Woodward-Gate: Flack ‘Threatens’ Hack, Internet Explodes

Have you been following the latest, dumbest political media scandal? We hope you answered “no”, because this one is a real doozy. It’s a classic case of “hack” vs. “flack” that will feel very familiar to anyone who has spent some time in PR or journalism.

To summarize: Bob Woodward, the veteran reporter who was one-half of the team that exposed the Watergate scandal leading to Richard Nixon’s resignation, had a mildly testy exchange with a White House rep over the pending “sequester” drama. Essentially, if the two parties can’t agree on a mix of new revenue and spending cuts, a big rash of cuts that they set up last year precisely to avoid this sort of showdown will go into effect. It’s basically President Obama versus the House of Representatives, so…politics as usual.

Alright, now what’s the “controversy”–and how does it relate to PR? Glad you asked!

The White House has been on a PR push to pressure opposing lawmakers to agree to a “compromise” with the president, but Woodward believes that they’ve also been “moving the goal posts” by changing the conditions of said compromise and insisting that “revenues”, aka tax increases/loophole eliminations, must accompany any spending cuts. He told Obama’s economic advisor/representative Gene Sperling that he planned to write a related story–and then he did just that. Sperling urged him not to over the phone before telling him via email that “as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim” because, in Sperling’s opinion, it would be inaccurate.

Still with us? Woodward then told CNN that he felt “threatened” by the White House–and the Internet exploded with partisan accusations that the administration is “bullying” the press corps. Yes, that would be the very same “lamestream media” that supposedly follows Obama like a drooling lapdog looking to please its master. Last night Twitter basically turned into the world’s worst political comment thread.

Ugh. OK, politics aside: A lot PR pros and journalists laughed at the “controversy”, because as we all know, this sort of thing happens all the time. We’re just a blog, and we’ve spoken to a couple of irate publicists over the past few weeks. We hear the editors of our sister blogs arguing with representatives over the phone almost every day. This is not a big deal!

Today Politico released the emails in full, inspiring even Obama’s biggest enemies to admit that Woodward is blowing this thing way out of proportion. We particularly like this little exchange:

Sperling: My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.

Woodward: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion…Best, Bob

Does that sound like a “threatened” man to you? Why is Woodward doing this, and what will it accomplish? We don’t know–he claims that he publicized the story in the interests of helping younger journalists avoid this sort of thing, but he sure did make a lot of people look dumb in the process.

Another sad chapter in the ongoing tale of PR versus media…