The Norman Transcript

Opinion

March 12, 2013

Gatherer vs. newsmaker

NORMAN — The subject of newsmaker-news gatherer relationships became a national debate when eminent journalist Bob Woodward took body blows from the White House and others when he had the audacity to write that it was President Barack Obama who first put forward the idea of sequesterization.

Woodward said nothing that others hadn’t said, but Obama’s top economic adviser, Gene Sperling, sent him a now-famous email that warned, “I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

Whether or not the email qualifies as a threat, the whole episode has thrown some very interesting light onto the high-stakes journalism played in the rarefied air that Woodward — who became a household name with his Watergate reporting — breathes.

Most reporters and columnists are only rarely “abused,” and only then in comparably extreme cases. But in Washington, we are told, entire divisions of pit bulls are employed to pounce whenever a report surfaces that goes against the desired spin.

The Obama White House received a brushback from the Woodward incident, perhaps justified. Reporters have charged that the Obama administration is particularly aggressive at picking on the messengers of contrary reporting. Then again, insiders also say attacks come with the territory and with every presidential administration.

And, certainly, those of us in the media would be wise not to protest too much at push-back from those we report on. We can take a lesson directly from Woodward, who was once admired enough to have inspired many a journalistic career.

But since the White House flap materialized, he has been roundly ridiculed. Some have called him a has-been who’s lost touch with reality.

There is an important lesson here for all journalists. Public officials are fair game and so, too, are the people who report about them.

— The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

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