The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

DSM: the Dana Milbank anomaly bites the Post?

We're talking about Milbank's little satire on the Conyers indignation meeting on the Downing Street Memo (mentioned yesterday).

Milbank has an anomalous role at the Post: he's a columnist whose stuff goes in the news pages, rather than the op-ed pages. The difference (according to the bizarre rules of American journalism) is that the management is responsible for the content of the former but not the latter [1].

Why not simply transfer him beyond the Pale to the op-ed pages? Because editors still want to use him for straight journalism, and - my hypothesis - anyone who moves over to op-ed-land is indelibly tainted thereby, and may never darken the doors of the newsroom again.

I assume that there will be something from Getler on the Conyers complaint this weekend (nothing on the site yet).

Meanwhile, the Conyers meeting and Milbank satire thereon have been the catalyst for E&P editor Greg Mitchell to blow his top over Bush's lame looking for WMD joke at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner on March 20 2004.

He says
There is no record of whether Dana Milbank attended that dinner, but his paper the following day seemed to find this something of a howl.

That would be lame for a high school journalist, surely? Why is there no record of those attending the dinner? The President is present, so doesn't the Secret Service need to know? Doesn't the RTCA keep records going back 15 months?

What steps did Mitchell take to check this out, I wonder?

And the guilt by association thing - Milbank isn't an editor, and has no control over what stuff of other hacks the paper decides to run.

He seems to be edging towards a claim that the war is too serious a subject for levity at all. Which, as a proposition, is itself, flat out ridiculous.

He quotes a panel member as saying that fellow panel member Cindy Sheehan's
son was killed 11 days after the show put on by the president…after that big joke
and ends
Dana Milbank, who seems to like a good laugh, did not mention this in his story the following day.

Now, the sin of invasion lies, in varying degrees, on the heads of those who facilitated it. Lacking Nexis, I've no way of finding out exactly what Mitchell himself did before the invasion to highlight the journalistic abuses then being practised at the Post and elsewhere with a view to easing the country into war.

For instance, did he criticise with equal passion the supine brown-nosers who served up lollipops to the old Texas Ranger on March 6 2003? E&P is basically a pay-only operation, so it's a little hard to tell!

I've also no idea to what extent Milbank's sarcasm was merited - there is, so far as I can tell, still no transcript of proceedings at the Conyers session available online. But it's clearly directed at the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the political process at work, the gap between the pretensions of the politicians and the reality.

I seem to remember lefties admiring Milbank's acid wit in his piece of April 9 on the Remedies to Judicial Tyranny conference. In particular, his glossing of an allusion of one of the crazies attending as a call for judicide was much appreciated.

The suspicion grows that Mitchell mentions Sheehan as something of human shield. However shambolic (I make no judgement) the Conyers session might have been, Milbank is to be debarred from ridiculing it for fear of being seen to ridicule Sheehan by association?

A key element in the failure of US institutions to apply effective checks to decisions by USG to wage war is the fact that the media deems itself part of the establishment, acting in association with the government [2]. And does this even, as under the Bush administration, it is shunned, sidelined, used or discarded according to the adminstration's needs of the moment.

One can't help feeling that if the prevailing attitude of media coverage in the year or two running up to the invasion had been that of today's Milbank, rather than that of the eunuch courtiers of the March 6 2003 presser, there would most likely not have been an invasion.

  1. Of course, the Post Co is legally responsible for whatever it prints. I'm not talking law, but the masonic rules that journalists make up for themselves. Old Dan Okrent got very exercised when readers used common sense to challenge this one, I seem to recall.

  2. Whence the noxious and delusory notion of objectivity to which some journos still profess to cling. I've written several times here about the analysis of the media's role during the escalation of the Vietnam War, with the assistance of Daniel Hallin's book.


The tone of another of Milbank's quasi-op-eds, With Giant Spoon, Fla. Woman Helps Stir Up Schiavo Protest Across From White House, is not a million miles away from that of the Conyers piece.

In that piece, he is satirising the Schiavo Circus - the nutters and panders who attached themselves to the private tragedy for reasons of psychological gratification or political advantage. He is clearly not ridiculing either Schiavo's husband or parents.

Of course, in a way, by doing so in the news pages of the Post, he's also ridiculing those masonic rules of journalism I mentioned earlier. And that's a thoroughly good thing, too.

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