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Washington Sketch: Dana Milbank on Yo-YoMaGate, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Roland Burris' Mausoleum

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Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, January 23, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns, videos and blog posts. He was online Friday, January 23 at 12 noon ET to take your questions and comments about the things politicians say -- and the absurd ways they find to say them.

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A transcript follows.

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Dana Milbank:

Welcome Sketch chatters.

"It is time," President Obama said in his inaugural address this week, "to set aside childish things."

So, dear reader, if you have any childish thoughts that you are no longer using, please send them my way over the next hour.

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Houston, Texas: Hi, Mr. Milbank. Thanks for the chat and your column, good to have a laugh now and then. Has someone managed to correct, "the television in the press office is still tuned to Fox News."? Eight years of Fox, eight years too many.

Dana Milbank:

Houston, I have just sent this inquiry to Thomas F. Vietor (formerly Tommy Vietor), who toils in the new White House press office, and he informs me that they are indeed in possession of the remote control and are changing the channel on the television in the press office "at will."

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San Francisco, Calif: Dana, my friend...

I listened to a smidgen of Gibbs speaking today (January 22). First of all, I noticed that he speaks very, very softly. This might be a Southern thing. My take is that his style is characteristically Southern. Granted, some Southerners are egomaniacs. Some Southerners are loud. But there are Southerners who have a very quiet style. That type may well exhibit "an abundance of caution" ...especially when they are easing themselves into such as role as a presidential spokesperson. (Even when Gibbs got as "exercised" as I think he ever gets -- that time he argued with a Fox news person, on camera -- he will still rather calm.)

Give the man time. Either he will grow into the job or he won't (in that event, I am sure they can find someone else).

washingtonpost.com: Waving the Flag (the Yellow One) (The Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2009)

Dana Milbank:

I've never thought of Gibbs as soft-spoken, though he is from Alabama.

I think he'll do just fine as press secretary, though I'm hoping the abundant caution wears off quickly. Also he needs to start returning calls and emails.

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Arlington, Va.: George Stephanopoulos' wife said on Oprah that they both cried tears of joy at the inauguration. How many other unbiased, play-it-straight journalists that you know also cried tears of joy at the inauguration of Obama?

Dana Milbank:

I was crying in my seat in Section 1, but that's because I couldn't feel my toes.

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Washington, D.C.: DiFi delayed the oath of office five minutes past the official start time so we could listen to canned music? Impeach her.

Dana Milbank:

I must say I was quite dismayed to learn that Yo-Yo Ma was doing the cello equivalent of lip-synching. I did notice that he was smiling an awful lot while he played. I thought this was pride originally, but now I recognize it as the smile a prankster make when his practical joke is going well.

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New Jersey: Can I just blast the "big names" who spent prized news conference minutes on the second swearing-in, a procedure that all agree was precautionary and without consequence? There are world events that I am very worried about, and my "top name journalists" are attempting to construct complicated inquiries about TRIVIA. Are editors involved in these itsy-bitsy inquiries? STOP WASTING YOUR JOURNALISTIC TIME!

Dana Milbank:

In fairness to my colleagues, they had already been through a "serious" briefing about Gitmo and interrogation, but the White House didn't want you to see that; the briefing was given off camera and on the condition we not identify the officials.

So by the time it was Gibbs' turn, it was more fun and games.

And by the time Obama himself made a surprise visit to the press room later in the afternoon, it was even fluffier.

Here's a nice account from CBS's Mark Knoller:

Asked if he's played basketball yet on the WH grounds:

"I have not tried the basketball court. It's been too cold..."

Asked again about the basketball court - he said "we installed a new backboard on the tennis court and so we'll be able to play full court."

Asked if he's got his Blackberry on yet - he said "I won the fight but I don't think it's actually up and running yet. . ."

When a reporter tried to ask him a serious question about his nomination of a former lobbyist to be Deputy Defense Secretary, Mr. Obama didn't want to get serious. "I can't come in and shake hands if I'm gonna get grilled every time," he said

When he saw Fox News and CNN booths next to each other in the basement of the press room, he jokingly likened it to the goal for Israel and the Palestinians -- saying the two cable news networks were "living side by side in peace and security."

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think you'll be able to devote several Sketches to Roland Burris over the next few months? The guy is unbelievable and would seem to be a perfect subject for you. Here's hoping you make a trip to his mausoleum and have many opportunities to experience him in the future, and share all the hilarious details with us. Thanks for your writing.

Dana Milbank:

As many as possible. If Gibbs doesn't get livelier I might apply to become the fulltime Burris correspondent. I saw the senator from Blagojevich at the swearing in, standing at the front of the section of senators and giving a thumbs up to the crowd.

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Washington Monument: Our Jumbotron wasn't synced to the speakers, so YYM could have been playing "Hoedown" and we wouldn't have known the difference!

Dana Milbank:

See, that's why he was smiling so much -- he was playing Hoedown. And Rick Warren read erotic poetry while they piped in a recording of a prayer.

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Pittsburgh: All you non-musicians go ahead and make jokes about taped music. Then go out in 10 degree wind chill and try and play the piano, the clarinet, or the cello in such a way as to entertain rather than annoy. Unless you know the meaning of the word "embouchure" I say ferme la bouche!

Dana Milbank:

Ahem, Pittsburgh. You're talking to a guy who once played in the TubaChristmas concert on the ice in Rockefeller Plaza. I remember it clearly. We played Hoedown, and they piped out "Silent Night."

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I'll ask ya: Is the Blue-Dog, gun-lovin' new New York Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (a two-year Congresswoman who had a baby while in office) the Democrats' answer to Sarah Palin?

Dana Milbank: Possibly. But we won't know for sure unless we send them on a moose hunt.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Maybe if it had been Fox and MSNBC side by side he'd have had something there.

Dana Milbank: Then you would need George Mitchell to keep peace in the press room.

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Charlottesville: Dana, In the interest of kicking a dead horse, how about some more entries for the Bush Administration accomplishments to continue the hilarious dialogue from last week. Ergo, "Brought tee-ball to the White House grounds." "Sought to elevate societal norms by removing stigma associated with turd blossoms." Etc.

Dana Milbank: I am moving forward and looking ahead, Charlottesville.

But clearly you have been working hard on these lines, so I'll admit them for the record.

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RE: Burris: Has he had "US SENATOR" added to his tombstone yet?

Dana Milbank:

It's a mausoleum, but the point is the same, and that is: I really should be a full time Burris correspondent. So, for this week's reader participation challenge, please send an email to my editor, Tim Curran (currant@washpost.com) with the subject line: "Send Milbank to Burris Mausoleum"

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The Land of The Midnight Sun: Do you think Warren Zevon had the senator from Blagojevich in mind when he wrote 'Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner'?

Dana Milbank: Sounds like it:

Through '66 and 7 they fought the Congo war

With their fingers on their triggers knee deep in gore

They killed to earn their living, and to help out the Congolese

For days and nights they battled, the Bantu to their knees

Roland the Thompson gunner

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"changing the channel on the television in the press office "at will." ": And the slippery slide to chaos begins.

Dana Milbank:

Let's hope the pay-per-view function is blocked.

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Hinterlands: To the unschooled eye, Gibbs looked relaxed, prepared, and pleasant. Has an era of new nicknames begun? What's yours?

Dana Milbank:

Prepared and pleasant, but not relaxed. When he came out for the off-camera briefing, his forehead was very shiny. This was apparently powdered over before he came out for the on-camera briefing, but by the end he had worked up a nice shine again.

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Taped music: Marching bands play in adverse conditions all the time! I want to hear YYM and IP live -- no excuses!

Dana Milbank: Absolutely right. And if the cold was such a problem, they should have performed wearing mittens.

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Burris mausoleum: You must make a trip to the Burris Mausoleum! What sort of accomplishments will Burris be able to engrave into the walls by the 2010 election?

Dana Milbank: Jan. 20, 2009: Performed with Yo-Yo Ma.

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Editor question: You used to work for a broccoli -- now you work for a currant? What next? Is the Post working through the alphabet?

Dana Milbank:

Yes, it is a movable feast.

The political editor is a Currant.

The executive editor is a Brauchli.

They are quite a pear.

Now lettuce move on.

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Yo Yo Yo: Marching bands don't play on million dollar heirloom instruments do they?

Dana Milbank: The euphonium I played in the TubaChristmas set me back about $1,500.

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Ocala, Fla.: Will Tim Geithner's testimony be used by H & R. Block or Jackson Hewitt to warn people about using TurboTax? Will Intuit be compensating Geithner for the errors in his TurgidTax returns?

Dana Milbank: On the contrary I think this will be a big boost for software in government accounting. Apparently Geithner believes that he can balance the federal budget if he is allowed to use Quicken.

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Washington, D.C.: I demand a video sketch in which you play the tuba!!

Dana Milbank: I will play the tuba at the Burris mausoleum, but in order for that to happen you first have to get me there. The email again: currant@washpost.com.

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Speaking of slippery slide to chaos...: I'm at an agency whose appointed head has not been appointed yet. Who exactly is in charge? Could it be me?

I suppose the lack of execs could explain why the Bush picture just came down off the wall today. The new Obama one is very serious and intimidating. Can't wait until our Biden arrives!

Dana Milbank: Thanks for the question, Mr./Ms. Commerce Secretary.

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Congressional Moose Hunts: Why is it that when you mentioned a congressional moose hunt with Palin did I think of Mad Max and Thunderdome?

Dana Milbank: This would be an excellent question for Tim Curran.

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Mausoleum Music: What is the appropriate piece to play at a mausoleum?

Dana Milbank: Hoedown.

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Bloomington, Ind: Hello Dana. During yesterday's press briefing, Chirs Cillizza was twittering and posed this question: "Where is Milbank? This briefing needs some get up and go. Milbank = instant excitement.

Let me tell you how excited I am to chat with Mr. Instant Excitement himself.

Dana Milbank: I think he meant that I am highly excitable.

Interesting, this Twitter thing. I asked the Fix about it and he told me I could find it somewhere on the Internets.

Cillizza=Technology

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: If you do a sketch while playing the tuba at the Burris mausoleum, do you think you could break out the orange hunting garb for the occasion?

Dana Milbank: I don't want to overpromise, but pretty much anything is possible as long as Tim hears from you.

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Hoedown: Is that the only piece you know?

Dana Milbank: No, I also know Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner -- and, come to think of it, that is the song I will play on the tuba while wearing an orange hunting vest at the Burris mausoleum.

There, I think this chat has been an excellent repository for all those childish things the Obama administration has set aside. Hold onto any discarded childish things during the week and share them with me again next Friday.

Thanks for chatting.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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