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After Dana Milbank's much-noted and roundly criticized appearance in blaze orange hunting gear on Keith Olbermann's cable show last week, people waited to hear some response from his employer, the Washington Post. Bloggers complained that his mocking appearance demonstrated a clear bias on the part of the "reporter" and wanted clarification on his classification at the newspaper. In Sunday's ombudsman column, Deborah Howell provides the answer:
Dana Milbank can be controversial with readers. The Post reporter has his fans -- and I can be one of them -- but I think his appearance on MSNBC last week was a mistake in judgment. ...
Liz Spayd, assistant managing editor for national news, said Milbank's column, patterned after similar columns in British newspapers, "observes and reports about the theater of politics. He is a genius at capturing an element of how this city works in a voice that is original and delightful to take in. His column is not ideological. He doesn't take a stand on issues or pass judgment on policy. In that role, he has a little more freedom than a conventional staff writer might." ...
Spayd said she felt Milbank "crossed the line" on his TV appearance. "What he intended as a playful joke was viewed by many as mocking and unprofessional, and understandably so." Suffice it to say that he has been taken to The Post's version of the woodshed and told not to do that again.
This is the second time that Milbank's remarks on that show have caused a row. In October, he spoke in a fake Iraqi accent, which many readers felt was over the line. Milbank said he has appeared on the show -- which he describes as "half news, half shtick" -- wearing a Santa hat, brandishing a cigar and having an anvil dangled over his head.
The Post wants to reassure its readers that its news journalists take their work seriously and perform in a non-ideological manner. Howell assures conservative readers of Milbank's supposed lack of bias by using one of the hoariest mechanisms -- claiming that on occasion, liberals have complained about his reporting, too. That excuse doesn't wash. Milbank has a clear bias in both his reporting and his opinion pieces, and not even the Post can tell the difference. As Howell herself points out, the print version of the Post lists him as a news reporter while the web version refers to him as an opinion writer.
Maybe the Post needs to get its editorial staff together and decide exactly why Milbank gets paid, especially after this debacle.
As I wrote before, unlike many conservatives, I like Milbank's columns; they're entertaining and fun to read. That being said, he clearly traded his credibility for a cheap laugh, and as he himself admits, it isn't the first time he's done it. While the Post's public scolding of Milbank and his trip to the virtual woodshed sends a clear message of disapproval of his antics, the fact that he has a track record of this behavior should lead readers to the conclusion that these tactics don't have much effect on Milbank's judgment.
If I were Howell or the Post management, I'd keep an extra bottle of aspirin handy, perhaps in a blaze-orange bottle marked "MILBANK". They'll need it for the headaches and embarrassment Milbank will likely bring in the future.Sphere It View blog reactions
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