Post Politics Hour

Tom Edsall
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Tuesday, May 2, 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, May 2, at 11 a.m. ET .

Political analysis from Post reporters and interviews with top newsmakers. Listen live on Washington Post Radio or subscribe to a podcast of the show.

The transcript follows.


Milwaukee, Wis.: Tom, considering the respect I have had for his thoughts in the past, Dana Milbank's comments about the WH Correspondents Dinner on Olbermann last night were deeply disappointing. Dana is funny. Dana is not nearly as funny as Mr. Colbert, however, and Dana has nothing approaching the raw courage Colbert displayed Saturday night at the WH Correspondents dinner. Please ask Dana to revisit his "not funny" comment in a column. Dana and the press in attendance didn't like Mr. Colbert telling the truth about the corporate media's stenography for the White House. That's why they didn't laugh.

Tom Edsall: I get a number of questions every week about Dana who provokes people's curiosity for obvious reasons. Dana was very upset last week because he was pushed off center stage by Jim VandeHei and the controversy over the White House constant tuning into FOX exclusively. Since I am totally neutral, without any bias, I thought it would be a good idea to ask you folks your assessment of Dana Milbank. I have constructed one question with two answers. Please email your responses to me, and perhaps we will run them late in this hour or at another time. I'm at The Question is:

Pick between the following:

1. Dana Milbank is emblematic of the deterioration of the American media. His liberal, sneering elitism reflects the collapse of an institution that once could act as the conscience of the country. No longer capable of legitimate outrage and lacking any moral vision, journalism, with Milbank at the head of the pack, has turned to mocking those in and out of power, of using the power of the pen to assert a sneering superiority to both ordinary folks and to those who struggle in the public arena to make life better for everyone.

2. Dana Milbank is the savior of American journalism. In a political system corrupted by self-interest and the abusive polarization of issues of race, sex and religion, Milbank stands above the fray, providing his readers with a vision that pulls them out of the muck. Through his delightful and charming bemused detachment, Milbank restores a balanced public perception of a political system degenerating into chaos and venality. Milbank lifts us all to new heights, giving the electorate the strength to force the return of civilized behavior and a political system we can all be proud of.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Can you confirm David Shuster report on MSNBC that Valerie Plame was working on tracking nuclear proliferation in Iran?

It becomes harder and harder to understand why Karl Rove is still working at the White House.

Tom Edsall: I am as I write this trying to find out what the Post knows on this and why we apparently have not covered it (it may not be true.) Hope to have answer before noon.


Washington, D.C.: MSNBC reported last night that Valerie Plame was working in Iran's nuclear program at the CIA. This would seem to be a monumental piece of information - yet not a mention in The Post. What's going on over there?

Tom Edsall: I am told by Walter Pincus that the Iran link was made by a blogger in Iran, and the story needs further confirmation before we can report it. I assume we are working on it.


Frederick, Md.: Good morning Tom...did yesterday's immigration rallies help the President's cause? Sure hard after yesterday to retreat into a "Lou Dobb's mentality." Something has "to give" in terms of a compromise, "win-win" outcome. Obviously the President needs some political victory in the weeks ahead to survive. Immigration might just do it -- if he can develop enough momentum in the direction of his call for reform. Is any political support building in the direction of his policy?

Tom Edsall: Looked at not from the merits but from the political pluses and minuses, I think the demonstrations may serve to mobilize anti-immigrant voters while simultaneously mobilizing many non-voting American residents. Bush is clearly worried about the hostile reaction to the demonstrations in his own Republican base, as reflected in his comments on the protests and his English only for the Star Spangled Banner. From a purely partisan vantage point, this whole debate has hurt the GOP far more than the Democrats. Both parties have strong pro and anti-immigration factions, but the battle has been concentrated within the Republican Party. It poses a major dilemma by pitting the business wing against the social-populist wing, and the operatives who believe the GOP's future lies in boosting percentages among Hispanics, and those who believe in the preservation of what they see as the American culture.


Chicago, Ill.: Tom, what's your take on the White House Correspondents Dinner? Do you think it went too far, and is that the last one of those we might see for awhile?

Tom Edsall: I unfortunately did not go. In a state of ignorant bliss, my take is that people who hold Bush in contempt found Colbert powerful and funny, while those who have less intense, deeply held views of the administration found him and the Helen Thomas routine less amusing.


Valerie Plame: Blogger? Yes, a blogger broke the original claim about Valerie Plame working covert on Iran's nuclear program in January of this year. but David Shuster says he confirmed it with "intelligence sources" in his report yesterday.

Tom Edsall: I assume that when we similarly confirm the Iran-Plame link, we will report it. If true, it is a very interesting story that should get prominent play.


Washington, D.C.: Tom, I asked your colleague John Harris last week about how The Post covered national political stories. In his answer he mentioned Post domestic bureaus in Chicago and Seattle. As a follow-up, could you tell me where else The Post has domestic bureaus? Thank you!

Tom Edsall: We have bureaus or individual reporters in N.Y., Boston, Denver, Chicago, Miami, Texas, Los Angeles, Seattle, and probably some other places I am missing and will get grief for later.


Washington, D.C.: If defending his former "reporter," Jon Stewart said that the correspondents dinner is, "where the President and the press corps consummate their loveless marriage."

There is something just so...right...about that.

Tom Edsall: It is a great line. He should try the Gridiron Dinner if he wants to see the consummation turned into an orgy.


Fairfax, Va.: The New Republic's Ryan Lizza says this about George Allen:

"George Allen is the oldest child of legendary football coach George Herbert Allen, and, when his father was on the road, young George often acted as a surrogate dad to his siblings. According to his sister Jennifer, he was particularly strict about bedtimes. One night, his brother Bruce stayed up past his bedtime. George threw him through a sliding glass door. For the same offense, on a different occasion, George tackled his brother Gregory and broke his collarbone. When Jennifer broke her bedtime curfew, George dragged her upstairs by her hair.

George tormented Jennifer enough that, when she grew up, she wrote a memoir of what it was like living in the Allen family. In one sense, the book, Fifth Quarter, from which these details are culled, is unprecedented. No modern presidential candidate has ever had such a harsh and personal account of his life delivered to the public by a close family member. The book paints Allen as a cartoonishly sadistic older brother who holds Jennifer by her feet over Niagara Falls on a family trip (instilling in her a lifelong fear of heights) and slams a pool cue into her new boyfriend's head. "George hoped someday to become a dentist," she writes. "George said he saw dentistry as a perfect profession--getting paid to make people suffer."

Is The Post looking at this aspect of Allen's upbringing/personality?

Tom Edsall: Lizza's story was an eye-opener to me, and I think he has raised some very interesting questions about what the character of an Allen presidency would be. Both the racial issues and the way Allen is alleged to have treated his siblings would be of great interest to many voters.

As a national reporter, I am barred from writing about Virginia, Maryland or DC politics -- a tradition rooted in Watergate when two Metro reporters broke the scandal while White House reporters sat on their duffs.

Our story yesterday downplayed the Lizza article putting in the 9th and 10th graph of a story on page B1:

"Before he ran for governor in 1993, he kept a Confederate flag in a cabin near his Charlottesville home, part of a collection of flags, he has said. He once displayed a noose in his law office, which he said was part of a homage to the West. And he stirred controversy as governor by issuing a proclamation noting the South's celebration of Confederate History Month in April, without mentioning slavery.

"The history is well known to many Virginians, but a presidential run would introduce it to a national audience."

I hope we return to this is a more substantial fashion, especially since the paper has a prospective presidential candidate in its home turf, and we should won the Allen story.


Omaha, Neb.: Will other Members of Congress be brought into the Shirlington Limousine scandal besides Duke Cunningham or was he being entertained alone?

Tom Edsall: Some other papers on the West Coast have been ahead of the curve on this issue, along with the Talking Points Memo blog. We and others are trying to catch up. This is the kind of story that smells like there is a whole lot more there, and if there is, it will be one great story.


Washington, D.C.: Are the Dems holding their fire rather than exposing it now only to be shot down and saving it till October when it really counts?

Tom Edsall: Damned if I know. Sometimes you can hold your fire so long that the enemy is already swamping your front lines.


Anonymous: While watching C-span, I saw Tucker Carlson's dad give an interview, and was shocked to find that Scooter Libby was his former attorney, and that Carlson Sr. had been a literary agent for none other than Monica Lewinsky. Do you think it's fair for Tucker Carlson to declare that the CIA leak of Plame is a joke, and that Joe Wilson is a liar? It seems like being so close to Libby would make Carlson step away from that issue. YOUR OPINION?

Tom Edsall: I am not familiar with the facts, including anything Carlson said. If what you describe it true, at the very least Carlson should have disclosed those ties, especially viz a viz Libby and Plame.

The reality is that the media, especially cable television, is so rife with conflicts of interest that it makes some politicians caught with their hands in the cookie jar look like Eagle Scounts. (I notice for grammarians that I am using media as a singular noun, perhaps incorrectly).


Harrisburg, Pa.: It was just announced in Federal District court that the Secret Service, by May 10th, would turn over information showing how many times Jack Abramoff visited the White House, and who he visited there. What might be the fallout of this information?

Tom Edsall: I was very surprised that this agreement was made before the November elections. Perhaps it was on a track toward inevitable disclosure before November and the administration decided to get it out of the way sooner than later. Politically, just one Abramoff visit will be harmful to the Republican Party. If the visits are to well-known top officials with initials like KR, GWB, and DC, the visits will be all the more problematic.


New York, N.Y.: It seems to me that, controlling both the WH and Congress, that the Repubs raised the immigration issue, possibly to arouse their "populist" base that you mentioned earlier, to boost turnout in the upcoming elections. If, in fact, that was their strategy, it promptly blew up in their face, exposing the factions in the party.

Do you believe that the Repubs raised this issue as an election ploy? And if so, how did they ever expect it to work, as it was pretty apparent that there was a big business-Minuteman spectrum that would be torn over this issue?

Tom Edsall: I think there is a strong case to be made that ever since Karl Rove has been tied up in the Plame investigation, the Bush administration has lost its footing. Immigration is a tough issue to take on from any side, but the Administration has failed to present a strong, authoritative case for its position, and consequently it has looked weak and vacillating. This is just what Rove and others came in to office determined to avoid.


San Francisco, Calif.: You know, I was going to rip into Dana Milbank for his comments last night about Colbert and his generally vapid Q&As on this site. But someone beat me to it. So maybe you can just give me a short Milbank biography. I'm sure there's some reason why The Post hired him even the reason is not readily apparent to me.

Tom Edsall: This sounds just like the kind of question that Dana would plant to get me into trouble. The fact is, your query is dead on. No one can provide an adequate explanation for the hiring of Dana. I believe circulation has dropped since he came on board.

Actually, to know Dana is, in some weird way, to love him. I suggest you might want to answer the question I posted about Dana at the bottom of this chat,


Iowa: As a long-time political reporter for The Washington Post, can you recall any other sustained periods of so very much bad news from so very many quarters for an administration?

Tom Edsall: The Carter years were pretty God-awful. Iraq Hostages. Gas shortages. Interest rates at 19 percent. A president blaming the mood of the electorate for the country's problems (the misnamed 'malaise' speech), total incompetence in dealing with Congress. A constant barrage of sanctimony from the White House, etc, etc.


Margate, N.J.: Re: the choices for Dana Milbank, puh-leeze! I vote neither of the above.

Tom Edsall: Feel free to speak you mind. Dana does.


Burke, Va.: Is the National Anthem in Spanish thing much ado about not much?

After all:

When visiting cities like Chicago, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, in pivotal states, he would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parites, sometimes joining in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, sometimes partying with a "Viva Bush" mariachi band flown in from Texas.

This is from Kevin Phillips National Dynasty.

BTW: I want to thank you reporters for doing these things - much better than a blog.

Tom Edsall: The anthem issue had all the earmarks of a ploy to put Bush to the right of the demonstrators and minimize his loss of support among the anti-immigrant wing of his party.


Fairfax, Va.: Yesterday I asked Ms. Murray if she thought the Democrats would have a good issue by calling for oil companies' profits to be capped in order to reduce pump prices. She responded negatively and called capping gas prices "UnAmerican". Why is The Post hiring reporters who have such right wing values and who seemingly aren't bothered by robber barons allied to the White House but at the same time can't conceive of our government taking action to level the playing field to the benefit of the consumer?

Tom Edsall: In fairness, if she had agreed with you and supported capping, would she have shown bias in another fashion?


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Edsall,

I was astonished to read in Sunday's Post that the movie version of United 93 not only got many facts correct--but also the government's version was blatantly false in many respects, specifically that Cheney gave the shoot down order AFTER the plane had crashed, and that the military was tracking the plane BEFORE it was hijacked.

What kind of response has this story gotten? It may have been told before, but I shamefully missed it, if so.

Tom Edsall: I don't know the facts myself, but one of the major failings of the press generally, including the Post, is the failure to reexamine issues past when they may no longer be the top of the news, but turn out to have been examples of lying, distortion, etc,


Washington, D.C.: What do you get out of this? I mean, do you like these chats? Why?

Tom Edsall: Pure pleasure, an opportunity to write in a casual, unedited manner, the fun of playing around with issues and exploring the political motivations behind some of the major actors, a chance just to read and respond to what some of our most attentive web viewers have on their mind. It's also a chance to kid around with my colleague Dana Milbank, who often repays in kind.

With than, this has been a nice hour for me, and I look forward to you questions in two weeks. Tom


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