Getting yelled at comes with the job of being a reporter, says Carl Golden. But Bob Woodward wouldn’t let it go and even appeared on ‘Face the Nation’ March 3 to press his case.

Without question, the biggest dog-bites-man story of the year is that of a senior White House official yelling at Washington Post reporter and best-selling author Bob Woodward in an argument over who was responsible for the idea to sequester $85 billion in federal spending.

If you don't want to be yelled at, be a shoe salesman. Don't choose a career as a reporter covering politics.

Woodward had aired his differences with the Obama administration, defending in his book, "The Price of Politics," the assertion that the idea of sequestering funds was brought up by White House advisers (they eventually admitted they'd offered a sequestration "framework") and that the administration's effort to pin it on congressional Republicans was deceptive.

Had he left it there, the issue would have vanished. Instead, inexplicably he sat for interviews and appeared on cable news talk shows, continuing to attack the administration, elevating a minor and frequent squabble between reporter and subject into a major, running news story.

Why a seasoned and well-respected reporter would break a cardinal rule of journalism - cover the story, don't become the story - is a mystery.

Not only did Woodward suddenly become a hero to Republicans who used him to bludgeon the president, he appeared to revel in the role. Most reporters thrust into a similar situation would be embarrassed.

Woodward, though, upped the ante when he let it be known that a senior administration official - later identified as economic guru Gene Sperling - had sent him an email that he considered threatening.

Really? After apologizing for raising his voice to Woodward in a telephone conversation, Sperling's email simply said that Woodward would come to regret continuing to insist on his version of the sequester saga.

Woodward later dialed back his characterization of the email as a threat, but the damage was done. Critics of the administration pounced on the email exchange as evidence that it was a presidential attempt to control and manipulate the media through ham-fisted intimidation of an award-winning journalist.

Reporters who cover the White House on a beat basis tried to douse the flames, saying that high-decibel differences of opinion between the media and the people they cover are common and that they've all experienced them at one point or another.

They seemed embarrassed by the furor because it fed into the perception that the media are incapable of accepting criticism and prone to whining about the shabby treatment they receive.

I have been both a yeller and a yellee in my life. I was a reporter for a little more than 11 years and later became a spokesman for a number of political campaigns and public officials, including tours as press secretary to two New Jersey governors - Tom Kean from 1982 to 1990 and Christie Whitman from 1994 to 1997.

Being a target of someone's wrath for a story I wrote was an accepted part of the job, a condition of employment. In fact, I and my newspaper colleagues over the years joked about personal confrontations or telephone calls from an irate subject of one of our stories. The belief was that if you didn't offend someone, you weren't doing your job properly.

I clearly recall one of my colleagues receiving a call and being told: "I'll have your job for this!" To which, my friend replied: "You can have it, along with the fifty bucks a week that goes with it."

"I'll punch you in the nose" was another frequent threat, although I never met anyone who actually followed through.

As a spokesman for candidates and elected officials for nearly 25 years, disagreements with reporters became a part of daily life. Facts were one thing and simple to prove if the reporter got it wrong.

Rather, it was conclusions, speculation and opinion that ignited the phone calls and confrontations. In truth, the incidents served no purpose, save as a catharsis. The reporter stood by his story, I stood by mine, and both of us moved on.

Presumably, Woodward feels his honor is at stake, that there is a principle involved, and he feels duty bound to defend it. Instead, he's come across as thin-skinned and - worse yet - as an arrogant individual above reproach and immune from the criticism that the working stiffs in the press corps endure and slough off every day.

His actions, though, are misguided. This is a dog-bites-man story, and Woodward should have understood and left it at that.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.


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