Washington Sketch

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank teams with washingtonpost.com's Akira Hakuta to provide a behind-the-scenes look at government proceedings in Washington.
Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, May 29, 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, was online Thursday, May 29 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: So let's see where things stand:

Dan Bartlett is "puzzled" by Scott McClellan.

Dana Perino is "puzzled" by Scott McClellan.

President Bush, Perino says, is also "puzzled" by McClellan.

What puzzles you, dear reader?


Ocala, Fla.: So, I'm puzzled -- was McClellan under a spell when he was press secretary, or did he become possessed by the evil liberal New York media after he left the protective magic of Dick Cheney?

Dana Milbank: Puzzling indeed.

I find it amusing that he is dismissed as "disgruntled." I must say I'd be disgruntled if my superiors lied to me, I unwittingly repeated those lies to the public, and then -- when my credibility was shot -- I was pushed out the door.

I don't think there's anything "liberal" about Scott's critique -- just well justified anger.


Silver Spring, Md.: Wasn't the McClellan book subject to pre-publication review by the White House? If it was, then the White House is lying about being surprised about its contents. (That would not surprising.)

Dana Milbank: I am shocked -- shocked! -- that you would believe a lie has come out of the White House.

Yes, it was reviewed by the White House, and most likely by Steve Hadley or his national security council.


Washington: Thanks for "bringing to life" Stephen Hadley today. What would you consider his most important asset? My vote is loyalty. He strikes me as someone unlikely to leave office and write a book like Scott McClellan.

washingtonpost.com: The Man Who Wasn't There, Still Here (Post, May 29)

Dana Milbank: Well, Scott McClellan seemed someone unlikely to leave office and write a book like Scott McClellan.

Hadley has strong loyalty, but also strong fealty to whatever the president's view is. He's often described as less ideologue than apparatchik.


Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: From Paul Kane's session this morning: "I'm sorry, but we're a business, and lots of my colleagues are walking out the door under volunteer buyouts. We don't have the resources to cover you guys" (re: Nader, Greens, anyone else who isn't Democratic or Republican). Then you might as well fold The Washington Post. If you don't have the resources and the desire to report "all the news that's fit to print," your company isn't fit for the news business. (Yes, I know the quote is attributed to the New York Times) Your take? Please no sob stories about layoffs, buyouts, and how no one understands your business model. We all have problems. Thanks much.

Dana Milbank: I'm puzzled.

Surely my colleague Kane jests. I have already written about Nader and Barr in this very cycle. The Sketch would be nowhere without the crazies, er, third parties.


Washington: I appreciate your pick-up of the attempt to over-use "puzzling." It reminds me of when Tony Snow (hope he's okay) used to say "that's interesting" or "I find it interesting that..." or "interesting question." He used to do that all the time.

Dana Milbank: Interesting.

There was a wire report yesterday saying Tony had to cancel a speech in Ohio because of illness. We're all praying for his health.


Protest at the rules meeting: Two-four-six-eight, we want extra delegates! What do we want? New goalposts! When do we want them? Now!

Dana Milbank: And your Washington Sketchwriter will be there at the Marriott Wardman Park to cover it, for a special-edition Sunday Sketch.


The RFK line: I watched Olbermann's outraged comment on it. I read Eugene Robinson's column on it. I see where she royally put her foot in it, but I also see that it's just one ridiculous thing she's said in months of campaigning. Dana, in your opinion, why is this one statement the misstep that kills her campaign (which should've ended weeks ago)?

washingtonpost.com: Clinton's Grim Scenario (Post, May 27)

Dana Milbank: Franco: Still Dead.

It was outrageous but, as you note, you can't kill a campaign that's already dead.


Baltimore: Were you in the White House press pool at the same time that Scottie was press secretary? Did he look tortured and conflicted back then, or is that just his usual constipated look?

Dana Milbank: Yes, I was, and no, it isn't constipation. He had that look before because Karl Rove's foot was in his behind. They are similar looks, though, so I can see why you would be puzzled.


Washington: Hi, Dana. One of my favorite Dana Milbank items was one you wrote when you were actually still a reporter at The Post. About four years ago you published a front-page piece called something like "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable." It was very well done. So that leads me to ask: How puzzled are you about this whole Scott McClellan thing?

Dana Milbank: It is my policy to reply to every question today that begins with "one of my favorite Dana Milbank items..."

That piece ran back in the fall of 2002, actually, and it raised some of those doubts about the war that the media is always be faulted for missing. I can still feel the refreshing droplets of saliva hitting my cheeks as Ari Fleischer screamed in my face.

He was very puzzled that day.


Seattle: I think we should make sure the NY Times Puzzlemaster Will Shortz has an alibi! I also notice that they all say "that's not the Scott we knew." Perhaps there was a cloning vat involved ... or a blast fax.

Dana Milbank: "Not the Scott I knew" is, indeed, another of the talking points. It reminds me of those testimonial videos the Clinton campaign rolled out just before the Iowa caucuses, called "The Hillary I Know." Puzzling why that didn't work for her.


What puzzles me?: That anyone still believes anything coming out of the White House. At this point, I'm waiting for the pets to have their tell-alls ghost-written for them. Barney and Miss Beazley probably have better access than the press secretary. Will they come concur with the view that the president's vision was narrow, or will they point out that he does after all see in color, and therefore is better-suited as he can see more. India (the cat) remains steadfastly non-aligned, while Ofelia the cow chews over how she'll respond to McClellan at the next Texas game.

Dana Milbank: Raised this very point on David Gregory's show last night. I think attention will inevitably focus on the untimely death in February, 2004, of the Bush family's English springer spaniel, Spot Fetcher. On closer inspection, the dog didn't die of natural causes but was "put to sleep."

Echoes of Vince Foster? Perhaps Spot knew too much.


You can't kill a campaign that's already dead: Oh no, puzzled, elitist pundit. The people will be appalled that all Florida and Michigan delegates aren't seated, and protests of this ruling will draw this campaign out to the convention. A campaign soon to be on hiatus is not dead.

Dana Milbank: Sorry, sorry. I did it again. It is because I don't need a president.

Count every vote! Cast every ballot! She's in it to win it!


Peaks Island, Maine: To what extent do you think that Scott McClellan's editors put words into his mouth, as implied (in some cases not subtly) by purveyors of the White House response.

Dana Milbank: I wondered about that, but when I saw him on the "Today" show this morning, repeating his talking point about the "permanent campaign" over and over again, I no longer was puzzled. That was the Scott I knew.


Richmond, Va.: I had to comment on the "Franco: Still Dead" line. Loved it! The younger set (no offense) may not get it but it made me laugh out loud. It captured the campaign exactly. Keep it up!

washingtonpost.com: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead (Wikipedia)

Dana Milbank: Thank you, and please give my best to all the other Post readers at your nursing home. You are our core readership.


Re: McClellan's book: Richard Clarke was courageous for publishing a book about the lies Bush told near the height of the president's popularity. McClellan was the point-man on making Clarke seem like a disgruntled traitor. Now that Bush is in the tank worse than Nixon, McClellan "finds" the courage to join the bandwagon? Give me a break. I'd rather the front page be about Lindsay Lohan than giving McClellan his due.

Dana Milbank: The bookshelf is groaning under the kiss-and-tells from former Bush staffers. Here's a partial list I found on the Internets:

George Tenet. Richard Clarke. Rand Beers. Paul O'Neill. David Kuo. John Dilulio. Eric Schaeffer. Bill Harlow. Christy Todd-Whitman. Eric Shinseki. David Iglesias. David Kay. Anthony Zinni. Lawrence Wilkerson. Matthew Dowd. Greg Thielmann. Jay Garner. John Brady Kiesling. Tom Ridge. John Brown. Charles Duelfer. Roger Cressey. Sibel Edmonds. Ken Mehlman. Karen Kwiatkowski. Joe Wilson. Thomas White. John Batiste. Paul Eaton. Tom Maertens. Coleen Rowley. Paul Bremer. John Danforth. Andrew Wilkie. Ann Wright. Mike Brown. Ken Adleman


Pittsburgh: Does anyone really take the White House insult "disgruntled former employee" seriously? Shoot, I'd wear it as a badge of honor!

Dana Milbank: It does make it sound as if he was passed over for promotion to foreman on the bottling line. Puzzling.


Vienna, Va.: What Monty Python scene will you steal next for Washington Notebook?

Dana Milbank: How about McClellan as Cardinal Ximenez, surprising Bush in "Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition"?


Re: Spot: I can see it now PETA picketing the White House with banners reading, "Justice for Spot!" Arlen Specter will have to convene yet another committee to review Spot's medical record. Freedom of Information Act requests will be made for Spot's personal diary which, it will be found, was "inadvertently" cremated by Karl Rove along with the body.

Dana Milbank: Puzzling that you know so much. Except that the way things are going for the GOP, it'll be a long time before Specter convenes any hearings on anything.


San Diego: Do you think Scott McClellan has awakened to find a horse head in his bed yet? If not, how soon will it be before he does?

Dana Milbank: It appears this chat has taken an unfortunate turn toward dead animals. This is a puzzling development, and it is not the Washington Sketch I knew.


Washington: Hey, Dana. I hate to say it, but it looks like McClellan's book will outsell yours. In retrospect, don't you wish you had taken a job in the Bush administration so you could have written a tell-all?

Dana Milbank: I think "will outsell" can safely be replaced with "already has outsold." I look with envy on the kiss-and-tell authors, but while I am good at the telling part I am not so good at the kissing. Plus, if I worked in the White House, I would have had to rely on Scooter and Karl to discredit me. In journalism I can do that on my own.


Anonymous: Dear elitist pundit: I don't think Gens. Shinseki or Garner wrote books.

Dana Milbank: Hey, I found it on the Internets while using the Google. It must be true.


Anonymous: On your Washington Sketch video on the price of oil hearings, you appear not to have a neck. I'm puzzled. Do you actually have a neck?

Dana Milbank: Size 17, but I try not to stick my neck out too far.


Kensington, Md,: I don't know whether you were counting Rumsfeld's ex-aides in your memoirs list, but if you were, you forgot one of your old favorites, Douglas Feith.

Dana Milbank: The Internets do not update themselves as quickly as one would like. This is because it is not a truck, it is a series of tubes.


Washington: If disgruntled White House employees sell books, what about the gruntled ones? Do they ever get book contracts?

Dana Milbank: No but I hear Bartlett is getting $50,000 a speech. That's enough to gruntle anybody.


Anonymous: Hillary was seen in Puerto Rico sans pants suit. I'm puzzled. This isn't the Hillary I know. How will we know it's over if the lady singing is not wearing a pants suit?

Dana Milbank: See? I told my editor he should have sent me on the Puerto Rico trip. I had no idea Clinton wasn't wearing pants.


"Desiccated prose": You keep inventing terms like that and no one will be puzzled when you're awarded one of those Pulitzer things.

Dana Milbank: I also pledge to post all questions recommending me for awards.


Reading, Pa.: Have you read the book, or do you intend to read the entire thing or just the juicy parts?

Dana Milbank: I have given it the Washington read: I have thoroughly scoured the index. Now I've got to end this chat so I can look at the pictures. Many thanks for allowing me to piece the puzzle together with you today.


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