Why Bob Woodward needs to strap on his big boy pants

February 28, 2013

Talk about thin-skinned journalists. This week’s flame up between the Obama White House and Washington Post columnist Bob Woodward stands as a stark example of how hypersensitive the press can be when pushed back hard.

Woodward contends and a White House aide confirms that Woodward and the White House engaged in a 30-minute shouting match this week after Woodward contacted the Obama press corps to inform them that he was going to write a less-than complimentary piece on the role the president has played in creating the sequestration mess the country is facing.

The White House has stuck to its narrative that President Obama didn’t trigger the sequestration dominoes when he kicked the can down the road and put in place a political IED set to go off this week. After the telephone argument, the aide sent Woodward an email apologizing for the outburst and then appended a final thought, “But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

Woodward went on the offensive, suggesting that somehow the Obama Administration had threatened him and that the president himself would object to the aide’s menacing comment. “I think if Obama himself saw the way they’re dealing with some of this, he would say, ‘Whoa, we don’t tell any reporter you’re going to regret challenging us.'”

Really? The president would object to an aide telling a journalist that he might regret the path he was taking in his reporting? Wow? Talk about a prima donna. Perhaps Woodward should sit in the seat of a publicist and listen to how his ilk talks to us. Over the course of my career, I have listened as journalists have fought, threatened, and disparaged me as I worked to represent my clients in various crises and difficult scrapes.

I recall one network broadcast journalist who told me I would never work in the business again if I didn’t produce a client for an interview. Another told me flat out that she intended to embarrass my client simply because I refused to confirm an alleged fact. Or how about the common threat made by the media on a daily basis — if your client isn’t going to talk to us, we’re just going to publish the other side of the story and your client will look guilty.

Are those threats? Nah. Heck, I thought they were standard operating procedure. In pursuit of a story, shouldn’t the press rant and rave and pull levers and push buttons to get to the truth? Why can’t PR professionals do the same? If I had a $100 for every time someone in the media said or suggested I would regret not giving in to their request, I would own a home in Aspen by now.

Regrets, I am sure Bob Woodward has had a few. Add one more, contending that a PR person’s attempt to influence his reporting is somehow a veiled threat.

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