By Amie Parnes and Ian Swanson - 02/28/13 06:58 PM EST
White House economic adviser Gene Sperling didn’t threaten journalist Bob Woodward and was “incredibly respectful” in an email exchange, the president’s press secretary said Thursday.
Press secretary Jay Carney said emails between Sperling and Woodward made it clear the president’s adviser wasn’t threatening retribution or a lack of access to Woodward over the author and reporter’s op-ed in The Washington Post that said President Obama moved the goalposts in the fight over the sequester.
You "can't read the emails” between Woodward and Sperling and conclude that he was "threatening anybody," Carney said.
The press secretary, a former reporter for Time magazine, said the White House is “enormously respectful” of the work of reporters and that he personally respected Woodward.
Carney agreed, however, that tensions have built up between the press and the administration.
"I would suggest the atmosphere in this room was a lot more tense when I got here in 1993 than it is now," Carney said.
The fight with Woodward has become a distraction for a White House engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign to blame Republicans over the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set to begin hitting the government on Friday.
For most of his Thursday press briefing, Carney focused on his talking points that in failing to replace the sequester, Congress would harm the nation’s economy. Obama is set to meet with congressional leaders Friday.
Woodward has become a principle figure in the fight between Republicans and Carney because of a book chronicling the 2011-debt ceiling debate, which resulted in legislation creating the sequester.
The book reports that the sequester idea came from the White House, something Republicans have used as a talking point. Their press releases blaming Obama over the impasse frequently highlight sections of Woodward’s book to bolster GOP arguments.
In a recent column in The Washington Post, Woodward argued that Obama moved the goalposts in the sequester fight by insisting in the current talks that the sequester be replaced only with spending cuts — an assertion that drew White House fire.
Sperling, in an email to Woodward that was published by Politico, said the journalist would “regret” making the remark. The email was sent after a heated phone conversation between the two.
In subsequent interviews, Woodward described Sperling’s comments as a threat of retribution that should worry reporters.
“It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters you’re going to regret doing something you believe in,” he told CNN.
The White House argues the email exchange was respectful and that Sperling merely was suggesting Woodward would regret his assertion because it was factually incorrect.
Sperling argues a mix of revenues and spending cuts was always a part of the DNA of a grand bargain to reduce the deficit, so Obama wasn’t moving the goalposts by arguing that Republicans should accept tax hikes as part of a replacement.
Woodward’s assertion that he was threatened has led to attacks on his credibility by former Obama aides and other Democrats on social media.
Former Obama adviser David Plouffe compared Woodward to an aging baseball star who could no longer get a hit off major league pitching.
—This story was posted at 1:34 and updated at 1:58 p.m.