The spectacle of Bob Woodward getting caught with his pants down, falsely claiming a White House official (now known to be Gene Sperling) threatened him, should probably live and die on Twitter.
But I want to make a quick observation about how conservatives chose to cover this story, because it’s illustrative of the right’s tendency to feed itself satisfying but ultimately damaging misinformation.
Catching up with the whole story late last night, I chuckled like a lot of people did about how aggressively the right embraced the legend of Bob Woodward the moment it became convenient. (It was also pretty funny how many conservatives seemed to think Woodward has been a hero figure on the left for all these years.)
But after everyone had a chance to review the evidence I didn’t notice many mea culpas. I noticed this and this and of course Drudge and similar examples of conservatives either holding on to the belief that Sperling (who’s as diminutive as he is nerdy) had threatened Woodward, or else trying to change the subject.
That’s not healthy for anybody. Just yesterday, Red State’s Erick Erickson wrote a fantastic, thoughtful piece about how harmful and embarrassing this phenomenon is.
“Conservatives are trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial, we have forgotten the basics of reporting,” he wrote. He used the Obamaphone “scandal” as an example, but it works just as well in this instance. Conservative writers were so thrilled to have a scandal to lay at Obama’s that they didn’t bother to verify it, and ended up owning themselves.
Per an exchange on Twitter this morning, Erickson’s initial instinct was to back Woodward, but after taking a look at the actual email exchange between Sperling and Woodward, he disowned the threat allegation. The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis fessed that conservatives got played. Good for them. But they both have a lot of work left to do if they want their peers to shape up.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.