The country is in an uproar because people are saying that a senior White House official “threatened” legendary journalist Bob Woodward because of something he planned to publish.Now, I haven’t seen the video of Bob Woodward talking about this incident, so I’m not sure whether Woodward actually said he was “threatened” or whether that’s a media amplification. But people are saying he was threatened. So…
If a very senior White House official did, in fact, “threaten” Woodward–if the official promised that a gang of thugs would drop by Woodward’s house later, for example, or even if the official said no one in the White House would ever speak to Woodward again–then, fine, this might be worth talking about.
But according to Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, here’s what the senior White House official actually said to Bob Woodward (in an email):
“You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”
That’s the “threat”?
The official wasn’t even saying that Woodward would “regret” publishing whatever he planned to publish because the official would get him back for it later. He was saying Woodward would regret it because Woodward would be proven wrong.
I’m not sure what it is that non-journalists think that aggressive public relations folks do for a living, but this is exactly what they do:
- They make friends
- They whisper sweet nothings
- They flatter
- They dole out information favours
- They guilt-trip
- They threaten
- They yell
- They bully
- They impose the silent treatment
- They say you are about to ruin your reputation and destroy your career
- They beg
- They plead
- They promise
- They push every button they can in the hopes of finding one that works
They do all this in the hope of influencing coverage in the way that they are paid to influence it.
Among a particular breed of PR professional, that’s all part of the job.
If you’re in the journalism business, meanwhile, growing a thick skin–and occasionally yelling right back–is also part of the job.
I am sure that on many occasions, Whiite House officials have completely lost it at journalists, possibly even threatening them. But in the annals of PR professional-journalist communications, the “threatening” email that Woodward received is actually quite polite and respectful.
“Perhaps we will not see eye to eye here?”
The official didn’t even tell Woodward he was an idiot!
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