Post Politics Hour

Dana Milbank
Washington Post National Political Reporter/Washington Sketch Columnist
Friday, May 5, 2006; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post national political reporter/Washington Sketch columnist Dana Milbank was online Friday, May 5, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

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The transcript follows.


Dana Milbank: Hello my fellow Americans, and that Dutch guy who keeps writing in. And the Canadian guy too, the one who asks about softwood lumber.

Many a momentous event this week. Medicare is going broke in 12 years. Social Security goes bellyup not much later. Iran is threatening, Iraq is still teetering. The Senate passed a huge spending bill, Bush threatens to veto it, and the House has decided to honor Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals. And has Patrick Kennedy come out of his office yet?

But enough of all that. Let's talk about the only thing you want to talk about: Steven Colbert.


Milwaukee, Wis.: Dana, your comments about the WH Correspondents Dinner on Olbermann Monday night were disappointing. You are a very talented journalist and funny. You are not, however, nearly as funny as Mr. Colbert. Colbert executed political satire, flawlessly at the WH Correspondents dinner. The press in attendance didn't like Mr. Colbert revealing the truth about their complicity with the White House. The situation in the entire Middle East can get a lot worse and the price of a barrel of oil can go a lot higher.

Dana Milbank: Excellent question. You are right on top of the big issues of the day, Milwaukee.

For those of you dealing with less significant issues than Colbertgate, here's what happened. The comedian was not as funny as usual when he spoke to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner Saturday. He had the bad fortune of following Bush, who had a body double with him on the stage who spoke the president's inner thoughts.

Monday night, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown, asked me:

Keith: "I like Stephen Colbert a lot and believe me, I'm all for smacking down presidents. I have done to one from each party in my tenure here. But was this the right tone at the right venue? Was there a line crossed here in some way?"

Me: "I don't think he crossed the line. I just think he wasn't terribly funny and had the misfortune of following Bush who actually did put on one of the better performances of his presidency."

Evidently, the full transcript did not arrive at the offices of Editor and Publisher, where Greg Mitchell decided that I had in fact said Colbert "was not funny." He neglected to mention that this misquote was uttered in the context of my defense of Colbert.

As you can see, this is all terribly consequential. Although I do think it says something about why the left is having trouble regaining power. There are so many fat targets out there, from gas prices to Iraq to health care. So what are the left wing activists doing? Attacking reporters for their views on whether a comedian was funny at a dinner.

Unsolicited advice for those who can't tear themselves from the Colbert criticism: Get a life.


Rochester, N.Y.: I was pleasantly surprised by your negative reaction to Stephen Colbert's shenanigan last weekend. Frankly, I thought after your infamous hunting vest episode, this sort of Bush-bashing "humor" would be right up your alley. Has your opinion about this sort of humor changed since the hunting jacket episode? Do you now realize that making fun of the president at a time of war give comfort to our enemies? Or was it more a matter of just not liking the Colbert routine?

Dana Milbank: And now, a word from the right wing.

I miss the days when humor, like everything else, didn't have to be seen through a political lens.

The right wing thought it was funny when Scott McClellan wore an orange tie and joked that it was because he was worried about running into Vice President Cheney. They didn't like it when I wore orange and made a similar joke.

Now the left wing finds Colbert terribly funny, and anybody who doesn't agree is a tool of the administration. But where does this leave George Clooney, who was at the dinner and didn't laugh once at Colbert? Clooney: right wing stooge?


Arlington, Va.: Hey I loved the sketch you wrote on what Senators drive. It was hilarious! I'm curious to know, but dare I ask what does my favorite Sen. Obama drive?

Dana Milbank: I think he walks to the Capitol for votes, young lad that he is.

Though I have heard that Oklahoma's James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate environment committee, drives an H2.


Arlington, Va.: I loved Steven Colbert and his performance! I think a lot of the wailing is because there has been very little public criticism of Bush until now and it sounds jarring. It should have been done log ago, but better late than never. And, unfortunately, I guess the Colbert Affair will now take a back set to the Patrick Kennedy All the Time show.

Dana Milbank: A perfect segue from Colbert to Kennedy. I hear there was a terrific stakeout outside his (Kennedy's) office last night, and reporters were wondering if he'd eventually rappel down the building. They knew they were in for a long wait when take-out food was delivered to the office.


Takoma Park, Md.: Dana, I need to become a Congressman. Just for the simple fact if I drive drunk and crash my car on the Capitol, I will be given a friendly ride home by the police officers on scene.

Dana Milbank:

You're not kidding. I think they've had extra niceness training since the McKinney thing. Now they're personal drivers. If this keeps up they will be picking up members' dry cleaning by July.


IOKIYAR: The Washington Post is all over the Kennedy story. Aha! Look at what a Democrat did! While the Post and the rest of the White House lap dogs sweep Republican shenanigans under the rug. Even the Abramhoff scandal was always prefaced with "well Democrats took money too" even though the preponderance of evidence showed that it was a Republican scandal. And, by the way, it is in extremely poor taste for the President of the United States to be making a clown out of himself while the kids he sent to Iraq are being blown up daily. It was disgusting.

Dana Milbank: Thank you for the constructive criticism. I shall forward your complaint to my colleagues Sue Schmidt, who won the Pulitzer last month for the Abramoff story, and to Dana Priest, who won the Pulitzer for exposing the administration's secret prisons.

As for your complaints about the president's performance, I shall forward those to my supervisor, Tony Snow.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: The duo that does the Gossip Chat for the Post said that by the time Colbert was up, folks had been drinking for several hours. Yikes! Do they really do this in a setting filled with cameras, friends, foes, bosses and competitors? I think I'd have a glass of wine and switch to seltzer. What is the local custom?

Dana Milbank: I can only speak for myself. The wine is quite awful at the WHCA dinner -- the Chardonnay and Cabernet are both cheap and overly oaked -- so I like to front load with a few gin and tonics out in the plaza during cocktail hour. That generally holds me 'til the Bloomberg party, which this year featured pomegranate and cucumber martinis. I then take a spin up to 1st and C Streets SE, where I play chicken with the Capitol Police.


My Left Foot:: Why can't the left bash the media? Is that a right-wing exclusive?

The left need to bash the media, or any way to get to Bush by proxy. It's sorta sad when the go-to news show is a comedy show, and satirist a faux blowhard.

Newsweek did a story several weeks ago about issues a few people have with Ambien, one woman reportedly sleep walked, ate raw eggs and rice and gained 30 pounds.

About time someone use the Ambien defense. Honey, I didn't sleep with her, I took Ambien. Officer I have to get back for a 2 a.m. Congressional vote, I took Ambien.

Dana Milbank: I agree. I think it's quite refreshing that the left wing has built a media-crit operation that rivals the decades-old right-wing media crit operation. On the other hand, it's the equivalent of both sides arguing with the ump rather than figuring out how they can score more runs.


The Orange Vest: Dana - Hold on to it. You may be dispatched by the Post to the Hill to cover a story. Any crossing guard will tell you that it will enhance your visibility tremendously in cross walks.

Dana Milbank: I keep it in the glove compartment of my Vespa at all times.


Chicago, Ill.: On Colbert: It's not whether Colbert was funny or not when he criticized the President of the United States to his face. It's that either way, nobody in the media reported it. THAT's what's troubling - sound, intelligent dissent going down the memory hole.

Dana Milbank: I blame the pomegranate martinis for the memory hole thing. At least they have antioxidants, though.


Baton Rouge, La.: Attacking reporters for their views on whether a comedian was funny at a dinner.

We're attacking the Washington press corps because we don't think you've been doing your jobs. The Washington press corps was complicit in the run up to the war in Iraq and has never held Bush accountable for anything. It took Colbert to do the job for you.

Dana Milbank: Oh, dear. Baton Rouge really needs to get a life. Can somebody get Baton Rouge a life? Rochester? Milwaukee? Anybody?

Here's the lede of a front-page story I wrote in October, 2002. You might have missed it because you were busy complaining that somebody didn't think a Jay Leno routine was funny.

"President Bush, speaking to the nation this month about the need to challenge Saddam Hussein, warned that Iraq has a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used 'for missions targeting the United States.'

"Last month, asked if there were new and conclusive evidence of Hussein's nuclear weapons capabilities, Bush cited a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency saying the Iraqis were 'six months away from developing a weapon.' And last week, the president said objections by a labor union to having customs officials wear radiation detectors has the potential to delay the policy 'for a long period of time.'

"All three assertions were powerful arguments for the actions Bush sought. And all three statements were dubious, if not wrong. Further information revealed that the aircraft lack the range to reach the United States; there was no such report by the IAEA; and the customs dispute over the detectors was resolved long ago."


Washington, D.C.: Pomegranate and cucumber martinis! Euwwww.

Dana Milbank: No, no. The pomegranate martinis and cucumber martinis were entirely separate beverages. It is very dangerous to mix them; it would produce an effect similar to taking Ambien and Phenergan for gastroenteritis. But the Capitol Police were on hand to offer free rides home to anybody at the Bloomberg Party who mixed the two.


Anonymous: Hiya Dana, did you get a lot of cool tchotchkes in your gift bag at the WH correspondent's dinner?

Dana Milbank: This is another outrage. I ate all four (Godiva?)chocolates on the way home, but when I tried the Bloomberg slippers on in the morning they didn't fit. I am hoping this will change when the gout calms down.


Galesburg, Ill.: Are people crazier today than usual or do you always receive so many questions from the paranoid on both sides of the spectrum??

I like how people keep telling you to stop focusing on X and start focusing on issues of real importance, as if submitting a throwaway comment to an online chat is changing the world.

Dana Milbank: Actually I was thinking things were more sedate than I expected. You have no idea what my inbox looks like on an average day, Galesburg. But you do seem to have your life in balance. Can you help this person in Baton Rouge, or the one in Rochester who keeps sending angry questions?


Rochester, N.Y.: You write "I blame the pomegranate martinis for the memory hole thing. At least they have antioxidants, though." Not funny. It's almost like this whole Colbert thing has the effect of making those who criticized unfunny. First, we have Richard Cohen bragging about being a funny guy, the proceeding to write a column with not one laugh line in it, now we have you, who are normally quite funny, churning out clunkers.

Dana Milbank: This is the Rochester who needs help, Galesburg.


Indianapolis, Ind.: As far as comedy goes either it made you laugh or it didn't! The other point is that it's subjective. What is funny for me might not be funny for you. The Three Stooges are a case in point.

Dana Milbank: Thank you, Indianapolis, for adding some good, old-fashioned, heartland values to this debate. I heartily agree.

But the Stooges are always funny.

_______________________ Thank you for joining us today.


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