it eclipsed coverage of the sequester debate. at issue is whether white house economic director gene sperling threatened woodward and that really depends o let's go behind that store we ari melber, msnbc political contributor at "the nation." take us to it.
>> there were two big stories in washington this week, of course the sequester and the idea that bob woodward was bullied while covering it. the famous "post" reporter said the white house tried to scare him. the administration's argument was that woodward , of course, was going to regret making a factual error, when all the e-mails came out the evidence showed woodward was exaggerating. it was a threat so veiled i can't see it. still, the whole thing consumed washington for days, and that reaction, i think, suggests two larger problems. first, there's the problem that washington and the media share. we focus too much on ourselves, so in a week when spending cuts were going to impact millions of lives, washington feasted on a petty drama about two local celebrities. reporters obsessed over woodward 's depiction of reporting. now, this is comfortable ground for us, of course, we can contrast his sources and methods to our own, but i think even as we criticize him we risk flattering ourselves, examining a narrative of power politics where we play this central role. and second there's the related problem of what political reporters believe is actually essential about that journalistic role. woodward called foul on the play and appeared to break a confidentiality agreement on the premise that this spat had to do with the government's expectation of a free press. th they say this spat started because president obama didn't let the press present when he played golf with tiger woods . golf or stern e-mails are even on the list and it's not a good sign when the incidents that upset washington the most are the least important things you can think of. craig?
>> is that the first time that you've quoted michelle malkin in this studio?
>> thank you, sir, do appreciate it. stand by. want to bring in the rest of this sunday's brain trust , bob franken , syndicated columnist, alison stuart, a republican strategist and former press secretary for candidates rick santorum and michele bachmann and i hear you're a marathoner as well.
>> it was actually a half marathon .
>> this is sound from gene sperling this morning on "meet the press." take a listen.
>> those e-mails are very substantive. they are cordial. they are friendly, and his reply
>> why do you think he's gone public with it and made an issue of it?
>> david, i would think you would look at his reply. he said don't apologize. i hope bob and i can put this behind the focus.
>> were you threatening him in any way?
>> for bob woodward to suddenly get the vapors offer that kind of wasn't even really a threat but to be perfectly honest on any given day when f i wasn't threatened or cussed out by somebody i was covering, i wasn't doing my job. come on, that's what we do.
>> if you're doing it right.
>> if you're doing it right.
>> you've been on the other side of this working on presidential campaigns, dealing with reporters. what's your take on this from that vantage point?
>> i've also been as a journalist covering campaigns and candidates, and i can say that no matter how you slice it the fact that economic adviser for the president would go to any reporter and say that they may regret having reported that, i do think it does -- it is a reason for concern.
>> are you taking it out of context though?
>> also, if you look at the e-mail it also says, i apologize for raising my voice. as you know they had a 30-minute conversation about it, but i've looked at all sides of this, and i think woodward was right to say what he said in terms of the sequestration. it was obama 's decision in the first place. i do feel as though the obama administration has moved the goal post on this, and i believe he was correct to point it out, and, unfortunately, the obama administration is not used to someone pointing out the accuracies of something like this and that's where we are.
>> alice, i respect your opinion. the people who don't disagree with you are the editors of the " washington post " because when they were faced with the question of moving the goal posts and what to do with that claim, they felt it was opinion, and they took bob woodward who we all know is a longtime reporter and they took that opinion and put it in the opinion section where it belongs. it is an opinion, and we can debate the opinion. the problem here, and i think why woodward got so upset, he got confused about whether he wanted to make factual claims or opinions and he got into it deep with the white house . i do agree we should get back to the focus here which is looking at the effect of these spending cuts and how to deal with them and not just the local celebrity fight.
>> his factual claim -- the factual claim about the fact that obama was the originator of the sequestration and also the fact the thing that made david axelrod so mad is revenues were not originally part of the sequestration conversation and now it is. no one raised quite as much a stink about woodward when he was pointing the finger at nixon and now he's doing it at obama and here we are.
>> bob, jump in with that. i happen to disagree that the tiger woods matter wasn't important. i think that i believe that what it reflected was this arrogance on the part of the white house that believes that the press is either going to be complaint or shut up. that's really dangerous.
>> is this arrogance that permeates this white house different from arrogance that existed in other administrations?
>> there's an old bumper sticker. cheer up, things could be worse and sure enough i did and they were worse. each administration gets more outrageous. i've been yelled at for presidents going all the way back, and i'm going to tell you how far back, but there are always people in the administration who are enforcers and we make a mistake. if we take it personally and we make a bigger mistake if we're pliant.
>> my problem is where the white house correspondent's association chose to go to the mat, not over the drones or the aclu or the record on freedom of information request, serious issues less sexy. you and i would agree we have to push any government, no matter who is in charge of my concern is the white house correspondent association and this woodward thing show washington obsessed over the titillation and the personalities, not the underlying transparency.