Bob Woodward takes on White House over sequester spat

March 1, 2013 7:48:21 AM PST
Veteran journalist Bob Woodward asserts he was threatened by a senior Obama administration official while covering the spending cuts fight.

CNN says the official is Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council. White House officials are going out of their way to say it's all a misunderstanding.

An intimidating threat or a friendly exchange, between a reporter and a White House official? At issue, a spat over Bob Woodward's reporting on the president's plan to avoid the looming forced spending cuts.

"It was said very clearly that 'you will regret doing this," Woodward told CNN but would not say who sent the email, admitting it was a "very senior person."

According to the White House, Sperling's email was no threat. In a statement a press official said, "The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more."

"Gene Sperling, in keeping with a demeanor I've been familiar with for 20 years was incredibly respectful. You cannot read those emails and come away with the impression that Gene was threatening anybody," said Jay Carney, White House spokesman.

In the email exchange, obtained by Politico, Sperling writes, "I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad .... But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that POTUS asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim."

Woodward, replied, "You do not ever have to apologize to me. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat."

Now, Woodward says it was too hot.

"It makes me very uncomfortable having the White House telling reporters you're going to regret doing something you believe in," he said.

The president said he values a free press that is not afraid to ask questions, to examine, and to criticize.

"We are enormously respectful of the work that you do, that I used to do, and we also believe it's important for us to make clear when we think, as we have in the past, somebody's out there getting the facts wrong," Carney told a CNN reporter.

Woodward is set to appear on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday and to speak at a Washington, D.C., area conference Monday.