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The Woodward Affair


Today’s New York Times (Mar. 1) carried the story of veteran Post reporter Bob Woodward’s apparent fracas with the White House over his criticism that Obama changed the goal posts in the debate over the so-called budget crisis.  The collective wisdom of media and NYT posters is that Woodward overreacted, and that the White House beat is always full of clashes.  Score another free pass for the Obama camp!  Republicans were quick to jump on the Woodward bandwagon, if only to score points against the administration.  (Their own integrity, whether on freedom of the press or civil liberties in general, is hardly any better.)

The truth is, Obama by his actions has repudiated the principle of a free press, a free government, freedom in about every dimension (victims evaporated in drone strikes hardly were extended the basic juridical freedoms of due process and rule of law) one can think of—far more dangerous, because of cunning sophistication, than the Bush/Cheney cowboys whose pernicious actions were always and easily detectable.  Woodward, here, has unfortunately papered over the event—the warning that the White House would be out to get him—rather than expose the stale, canned, vicious erection of WALLS against any and all criticisms of Obama.  Given his disdain of and hostility toward critics, Obama reveals the kind of unstable personality that makes him dangerous, whether in domestic policy (Espionage Act prosecutions against whistleblowers, Bradley Manning being only the most visible case) or foreign policy (aggressive moves via the Asia “pivot” toward China, modernization of nuclear weaponry, or the morally reprehensible policy of targeted assassination).

News management is the tip of the iceberg, and itself is interconnected with the increase of Executive Power, the use of covert operations, the warmth shown the intelligence community, the employment of JSOC (often in partnership with the CIA), and even these become the tip of the iceberg for for the Obama transformative moment—no, not a belief in democratic change, but instead, the very real militarization of the social framework, from political economy to social structure, for purposes unclear even to himself: more power, of course, but beyond that, systemic change consonant with such power.

Woodward will let the matter rest.  We should not.  The disguise must be torn away, revealing how liberalism in America shares precisely the same retrograde features as its purported enemies, not least, the blind admiration of wealth, the despisement of the poor, the fear of self-criticism as a nation, the belief that America can act with impunity in world affairs.  Here follows my New York Times  Comment (Mar. 1) on the Woodward news article.

[NYT Comment, Mar. 1.  Access trumps truthful reporting.]

There is more to this than meets the eye. First, how claim press freedom when Obama has condemned transparency by his actions, is obsessed with SECRECY, and builds on the trend toward the National Security State? Your posters hide the facts in order to protect him. Woodward, I’m sure, can take care of himself. But the public has been condemned to ignorance on every meaningful issue, starting with armed drones for targeted assassination.

The White House has a rotten record under Obama in its forceful efforts at NEWS MANAGEMENT. I fear the press has buckled (including all media), lest they be denied access to their sources. Access has trumped candid, truthful reporting. One common example, when Cornel West called Obama “the black mascot of Wall Street,” Valerie Jarrett was dispatched to chastise him.

I, for one, am disgusted with the Obama public relations JUGGERNAUT, the fear he has struck into what had previously been responsible journalism. Yes, Republicans want to make hay out of the Woodward business, but in this case they are right. Obama has one foot solidly planted in totalitarian territory. I’m waiting for the other foot also to cross the line.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at

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