Morning Joe
updated 3/1/2013 11:50:28 AM ET 2013-03-01T16:50:28

The odd back-and-forth between the White House and the Washington Post's Bob Woodward continued into Friday on Morning Joe when former Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod sparred with Woodward.

The odd back-and-forth between the White House and the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward continued into Friday on Morning Joe when former Obama Senior Adviser David Axelrod sparred with the reporter.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick primer. The flare-up mainly deals with an email exchange between Woodward and Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council, following a Washington Post op-ed in which Woodward claimed President Obama had “moved the goalposts” on the budget deal with sequestration.

Woodward later went on television to claim that a “senior White House official” (Sperling) had pushed back on the piece and been less than gracious and intimidating. After Politico published the email exchange, in the process revealing more a cordial exchange than a fight, Woodward received criticism from journalists and pundits.

Friday, he appeared to defend his initial claims.

“I never said it was a threat,” Woodward told the panel on Friday. “Gene Sperling is one of the really decent, hardworking people I’ve deal with…This wasn’t a factual disagreement; this was a disagreement about I was challenging [the White House] on something and Gene said we’re not going to see eye to eye, and you’re going to regret staking out this claim.”

Woodward continued that he’d had many disagreements with Axelrod, but Axelrod had never said “You’re going to regret reaching a conclusion that we don’t like.”

Axelrod responded by saying Sperling’s emails were actually not heated.

Here’s part of the conversation:

Axelrod: The headline in the Washington Post, your newspaper, is ‘Woodward says that he was threatened by the White House…

Woodward: I never have. Come on, you know that

Axelrod: I don’t know if you’ve spoken to your editors about that, but they got the impression from what you said that you felt that you were being threatened…When the full emails came out, they were as cordial as they could be.

Meanwhile, the sequester deadline was midnight, and it will begin going into effect Friday. Woodward maintains its effects rather than an email exchange is really what matters.

“The issue here…is the automatic spending cuts and the sequester and how we got there and what it’s going to mean to people. It’s often a technique employed by the White House either unintentionally or intentionally to say ‘Oh, let’s make the…press the issue’ rather than [focus on] what they did. To people out in the real world the issue is the automatic spending cuts,” Woodward said.

Video: Bob Woodward: I never said Sperling's 'regret' comment was a threat

  1. Closed captioning of: Bob Woodward: I never said Sperling's 'regret' comment was a threat

    >> prize-winning associate editor of "the washington post ," bob woodward along with david axelrod , melody and heilmann. bob, good to see you this morning.

    >> thank you.

    >> what is the follow-up? we've been questioning the e-mails between you and gene sperling and whether or not regret means threat. and i want to know how you got there in terms of that was a watch-out point of view statement.

    >> well, it was not -- i never said it was a threat. "politico" was doing the story about the column that i wrote on sunday, calling out the administration, making it clear from the reporting and finally to jay carney 's credit that the idea for the sequester came from the white house and that they've changed some of the arrangements. and so i mentioned that i got an e-mail from somebody like lots of things in washington then, the details leaked out. as david axelrod knows, gene sperling 's one of the really decent, hardworking people i've dealt with the obama white house and axelrod a lot. it's just unusual to say when there's not -- this wasn't a factual disagreement. this was a disagreement about -- i was challenging them on something, and gene said we're not going to see eye to eye , and you're going to regret staking out this claim. axelrod and i have disagreed many times, but he's never said you're going to regret reaching a conclusion that we don't like.

    >> he doesn't say that to you because he says that to me all the time.

    >> i'm still waiting for you to regret something.

    >> all right.

    >> keep waiting.

    >> bob, let me ask you this. given all the reaction this has gotten and given the nature of the e-mails as you read through them, do you think, because you're not, you know, a young reporter starting out who might be intimidated, you're not. you're bob woodward . do you think you might have overstepped the way you described the scenario?

    >> no. i mean, the e-mails speak for themselves.

    >> they do.

    >> people have characterized them. but the issue here is, this is where we get tangled up in ourselves is the automatic spending cuts and the sequester and how we got there and what it's going to mean to people. and it's often a technique employed by white houses either unintentionally or intentionally to say oh, let's make the conduct of the press the issue rather than what they did. to people out in the real world , the issue is these automatic spending cuts and the human toll they are going to bring to many people and many families.

    >> you know, bob, i want to talk about actually the news of the day that's actually important. the sequester. but before i do that, david axelrod , he's a small person .

    >> what?

    >> he wants to -- he wants to get involved in the mundane sort of machinations of --

    >> the minutia. the minutia.

    >> he's a man who lives in the weeds. who lives in the weeds.

    >> read all of his books. david , i want to ask you from your perspective and then you can take it. because you were a journalist.

    >> yes, i was.

    >> you know both sides of this.

    >> i do.

    >> take it away.

    >> first of all, one of the reasons i became a journalist was because of bob woodward .

    >> i bet you're sorry now.

    >> uh-oh.

    >> bob woodward inspired a whole generation.

    >> don't blame me.

    >> exactly.

    >> a whole generation of journalists. in fact, you talked yesterday --

    >> that seems like an awful lot to place on bob's shoulders.

    >> i was the city hall bureau chief of "the chicago tribune " when i was 25 years old, and the mayor threatened to have me ejected from city hall because she didn't like the coverage i was doing. so i know what intimidation is. and bob, you know, the headline in "the washington post ," your newspaper, was "woodward says that he was threatened by the white house ."

    >> but i never have. come on. you know that. no.

    >> they got the impression from what you said that you felt you were being threatened, and you just read to the "politico" one line from that e-mail. when the full e-mails came out, they were as cordial as can be. his e-mail was cordial, and your response was cordial. so if you felt threatened, why didn't you say to gene, don't threaten me?

    >> bob?

    >> no, i did not feel threat -- you know, what i have said, david , come on. you are putting words in my mouth. i said i don't think this is the way to operate. and you and i have had many discussions. you've never said to me, oh, you're going to regret doing that. am i correct?

    >> yes, but this was a specific discussion about a specific point you had raised. it seemed like gene, thin that e-mail, was very polite in the way that he pushed back on it.

    >> you should have heard the --

    >> i'm not putting words in your mouth, bob. it's your newspaper that said, you said you were threatened.

    >> so let me step in here, bob.

    >> sure.

    >> as i said for some time, we've just been looking at what happened in this chain of e-mails. this comes after the white house pushing back pretty hard on you for quite some time because the president said he had nothing to do with the sequester. you pointed out in your piece that he did. the white house started pushing back furiously. gene called you up. and we love gene here. but it was a 30-minute call. as i said to david , i mean, let's just not pretend here. that when you say the word "regret," and this whole "i said it as a friend," we'd always do that in washington . you'd put your arm around somebody, you'd bring them close and you'd say, hey, listen, jim. we're good friends. you know i love you, but i've just got to tell you, buddy, if you go out there and put this amendment on my bill, you're going to regret it. i'm only saying it because i love you. but you're sending the message, watch out. duck.

    >> exactly. and this is the code. now, look. gene is not a threatening sort of person, and i've never said this was a threat. the point is, what really happened here? we're at one of the pivot points again in washington about budget and fiscal issues, god help us that we're there again, but we are. and these automatic spending cuts which really don't deal with the problem of entitlements, and that's very, very significant. these automatic spending cuts. everyone says are the worst are irrational. i mean, how do we get to the point where we have the government, our government is the biggest obstacle to continue in the economic recovery. that is the reality everyone's facing.

    >> mika, can we get a shot of david 's face? did you see that look on his face when he asked the question? i thought he was going to follow through on the threat.

    >> these are not the right way to move forward. the president agrees with that. bob, from the very beginning, he said we need a balanced way forward that includes both cuts, and that includes cuts in entitlements, and revenues. and that's exactly what he wants to do now. and to say -- i think what gene was reacting to was that you suggested he had moved the goalposts. the goalposts have been in the same place from the very beginning.

    >> no, they have not. because in 2011 , he made a deal, biden and senate minority leader mcconnell, made the deal that we won't have to go back for more borrowing authority negotiations in the election year 2012 , something very important to the president and to you and to the white house staff . and the agreement was then there would be, in the sequester, which we're now dealing with, no tax increases. it is a lay-down case that he has change -- the president has changed the argument here. now, is that a felony? is that a big deal ? no. but it's the reality.

    >> it's not a felony or a big deal , it's just not true. the fact is that the president said that the sequester was never meant to go forward. and the president said the way to solve it has --

    >> oh, but it has.

    >> -- is includes revenue and entitlement reforms. as we've discussed here, that's the only way that it can move forward. he still believes that. that's what he said all through 2011 , 2012 and 2013 . the goalposts are right where he put them in the first place.

    >> bob, final word.

    >> the goalposts got moved, and they know it, and that's what they're upset about. look, he made a deal in 2011 . he got an immediate benefit. the republicans are out there saying, okay, we'll go along with the sequester. they are to blame. everyone's to blame. but the sequester is a giant nightmare. and it could have a real impact on the economy and people's lives as the president has said. and that's what this is about, not some kind of e-mail exchange i had with somebody in the white house .

    >> bob, thank you so much for being on the show. we greatly appreciate it.

    >> thank you.

    >> you know, we consider you a great friend of the show. i just want to say. i really do. i think you'd better write a really nice story about me, being a champion of budget restraint. really, i'm your friend.

    >> and i'm thinking --

    >> i don't think you're going to print it. don't you think he'll regret it?

    >> i do. i do.

    >> listen, but i love you. and listen, you're welcome back any time even if you don't. i just kind of think you'd probably better.

    >> front page .

    >> front page . bob, thank you so much.

    >> thanks a lot.

    >> have a great weekend.

    >> david , how you doing over there?

    >> great.

    >> grumpy. you are grumpy.

    >> i'm not grumpy at all. bob was the one who raised the e-mails in the first place.

    >> david --

    >> can you just at least admit this? in washington a lot of times, if you want to get something done, you don't get in somebody's face and say let me tell you. you go up to them, you say, listen, we're friends. we know how this works.

    >> what is gene sperling going to do to bob woodward ?

    >> oh, my god, sperling?

    >> now, now, now.

    >> bob woodward who faced down as a young man h.r. halderman is worried, feels intimidated by gene sperling ?

    >> do not diss gene sperling . he is a fierce, fierce man.

    >> he's the albert schweitzer of economists.

    >> there you go.

    >> he's the taupeony soprano of politics.

    >> do you know what kind of threat that is? we'll be right back. we've got so much going on. chuck todd 's here. we've got the general coming, david gregory .

    >> blah, blah, blah. we'll be right back.

    >> stay around and you'll regret


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