Washington Sketch

Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, April 24, 2008; 1:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank, who serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns and videos, will be online Thursday, April 24 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the things politicians say -- and the absurd ways they find to say them.

The transcript follows.


Dana Milbank: Hello chatters. I've caught up on my sleep after another botched Hillary Clinton funeral, this one Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Her refusal to die reminds me of the famous question posed by David Petraeus to my colleague Rick Atkinson as U.S. troops were invading Iraq in 2003: "Tell me how this ends."

What's on your collective mind?


Washington: Hi Dana. I read your column religiously. Usually it makes me laugh, but this week you've had two columns that actually made me cry -- today's, and the one on Tuesday about Pennsylvania voters. They're also some of your best work recently. What's going on, Dana, and why have you gone over to the gloomy side?

Dana Milbank: Glad you've got Sketch religion. Actually I think the saddest column was Wednesday's, in which I noted that Punxsutawney Hillary had seen her shadow, which meant that the campaign would go on for another six weeks.

But you are referring to the column today on the blocking of funeral coverage at Arlington, and the one about race and class in an old steel town in Pennsylvania, explaining Obama's problems there.

I hadn't realized I've become gloomy, but you are quite right. I better up the dosage. Also, a change in topic will help: Tonight I'm going to a book discussion with Doug "It Wasn't My Fault" Feith.


Odenton, Md.: All jokes aside, I would like to thank you for the very moving piece today concerning the funeral at Arlington Cemetery. I am glad that you brought light to this issue, and I encourage anyone who has not read the article to do so.

washingtonpost.com: What the Family Would Let You See, the Pentagon Obstructs (Post, April 24)

Dana Milbank: This is killing my reputation.


McLean, Va.: So if al-Qaeda is threatening to attach companies like Blackwater, should I be concerned if my office is one floor above a Blackwater office?

Dana Milbank: I'd be more concerned that you'll get caught in the crossfire when the Blackwater guys start shooting because they've run out of ice cream in the cafeteria.


Ocala, Fla.: Thanks for the piece about Lt. Col. Hall's funeral. As I read U.S. Code 32 (the section dealing with Arlington) Congress specifically has granted the public access to the cemetery, and has established the rules that govern permissible and impermissible activities within the site, including a ban on bicycle riding in most areas -- so what is the authority under which the Army can restrict the public and press during funerals? In particular, how can the Army bar those who have been invited by the survivors?

Dana Milbank: You're way ahead of me, Ocala.

Actually, I'm hopeful that things will improve at Arlington. The new public affairs person there, Gina Gray, seems genuinely eager to improve the situation. Hopefully some public pressure on the higher-ups will make her task easier.


London, Ontario: Faithful "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" watcher -- you are hilarious (I mean that as a compliment). Your U.S. Election is way more interesting then ours ever are (well, going back to our late, great Trudeau). I just love it when I hear pundits/political commentators spin they are fair and balanced on all the networks (I should know -- I watch at the very least five hours of U.S. coverage per day). What hogwash -- you all must have a favourite (sorry Canadian spelling). Please, please give us some insight into how your really feel (hee hee)!

Dana Milbank: I never have claimed to be fair or balanced. I long have been in the tank for Mike Huckabee.


Dallas: I keep asking this question and it remains unanswered. If it's too hot, just please say so. Why does the press refer to Sen. Obama as African-American instead of biracial? Thanks.

Dana Milbank: That never occurred to me, Dallas. I guess I just get around that issue by referring to him as a Muslim plant.


Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Milbank, having had the unfortunate privilege to attend three burials at Arlington National Cemetery, I must reject your argument that there is some ulterior motive behind the lack of a good "camera angle" for the press. If you cannot reasonably agree that a grieving family should be afforded some semblance of privacy by keeping paparazzi back by 50 feet, then I am truly worried about the state of the media today, and its political agenda. Thank you for your desire to report the news, but I would ask that you think through something objectively before passing judgment and using a hero like Lt. Col. Hall for what I consider to be your own benefit. Perhaps you can help "desanitize" the war by reporting from Anbar Province, rather than Capitol Hill. Just ensure that your family gives consent to allow the press at your funeral before you go.

Dana Milbank: Thank you for participating in the chat, Secretary Rumsfeld, but I think you miss the point. If a grieving family wants privacy, they don't have to have coverage of the funeral at all; the media only attend with the permission of the family. Also it was 50 yards, not 50 feet.


Arlington, Va.: Dana -- if domestic helium consumption continues at the current rate, the U.S. will expend its helium reserves in the Texas panhandle in nine years. Why haven't any of the candidates have addressed this dire situation?!

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade as we know it could be a thing of the past within a decade. American flag lapel pin or not, you don't get much more American then a float-laced parade the last Thursday in November, and these candidates have been mum. It is the responsibility of the media corps to make sure they address these issues.

Dana Milbank: I have it on good information that both of these questions will be asked at the next debate hosted by George Stephanopoulos.


Chappell Hill, Texas: Dana, I really enjoy the Washington Sketch and appreciate your coverage. As the spouse of a U.S. Marine, I find it absolutely unacceptable at the way in which our media covers this folly in Iraq. Every time I see a headline about Britney Spears above the report of a soldier's death, it makes my blood boil. The reason this disaster is allowed to continue is because the media doesn't cover it; they don't ask the tough questions, and people shut it out. This has got to stop. I cannot stand the frivolity when our brave men and women are stuck smack-dab in the middle of a civil war by a delusional administration that is accountable to no one. I write my congressmen, I write reporters, what else can I do?

Dana Milbank: You can write a question to the Washington Sketch Web chat, as you have just done.

It's an interesting chicken-or-egg question: Has interest in Iraq declined because coverage has declined, or is the coverage following the declining interest? It's surely not for lack of effort by organizations like The Post, which -- during this time of decline in our industry -- is spending a fortune to keep up a large presence in Iraq.


Bethesda, Md.: Hola Dana. Do you really think that Hillary is gonna bring it on all the way to San Juan, Puerto Rico, or do you think that Obama will end the drama before the June Primaries? Also, which is better: Philly cheesesteak, or arroz con pollo?

washingtonpost.com: Just When You Think They Might Be Out, They Get Pulled Back In (Post, April 23)

Dana Milbank: The one hopeful thing in this endless primary is that Hillary will campaign in Puerto Rico. In fact, I bumped into Ann Lewis at the train station in Philadelphia returning to Washington Wednesday morning, and suggested to her that Clinton would benefit immediately from far more favorable press coverage if she chose to do all of her campaigning in Puerto Rico.


Helium: Actually, helium is indispensable for many industry and medical applications. The problem is real. You can't hear this but my voice is really really high right now! But seriously.

Dana Milbank: Paging Charlie Gibson right now.


Washington: Mr. Milbank, as someone whose own father is buried in Section 60, I'm appalled at the actions of the Pentagon in this case and greatly welcomed the attention your piece brought to the issue. I often see these families visiting the graves of men younger than myself (I'm 24) when I go to visit my own father's grave. My question is this: Within decorum and reason, what do you think is an acceptable way for these families to send a message to the public affairs folks at the Department of Defense?

Dana Milbank: The silly part is it wouldn't take much to resolve the problem. A single "pooled" camera and microphone near the ceremony probably would do the job, and few people would even know it's there.


The farmer's daughter: Reading your column about race and class in Pennsylvania was profoundly saddening. I grew up in rural Iowa (not an enlightened area) and was amazed to see Sen. Obama win the Iowa caucus. Who would have thought the strains of U.S. racism ran deeper in Ben Franklin's home state?

Dana Milbank: I've had quite a few comments about this today, and earlier in the week. I actually wasn't trying to brand the people in the story racist. I think the McKeesport phenomenon -- and Obama's Pennsylvania problem generally --had much more to do with class. Obama has an "elite" problem -- much like John Kerry had because of his long fingernails, classical guitar and windsurfing, or John Edwards had because of his $400 haircut. Hillary, largely because of her husband, has the appearance of a common touch -- even though she and Bill just reported $109 million in income.


Providence, R.I.: I like the Punxsutawny Hillary metaphor, but the first thing that leapt to my mind when I read it in your column was, don't you mean "Punxsutawny Hill"?

Dana Milbank: Nicely done, Providence!


Washington: The kind of column you wrote today is a typical example of our left-wing press serving to embolden our enemies. I hope you're happy, you emboldener!

Dana Milbank: Who made you the decider?


Election strategy: The painful nomination process could be worsened with a dose of Zimbabwean political zest -- hold the election and simply refuse to announce the results if you don't like them.

Dana Milbank: I think you're on to something here -- or perhaps we in the media could get together and refuse to report the results of any more primaries until Obama and Clinton can work out some sort of an amicable end to this. An exception would be made for the Puerto Rico primary, which would receive nonstop, on-the-beach coverage.

Either way, look forward to seeing you all the Feith book discussion tonight.


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