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Tom Edsall
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Tuesday, March 21, 2006; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest buzz in politics? Start each day at wonk central: The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter Tom Edsall was online Tuesday, March 21, at 11 a.m. ET .

The transcript follows.

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Rahway, N.J.: I see that you have hired Ben Domenech, one of the founders of RedState.org, a leading right-wing political weblog, to write the "Red America" blog for the Washington Post. In his current post, he immediately defames and slurs leading left-wing political blogs such as DailyKos.com. Can we assume that you will provide an equal opportunity to the left side of the blogosphere by granting a prominent left-wing blogger a column as well? Since the media fairness doctrine is long dead, thanks to Mr. Domenech hero Ronald Reagan, I suppose there is no longer a legal requirement to do so, but it would be nice if The Post could at least pretend to give some kind of equal voice to the left.

Tom Edsall: The hiring of Ben Domenech of RedState has provoked a firestorm, if the volume of questions this morning is any measure. One theory in the newsroom is that he was hired at the behest of Dana Milbank.

More seriously, I am told that this is part of the Post's web operation's efforts to provide diverse views. These decisions are, unfortunately, above my paygrade, much as I would love to have the power to hire and fire.

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San Diego, Calif.: Today's paper exposes the soft underbelly of McCain, who is not known as being a LOYAL Republican. His poor showing in Memphis was at 66 votes, yet the media keeps calling him the "frontrunner", (ok, it was Chris Matthews on his live Hardball in Memphis). Does McCain finally have a base of support in Iowa? (which he lacked in 2000) or will he finally show his nose at the August 2007 straw poll in Ames Iowa?The media is not selecting the Republican nominee, it is the early voters in Iowa, N. Hamp. and S. Carolina. My state gets to support who is ever left standing by Super Tuesday in March, or else we get to winnow the race down to the top 3. Who do you think the top 3 will be in 2008 for the Republican nomination as president?

Tom Edsall: McCain is walking a very high tightrope. He is trying to appeal to the conservative base of the GOP that he alienated in 2000, especially the religious right. He spent an hour with Jerry Falwell, whom McCain denounced in 2000. At the same time, his defiance of conservative orthodoxy is what won him votes in 2000, when the states he carried were those where independents and Democrats were allowed to cast ballots in Republican primaries. Much of his appeal now within the party is that he could be competitive, in theory, at a time when Bush's numbers are collapsing. But every time he appears to be compromising past principles to advance his bid for the nomination, he undermines the basis for his claim to be a strong general election candidate.

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Washington, D.C.: My question is about the Moussaoui story in The Post today. Is the fact about FBI being warned about Moussaoui new information? Was it not there in 9/11 Commission report?

Tom Edsall: This is a good question that bothered me this morning when I read the story, and I hope to have an answer for you before the end of this chat.

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Iowa: I'm assuming this RedState blogger is being paid. How does the Post management justify this when the newsroom staff is being cut by 10 percent according to several reports I have read? I would much rather have The Post continue to present quality, unbiased political coverage than provide bandwidth to an avowed partisan.

Tom Edsall: Another good question. Washingtonpost.com is technically separate from the Post newspaper. The dot com is widely viewed as the area of future growth, while the paper is struggling to keep making a profit in the face of declining circulation and growing competition for advertisers. The results are very different personnel policies. The consequences for the quality of the journalism are not yet determined, although budget constraints are already limiting the scope of our work.

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Ontario, Calif.: Good morning, Tom.

Russ Feingold's characterization of other Democrats as "run and hiders" for not supporting his presidential censure efforts seemed surprisingly self serving. It probably furthers his own political aspirations by strengthening his position with much of the nominating base of the party, but does so at the expense of the party as a whole; which will end up seeing his "run and hide" comment again...in Republican campaign ads!

What's your take on his public response to the reluctance other Democrats to endorse his plan?

Tom Edsall: Your question goes to the heart of a major conflict within Democratic ranks over Feingold's censure proposal. Ryan Lizza of the New Republic has presented the sharpest critique of Feingold, arguing that he is willing to damage Democratic prospects in 2006 to further his fundraising and visibility among anti-war forces. Others contend that his proposal is furthering contemporary Democratic interests, and hurting President Bush and the GOP. I believe Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard may have expressed this view. I hate to admit it, but I don't know which side is right.

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Austin, Tex.: In your opinion, did the president help or hurt his case for the war in Iraq at today's press conference?

Tom Edsall: From his point of view, he has to be out front pressing his argument for continued support of the war. During the press conference, there were times when he appeared rambling and unable to provide the kind of concise, direct answers that signal confidence. I don't think the hypothetical undecided viewer watching his performance would feel reassured.

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Washington, D.C.: Since the Post paper and the .com are separate, who EXACTLY should we contact if we are unhappy about the new blog? I know it won't be removed (since the controversy is probably considered good for ratings), but I would like to argue strongly for an equally liberal blog!

P.S. I think it is pretty wimpy that the new guy's blog doesn't allow comments to be posted...

Tom Edsall: I hate to do this to Jim Brady who seems to be a pretty smart guy, but for the many of you who have strong views about RedState, you should email: Jim Brady at executive.editor@washingtonpost.com

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Deary, Idaho: Can you ask those people above your paygrade to reconsider their decision to hire a rabid republican to "balance" Dana Millbank? There is no balance there. Granted, it is hard to find people on the left with the oblivious and offensive certainty of RedStaters. After all, the left has no Coulter or Limbaugh. But if you're going to give the far right a forum you better look hard for an anarchist or extreme radical for the other side.

Tom Edsall: The idea of trying to balance Dana Milbank poses some very interesting questions that I would love to explore, but my suggestions (hire someone with vision, who does not thrive on ridicule) would take too much space. Many of us do believe Dana is rabid.

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Washington, D. C.: Do you see any serious prospects for lobbying reform in the current Congress? Does the wave of Republican retirements have anything to do with the prospect of lobbying reform?

Tom Edsall: If I had to bet, I would put my money on no bill, or, at most, a modest bill of little long-range consequence.

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Washington, D.C.: The hiring of the Red State Blogger is yet another example of why I cancelled my subscription to The Post and do not intend to ever re-instate it. The Post's view that it needs to "balance" viewpoints buys into the notion that The Washington Post adequately provides a forum for a liberal viewpoint. Do you really believe that The Post has an over abundance of liberal viewpoints?

Tom Edsall: In fairness to the many inquiries about the Red State blogger, the questions you raise go to some basic issues of journalism that deserve much more expansive treatment and should get answers defining the principles guiding the Post as it engages with web. I could shoot my mouth off on these questions, but they should be answered by those with the power to set policy.

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Dale City, Va.: Why does the Post feel a need to "balance" Dana? First off I don't consider Dana liberal, just irreverent. I suspect he will use the same tone regardless of the politics of those in charge. Also, the right has many, many places where only the right gets a hearing or is the main voice, like the Washington Times or Clear Channel. "Balance" has nearly destroyed the media. Just spouting two sides because there are 2 sides with no regard for which is correct is a bigger problem than a lack of Bush views.

Tom Edsall: As I suggested, there probably is nothing human, at least, that could balance Dana. I have suggested a close examination of various reptiles, and it may be that we need to go to the Galapagos Islands to find something appropriate.

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Washington, D.C.: "Many of us do believe Dana is rabid" Can you explain what you mean by 'rabid'? And who is 'many of us'?

Tom Edsall: Dana provokes levity.

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Washington, D.C.: Does DailyKos actively send its people to these chats every morning or something? It seems like whatever that board is talking about, these chats end up talking about. -yawn-

Tom Edsall: Good question. The Red State questions overwhelmed queries about other policy and political matters.

At the start of this chat, I said I would try to get an answer to the question:

Washington, D.C.: My question is about the Moussaoui story in The Post today. Is the fact about FBI being warned about Moussaoui new information? Was it not there in 9/11 Commission report?

An editor tells me:

"They had lots of warning. but we didn't know until yesterday quite how extensively this guy Samit had been begging for attention to Moussaoui and what he was up to. 70 emails/contacts with superiors is more than we knew." With that I will sign off, and I hope everyone enjoys the entire product of WashingtonPost.com, including the ideologues that we publish.

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