Washington Sketch

Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, July 10, 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, July 10 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.

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Dana Milbank: Good afternoon, Sketch readers. Your Sketch writer, putting together today's column, had to keep in mind Bill Murray's admonition to the groundhog: Don't drive angry. It is important not to write angry, even if the subject nature is infuriating. Gina Gray, the public affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery, was mentioned in my April 24 column for her efforts to improve media access to funerals of the Iraq war dead. That set off a series of reprisals that ended in her firing on June 27.

Fortunately, there are many things to keep us light and cheerful in the capital. I just sat through a 20-minute hearing of the House Judiciary Committee in which the lawmakers faced an empty chair and an untouched water glass in front of a nameplate saying "Mr. Karl Rove." Democrats want to hold him in contempt of Congress. Republicans say he was unavoidably in Europe. I'm going with a tie-up on the Beltway.



Chewelah, Wash.: Dana, I only can hope your article today on Gina Gray causes a few people who actually deserve firing to be fired. As a 21-year veteran of the Air Force, I'd like to know: How many of those jerks you referenced (including Mr. Gates) actually served in the military?

Dana Milbank: I actually don't know about the military records, but I think we all can agree that Thurman Higginbotham is one of the greatest names ever.


Suffering fools gladly: At least David Addington showed up when he was subpoenaed, even if a jolly time was not had by all. How does Rove get away with thumbing his nose at a House committee?

Dana Milbank: Rove thumbing his nose? The House Judiciary committee should be so lucky. They can't get within three miles of those nostrils. Actually I had a faint hope that Rove actually would surprise them and show up for the hearing. They would have been completely off-guard, and wouldn't have had any questions prepared.


San Francisco: Thanks for keeping on the service members' funerals story, Dana. I know you pride yourself on the snark, and there's very little to be found in a story about higher-ups who pressure bereaved families to close their family members' funerals to the media, but -- well, just keep it up. Thank you. It's a very important story and, sadly, you seem to be alone in reporting it.

Dana Milbank: Hey, don't I get credit for a little snark? The ghost of Rummy? The bit about being fired for failing to behave "in an inappropriate manner"?

The lack of other stories may just be because other news outlets didn't know about it. We'll see in the days ahead.


Kentucky: Senor Milbank, were you guilty of pandering to your Spanish-speaking readers by dropping a few Spanish words in your column yesterday?

washingtonpost.com: Latin Lovers (Post, July 9)

Dana Milbank: Check out the video, amigo. It's in Spanish with English subtitles.


Anonymous: Dana: There is something mighty ominous about that little "subscribe to this chat" that is now appearing on your page. I'm sure this new guy Broccoli (or however the hell he pronounces it) thinks that Wall Street Journal stuff will play here but brother you can tell him for me -- the ego maniacs who chat here are notoriously cheap and we won't pay for something we've been getting for free. No way -- no how.

washingtonpost.com: It's just a link to an RSS feed.

Dana Milbank: Yeah, I clicked on the link and they don't ask for money. Pity, though -- I'm more than willing to sell myself to the highest bidder. And I hope that my new boss, Marcus Brauchli (pron: RUTabaga), will allow me to do so. In fact, please begin your questions with an offer of how much you (hypothetically) would be willing to pay me for an answer, so I can determine which questions are the most pressing. Thank you.


Washington: How do you know Gray wasn't disrespectful or inappropriate in ways that had nothing to do with Arlington funerals? I don't doubt that it was a reprisal firing -- just curious how you report these things to your satisfaction.

washingtonpost.com: Putting Her Foot Down and Getting the Boot (Post, July 10)

Dana Milbank: Good question. First, I had lots of contemporaneous evidence in the form of e-mails. Second, I spoke with top officials in the Pentagon and the Army and asked if any of them would go on the record challenging the contention that the firing was a reprisal. They declined to do so. Third, I had other sources who confirmed the substance of her account.


Chicago: Hey Dana, in the lexicon of political euphemisms is bachelor code for "gay"?

Dana Milbank: I thought it was "confirmed bachelor."


Athens, Ga.: Does Ms. Gray have any recourse to get her job back under the whistleblower act? Does she even want it back? Why can't these people act like lame ducks and just do nothing?

Dana Milbank: Her lawyer, Mark Zaid, said the whistleblower statutes are so weak that it was easier to bring the case under other statutes.

I don't imagine she wants the job back, but maybe she can snag a spot in the new Mark Penn/Karen Hughes enterprise.


Annapolis, Md.: While your stories of late have been very informative and newsworthy, I miss your dry humor. Akin to the "Saturday Night Live" skit with Will Ferrell and his Blue Oyster Cult cowbell, I say your stories "need more snarkbell!" Purty pleeez.

Dana Milbank: Okay, I will aim for snarkus maximus in my empty-chair Sketch for tomorrow. It will need a lot of snark, because there wasn't any actual substance.


Juneau, Alaska: Hi Mike. George Will has a column out in today's Post stating "no beer, no civilization." Would you care to comment -- especially as to how that relates to Muslim countries, where alcohol is restricted or banned?

washingtonpost.com: Survival of the Sudsiest (Post, July 10)

Dana Milbank: I'm no expert on the evidence worldwide, but it always has been my personal motto.


Washington: I'm not sure why Obama thinks the "Access Barack" interview with the kids was a mistake. Is it because you can't script a 10 year old? I find him a big fat phony.

washingtonpost.com: Obama says kids won't be doing any more interviews (AP, July 9)

Dana Milbank: It does tend to feed cynicism. And while I'm never one to yield to cynicism, I'm wondering if they just wanted to get the kids out there once so that the B-roll exists, but then shut it down so no future requests get granted.


Arlington, Va.: Dana, my office view is of Arlington Cemetery; every time I hear cannon being fired, I stand and salute. Just a small amount of respect I show for the sacrifices of others. Too bad the Arlington Cemetery brass doesn't share the same amount of respect. It is sad, really. Thank you for sharing this story. I am so voting Democrat in November. A little something I can do to show how much the current administration has messed the world up!

Dana Milbank: Those aren't cannon being fired -- they're shooting members of the media!


I would have guessed Halloween: Dana, are you Day-na or Dan-na? Did you know that Mr. Rove was born Dec. 25, 1950? Astrology.com's horoscope for Karl for today today: "Today is great for starting new projects -- at work, at home or anywhere else. You should be able to build up the support you need without any trouble and the day's energy is quite auspicious."

Dana Milbank: Thank you for the Dayna/Danna question, the only one today. In a flagrant and pathetic attempt to boost readership of my chats, I am teaming up with the informative and entertaining Dana Priest for next week's chat. She will answer your politics questions and I'll handle the national security issues.


Washington: This morning's sketch certainly made my blood boil. After five years and more than 4,000 American soldiers killed, the Army is trying to stop us from seeing these burials? What are they afraid of? Is there a congressional committee with oversight of Arlington Cemetery?

Dana Milbank: No doubt some VA committee has oversight. I'd love to see the empty chair, the untouched glass of water, and the name card reading "Mr. Thurman Higginbotham." They probably would need two name cards, actually.


Minneapolis: Simple question today, oh Great One. I posed this one to Froomkin, and he seemed to like it, but no visible action yet. How about a Milbank bobblehead for my cubicle? I think it would make me more political, and give me increased validation with my peers. What say you? Put me down for two, please...

Dana Milbank: I would much prefer a Froomkin bobblehead.


Washington: Dana, great, great article -- your anger came through loud and clear. I wonder, have you heard from any of her management today? I would be sick to my stomach if I were Gray. Any replies to your e-mails now?

Dana Milbank: I am refreshing my inbox regularly, but still nothing under the sender column that says: "Higginbotham, Thurman, Mr." I spoke to Gina Gray this morning and she seems to be in good form, no stomach sickness. I, on the other hand, am feeling extremely sick to my stomach, but I attribute this to the preparation for the colonoscopy I am having tomorrow. Think I should live-blog it?


Atlanta: Dana, what are the chances the congress actually will hold Karl Rove in contempt (inherent contempt would be better)? Will they just be issuing more sternly worded letters, letting him know how displeased they are that he ignored their subpoenas?

Dana Milbank: Well, in truth, I don't think Karl would dispute that he is inherently in contempt of Congress and has been for many years. As has been noted before, there's a reason contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor -- we wouldn't have enough jail space if they made it a felony.

They will send him a letter today, then have the contempt vote in the coming weeks. Of course, that won't do anything either. Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten are enjoying a very comfortable existence in contempt of Congress.


Richmond, Va.: Not sure I could tell from your story but has any family allowed media access but had the media kept away anyway? What have the families said about this if it has occurred? Thanks. Posting on washingtonpost.com discussions: free. Getting it answered by Dana Milbank: priceless.

Dana Milbank: But we accept donations.

I haven't heard of such a case, and the Pentagon says they have never received a complaint from a family about the lack of media coverage. Of course, the flip side of that is they never have received a complaint from a family about the intrusion of media coverage, which means everything was just fine before they launched the current crackdown.


Milbank and Priest: Which one is Martin and which is Lewis? The one with the pratfall. And the one singing "like a big pizza pie..."

Dana Milbank: Maybe we could charge for this.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: "Those aren't cannon being fired! They're shooting members of the media!" That's the funniest thing I've read today (maybe even this month). Thanks for the laugh.

Dana Milbank: I'm probably already in trouble for that line. It was truly tasteless. I blame this noxious sodium sulfate drink I have to take for the colonoscopy.


Frederick, Md.: Dana, I was just wondering if you have a hard time keeping good sources after you write about them in unflattering ways, as you often do. Are there some sources who roll with it and understand that they're going to be on the wrong end of the stick sometimes, and then other sources who pettily refuse your phone calls for months? Seems like an occupational hazard of the humorous-yet-hard-hitting journalism you do.

Dana Milbank: I have been able to get around this problem by having no sources. I do, however, have informants. You don't know who they are because I protect them by never writing about them.


Washington: How many events do you go to daily? How many times do you go to events that don't turn into good stories? Have you ever had to say to your editors "sorry folks, there's just no material for a column today"?

Dana Milbank: Pretty much every day I give my editors the "sorry folks" line, but they tell me to sit down and start typing. Once every couple of weeks an event will be just too boring to merit a sketch, and once a week or so I'll have to scramble after my first event turns out to be a loser (why did I think the forum at American Enterprise Institute on food shortages last week would turn out to be fun?). But most of the time our leaders, God bless 'em, provide more than enough material.


Bristol, Tenn.: Please no on the live-blogging. Katie Couric's was enough to last a lifetime. What about the families that want coverage of the funerals? Could one actually let a reporter into the funeral service itself if they chose?

Dana Milbank: I think it is most excellent that this chat is now on two tracks: Arlington Cemetery and my colon.

I'm not proposing a video of the colonoscopy, but I think some live blogging while under the influence of sedatives would be some powerful journalism.

Now, back to Arlington. Yes, families can and sometimes have invited reporters to join the mourners. Most, however, are unaware of the controversy and would have no reason to think of such a thing.


Barbara Boxer: How did you get Barbara Boxer to blurb your book "Homo Politicus" when you didn't portray her in a very flattering manner? Or did she not read the galleys?

Dana Milbank: For the record, the blurb was "taking trash journalism to new lows" or something like that. It wasn't about the book -- it was about me in general.


New York: Dana, nice column. Why did Mr. Thurman H. decide to tighten the rules? Is unilaterally calling the families about the media considered good form by Gates?

Dana Milbank: I am not privy to the workings of the Higginbotham mind, but your question gives me the opportunity to write the name again. Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham Higginbotham.


Crownsville, Md.: Dana, the colonoscopy prep is worse than the procedure -- trust me.

Dana Milbank: That's good, Crownsville, because the prep has just about finished me, and it has just begun.


Colonoscopy: Will probably go easier if you remove your head first.

Dana Milbank: And with that, I believe it is time for me to go to the men's room. Many thanks for tuning in.


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