Carney On Woodward: "We Had A Factual Disagreement That I Think We Stand By"


Q On a different topic, at last year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, the President said he values a free press that is not afraid to ask questions, to examine and to criticize. Has he ever spoken to his aides about the tone he’d like them to take, you all to take, when talking to the press?

MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President expects us to fully explain his policies, to answer questions about his positions, and to make clear when we believe factual errors are being stated, which is what we do. And look, I think as anyone who has done this from either side of this podium can tell you, these are about real issues. These are about the concrete effects of policy on people’s lives, on our national security, on our children’s future. And everybody who’s involved in these issues feels passionately about them. But 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 is out there getting the facts wrong.

Q So when Gene Sperling told Bob Woodward that he might regret his reporting, what was intended by that?

MR. CARNEY: Jessica, don't you think it would be a responsible thing to ask that question in the context of the full email since we know what the full email said, where Gene Sperling, in keeping with a demeanor I have been familiar with for more than 20 years, was incredibly respectful, referred to Mr. Woodward as his friend, and apologized for raising his voice? I think you cannot read those emails and come away with the impression that Gene was threatening anybody, as I think others have observed.

The point, though -- I wish that reporters would pay attention to the policy substance of that email because the point that Gene was making is a point that I've made and others have made and the President has made. This is really important policy, and one thing that is absolutely irrefutable is that the President, from day one of signing the Budget Control Act, has been absolutely clear that in dealing with deficit reduction going forward and in replacing and eliminating the sequester, he believed we had to have balance. You’d have to have your head in the sand not to know that. Everybody here has reported it ad nauseam. So I think that's the fact that Gene was concerned with. That’s the fact that we're all concerned with.

Q I'll stop after this, I promise. But as you’ve remarked, you're in a unique position because you’ve been on both sides of a reporter-source relationship. Any regret about the erosion of trust between sources and reporters? Does it hurt the public?

MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that I've seen this play out before in both White Houses I've covered previously. I think we've talked about this just in recent weeks where the naturally adversarial relationship between the press corps and any administration, any White House, means that you guys, appropriately, are always demanding more information and holding our feet to the fire. That's absolutely how it should be. You go out and you report everything you can find about what we're doing and what Congress is doing and what the agencies are doing. And we get out there and try to explain the President’s positions and articulate why we think his positions are the right positions, and contest assertions to the contrary.

‘Twas ever thus. And it was certainly that way when I got here and covered the Clinton White House, and when I was covering the Bush White House. And I don't think it’s any different now. In fact, I would suggest that the atmosphere in this room was a lot more tense when I got here in 1993 than it is today.

Q Jay, when you were just telling Jessica that the tone of that email from Gene Sperling was respectful -- last night on Twitter, David Plouffe, who very recently was a very senior advisor inside this White House, put out a tweet that was basically comparing Bob Woodward to an aging baseball player who has sort of lost his talent, and sort of belittled him. Do you think that's respectful? Is that something the White House also supports?

MR. CARNEY: Ed, the fact of the matter is there was an accusation that Gene had been threatening. And as I think everybody who knows Gene knows, that's hard to believe. So, one. Two, Gene has been working on these issues all his life. He is very passionate about them. He works 20 hours a day, often, on behalf of the American people and this President to try to advance an economic agenda that helps middle-class Americans, average Americans. And he'll continue to do that.

Look, I have enormous respect for the work that Bob Woodward is famous for. I think a lot of us probably got into the business in part because we read “All The President’s Men” or we saw the movie, or both. But we had a factual disagreement that I think we stand by, which is that the President was very clear from the beginning that he would push balanced deficit reduction. I mean, how can that be a mystery? That's been his position since the day he signed the Budget Control Act. It was even the position that various Republicans adopted in trying to eliminate the sequester. So the phrase, “moving the goalposts” is not one we agree with. But that's it, really. It’s just a disagreement about the facts.

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