Oh No, Another Bob Woodward Item

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 1 2013 11:12 AM

Oh No, Another Bob Woodward Item

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Sean Hannity

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

To "Hannitize" is to clean up a messy situation with a softball interview, usually with the unhelpfully partisan, not-too-keen on research Fox News host Sean Hannity. (Hannity himself has an alternate definition of the term.) Last night, Bob Woodward made his fourth Fox appearance of the year, a two-part block on Hannity. I counted two fibs in the intro alone. Hannity:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Late yesterday, Woodward revealed that a senior Obama advisor told him he would quote, "Regret doing this."
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Nope, sorry! The quote was, quote: "I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." Hannity invented two words in a three word quote. And he continued:

The White House came out almost immediately, denying this happened.

No, it didn't. The White House never denied that Sperling and Woodward had this exchange. An hour after the Politico "Behind the Curtain" interview with Woodward ran, a White House source (requesting anonymity for some reason) told me that "the note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more." That's the dispute. Is there no story so simple that it can't be mangled by this guy?

Anyway: Erik Wemple has a nice post about the newsy, frustrating part of the interview. Hannity prodded Woodward to explain whether the White House threatened him—"did you feel threatened?" Woodward said no, and contradicted himself within a minute, riffing on "the coded, you know, you better watch out" inherent in the message.

Something small, important, and stupid is being lost here. A casual viewer of Hannity or Morning Joe (Woodward stopped by there this morning) might get the impression that Gene Sperling called Woodward because the column made him so angry. The truth! It stings like the rays of a dying sun!

But that's not what happened. Read the lede of the Politico column that started all this. I'll bold the important part.

Bob Woodward called a senior White House official last week to tell him that in a piece in that weekend’s Washington Post, he was going to question President Barack Obama’s account of how sequestration came about.

It was Woodward, not Sperling, who initiated the conversation. It was Sperling who blew up at Woodward. But in the only part of this story that's remotely relevant to anything, Woodward keeps theorizing that "there’s a young reporter who’s only had a couple of years — or 10 years’ — experience" who'd be cowed by tactics like Sperling's. Tactics like being called by a reporter, warned in advance that a critical column is coming, and trying to debate the premise of the column? Dear readers, this stuff happens all the time. If you're not sparring with sources to make sure you understand their side of an argument, you're doing it wrong.

And if you lead people to believe that this utterly normal sparring amounts to a threat against you, against the Fourth Estate, against young reporters yearning to breathe free—yeah, you're doing it wrong.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.