Bob Woodward set about trying to defend himself on Thursday night from the widespread derision that has greeted his account of his hostile exchange with White House economic adviser Gene Sperling.
Woodward spoke to his own newspaper, the Washington Post, and appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News show to discuss the now infamous emails between himself and Sperling. On Wednesday, Woodward set the media world chattering when he told Wolf Blitzer that Sperling's email —which said, in part, that, "as a friend," he thought Woodward would "regret" a hotly contested claim he was making about the Obama administration's handling of the budget sequester — had made him "very uncomfortable." He did not dispute Blitzer's comment that he had been "threatened" by Sperling. Nor did he quarrel with the Politico editors who interviewed him and wrote, "Woodward [made] clear he saw it as a veiled threat."
When the emails were released in full by Politico on Thursday, though, their cordial tone angered many journalists, who thought Woodward had mischaracterized the nature of the exchange.
On Thursday night, Woodward told the Washington Post, correctly, that he had never used the word "threat."
“I think that was Politico’s word," he said. "I said I think that language is unfortunate and I don’t think it’s the way to operate. . . . [Sperling’s] language speaks for itself. I don’t think that’s the way to operate.”
He then spoke to Hannity over two segments. He described a phone call he had with Sperling as "a half hour in which he was shouting at me." He added, "People have said, well, this was a threat or I was saying it was a threat. I haven't used that language."
However, even as he was denying describing the email as a threat, Woodward made clear that he saw something untoward about Sperling's words. He said they carried weight because Sperling was, as he put it, Obama's "economic czar," and "not just a guy in the White House." He was worried, he continued, about how younger reporters would react to being "roughed up."
He also said the word "regret" was "coded" to mean "you better watch out" — a description that sounds very much like a threat.
Woodward's harsh language was very different from the way he initially responded to Sperling: "I for one welcome a little heat; there should [be] more given the importance."
Critics also noted the chumminess between Woodward and Hannity. After the Fox News host cricitzed the press for not looking into President Obama's associations with Bill Ayers, Woodward said, "I agree with that." He also lavished praise on Hannity, saying, "You let me say what I want. You dig into things. You — there is no bleep-out button.”
Watch more of the interview below: