The White House today adamantly denied that Gene Sperling threatened Bob Woodward, adding that the president’s top adviser on economic policy was “incredibly respectful” in his emails to the veteran journalist.
“I think you cannot read those emails and come away with the impression that Gene was threatening anybody,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
Woodward has accused Sperling of threatening him last week over an op-ed he later published in the Washington Post that alleged President Obama is “moving the goalposts” by insisting Republicans agree to new tax revenue as part of any deal to avoid the so-called sequester.
Sperling is the director of the National Economic Council.
In one email, Sperling told Woodward, “I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim.”
Carney, a former White House reporter, stressed that he has “enormous respect for the work that Bob Woodward is famous for” and that this was just a “factual disagreement.”
“The president from day one, has been absolutely clear that in dealing with deficit reduction going forward and in replacing and eliminating the sequester, he believes we had to have balance,” Carney said.
“You’d have to have your head in your — in the sand not to know that. Everybody here has reported it ad nauseam. So, I think that’s the fact that Gene was concerned with.”
The feud between Woodward and the White House has distracted attention from the administration’s campaign to blame Republicans for the looming $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in Friday.
Carney disagreed with the notion that tension between the White House and the media has escalated under the Obama administration.
“The naturally adversarial relationship between the press corps and any administration, any White House, means that, you know, you guys appropriately are always demanding more information and holding our feet to the fire,” he said.
“It was certainly that way when I got here and covered the Clinton White House and when I was covering the Bush White House, and I don’t think it’s any different now. In fact, I would suggest that the atmosphere in this room was a lot more tense when I got here in 1993 than it is today.”
Carney said he “never took it personally” when he would get an “earful” from the White House during his days as a reporter for Time magazine.
“Reporters are under a great deal of competitive pressure, not just to get scoops, but also to have the most noticed opinion or observation,” he said. “And there are going to be disagreements about whether those facts or opinions or observations are on the mark. I think it should be that way.”