» This Story:Read +|Talk +| Comments
Bio & archive  |  Milbank Q&As  |   On Twitter   |    RSS Feed

Washington Sketch: The Opinion-Free Edition

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, May 29, 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.

This Story
View All Items in This Story
View Only Top Items in This Story

He was online Friday, May 29 at noon ET to take your questions and comments about the things politicians say -- and the absurd ways they find to say them.

____________________

Dana Milbank:

Hello, sketchreaders!

As some of you may have read, I was brutally and viciously attacked by the Post's new Ombudsman on Sunday. He said I was "journalistically wrong" and had violated "a cardinal rule of journalism." My offense: I made a passing reference to how Ari Fleischer denounced Bill Maher eight years ago with the White House press secretary's famous "watch what they say" warning. The ombudsman, Andy Alexander, said I shouldn't "assume" that Ari meant that to be intimidating or chilling - now where would I get that idea? - and suggested that I should perhaps accept Ari's historical revision that in fact he was all about openness and tolerance in those days after 9/11. But beyond that silly episode, the Ombudsman's position causes a predicament: If an opinion columnist can't have opinions about the meaning of people's words and actions, then it's going to be pretty hard to write a column.

But let's give it a try and do things the way the Ombudsman wants. Please ask me only factual questions today -- perhaps arithmetic, or, since the spelling bee is in town this week, spelling - and, if I know the answer, I will provide it. Operating under the Ombudsman's rules, however, I will not allow myself to make any judgments or offer any opinions.

_______________________

Madisonville, Tenn.: No question, just a comment. It all sounds like a gloriously demented, American-accented Monty Python sketch--and I applaud YOU for sorting it out for us. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Enter Nominee. Cue Applause, Posturing

Dana Milbank:

Thank you, Madisonville. I am glad you have a favorable opinion of today's column about the Sotomayor Phony War. And, ordinarily, I would share your affection for Monty Python. However, operating under the Ombudsman rules, I have no opinion about the column myself. I can only confirm that it appeared in the newspaper this morning, and I leave all judgments to you.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Dana,

I applaud your willingness to do this chat, but I must know: will it be thorough, or will it be swift and fair?

Dana Milbank:

Those are assumptions I am no longer permitted to make. I can only say that the chat is expected to be one hour long, but possibly it will be a 50 minute hour, like a therapist.

_______________________

Torture would do it...: What else could knock her off? A wide stance?

Dana Milbank:

While it is true that I speculated in today's column that Sotomayor will be confirmed unless photos emerge of her torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, I now realize that was an unacceptable assumption. I should not speculate on whether pictures of her torturing prisoners might emerge, and I should not speculate on her prospects for confirmation. I can only report that she is an appellate judge and has written a large number of opinions, all of which are subject to interpretation, which I am not allowed to do.

_______________________

Sketch eHarmony: In a wonderful confluence of current events and your ongoing pimping of your boss, Tim Curran, I note that Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, is single. Could you use your access to the confirmation hearings to pass along a head shot and profile of Tim to the Justice to be?

Dana Milbank:

I think it would not antagonize the Ombudsman to note that the discovery that Sotomayor rhymes with Phony War was made by none other than Tim Curran, who, in previous chats, I have described as extremely sexy. I am not doing so in this chat, however, because that would be an unwarranted assumption. I should say that, prior to today, I would have said Tim and Sonia would make an excellent couple, and Tim's place on Capitol Hill would provide the nominee with an easy commute to her confirmation hearings. But I do not think it is appropriate for me to start making assumptions about how long the commute would be to the hearings, given the unpredictability of traffic in the area.

_______________________

Humid, swamp: Dana, how do you think this group think happens where everyone uses the same word (swift, fair)? is it talking points or some weird unconscious mind meld?

Have you seen on the Daily Show where Jon Stewart will juxtapose Bush and Obama saying almost the same thing on national security? It's eerie.

Dana Milbank: See there is a problematic phrasing in your question: "how do you think." It would be journalistically wrong for me to think, for this would require making judgments and assumptions. If I were assuming, I would assume that these buzzwords are indeed written in talking points, but this is probably unnecessary because everybody knows the script so well they say them without being told. But again, I am not making that assumption.

_______________________

washingtonpost.com: Ombudsman column in question: A White House Spokesman's 'Urban Myth'

_______________________

Re: Ombudsman: I thought your whole gig was meant to be "journalistically wrong." What newspaper has the Ombudsman been reading?

Dana Milbank:

Well, you are allowed to think that I am supposed to be journalistically wrong. I am not. The ombudsman, Mr. Alexander, comes from Cox News, which I am afraid has fallen on hard times. I make no assumption about whether Mr. Alexander's judgments contributed to this situation.

_______________________

Dana Milbank: I should note that the "I am not" in the previous answer meant "I am not allowed to think" rather than "I am not journalistically wrong."

Just don't want you to make any false assumptions.

_______________________

Minnesota: Are you allowed to comment on the weather?

Dana Milbank:

I can tell you that at this very moment it is about 80 degrees and partly sunny. However, I make no assumptions about what might happen later, and I make no judgments about whether it would be nice if it were sunny tomorrow.

_______________________

Atlanta: How is Fliescher's admonition for folks to "watch what they say" any different than Gibb's comment the other day, in which he stated:

""I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation."

Do you find that comment "chilling" too?

Dana Milbank:

I confess that, at the moment he said that (I was in the room) I felt a chill. But I do not assume this was because of the words Gibbs said. It could just the same have been the air conditioning in the briefing room.

_______________________

Home Depot: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Dana Milbank: That would be speculative -- out of my department.

I could tell you how much wood the woodchuck chucked, if I had seen him chuck wood.

_______________________

Washington: Does the Ombudsman believe it is within our rights as readers to form opinions based on the factual news article, as well as the opinion pieces, we read in the Post? I would hate to have him lower the boom on me for being so presumptuous as to form opinions based on the opinionless writings in your paper.

Dana Milbank:

At the moment it is still permissible for readers to make assumptions and form opinions based on things that they read. Still, I make no assumptions about how things will be in a few months. I realize this is getting speculative here, but perhaps there can be a system in which you "opt-in" to the ability to make assumptions, the way you can opt-in to continuing to receive the TV week in your Sunday paper.

_______________________

Ombudjudgement: So the first guy the new Ombudsman takes on is the satire columnist? He should have picked a straight reporter with no opportunity to swipe back at him. Is that Ombudsmanistically wrong? And where did that guy learn to turn a phrase like "journalistically wrong"? Someone get him a copy of Strunk and White...

Dana Milbank:

My spell checker says "journalistically" is itself wrong. But the spell checking software may have unwarranted assumptions built in. I make no judgments about the quality of the spell-check software.

_______________________

No comment: Well, isn't someone feeling pouty today!

Anyway, ombudsman, schmombudsman. If you're not upsetting someone, you're not doing your job. I actually thought one of your columns this week was kind of unfair, but you don't see me crying about it. (See, I didn't even bother to say which one!)

Dana Milbank:

Actually, all three of my columns this week were unfair, each in its own way. I made various pernicious assumptions, the most flagrant of which was my assumption that Sotomayor will be confirmed. For this I apologize.

_______________________

Wilmington, N.C.: If the president chose you for the supreme court, what would he have chosen "over brains"?

Dana Milbank: Girth.

This, by the way, is a reference to my line earlier in the week about how the Sotomayor choice was "bio over brains." This has been interpreted by certain assumption makers as suggesting that Sotomayor does not have brains. However, the non-assuming (unassuming?) reader will realize that it merely indicated her bio was a bigger selling point than her brain, which for all I know (and this is speculative, sorry) could be extremely large. I did say that she's no Louis Brandeis, but many people with big brains are not Louis Brandeis. On the other hand I should not have made the assumption that Louis Brandeis had a big brain because he is dead and I never got the chance to measure his brain myself.

_______________________

Single Sonia: One of Sandra's reasons for stepping down was her husband's health. I realize now that I know practically nothing else about any of the Justice's spouses--or even if they are married. Can you enlighten us?

Dana Milbank:

That is a fair and factual question, to which my fair and factual answer is: I don't know. Let's just say -- and I'm not making any judgments here -- that Tim Curran knows a GREAT DEAL about the justices' spouses, particularly the wives.

_______________________

Syracuse, NY: Is the square of the hypotenuse equal to sum of the squares of the other two sides of a right triangle? If that too political, substitute "bipartisan" for "right."

Dana Milbank:

I would answer this with a detailed equation but I do not know how to print a "pi" symbol on the computer.

_______________________

Utopia: Dana,

I'm not asking for your opinion or anything, but do you think the Post's illustrious Obmudsman should next train his sights on Tom Sietsema's poor review of Founding Farmers restaurant today? I'm sure Mr. Sietsema's expressing an opinion about the place could conceivably be journalistically wrong.

Dana Milbank:

Unlike yours truly, Tom is journalistically right. When somebody tells him that, say, the lettuce in his salad is locally grown, Tom does not assume that to be true. He goes to the farm to check it out. On the other hand, the ban on assumptions in the Post could be problematic for Tom, too. If I am no longer allowed to assume that his judgments are sound, I will have to eat at all the restaurants, even the ones he says are bad, just to make sure his assumptions were warranted.

_______________________

Ari-mpathy: If it were not for the sudden disdain for empathy in DC, I might feel some for poor Ari Fleischer. Cheney and his sock puppet used him and his talents to foist a great steaming truckload of Bravo Sierra on the American public. And poor Ari had no idea what was coming out of his mouth wasn't the whole truth. And he gets the blame.

Poor Ari.

Dana Milbank: Not poor Ari! True, he was dumped by Major League Baseball when his PR contract with them expired (I'm told he had been advising ballplayers that reporters are the enemy, but that, too, may be based on assumptions about his intentions). But he just landed a gig with the U.S. Olympic Committee to help get the games in Chicago. Look for a preemptive strike to be launched on the Axis of Evil: the other 3 finalists, Tokyo, Rio, and Madrid.

_______________________

Ombudsman: I would hope that a wise bespectacled man with the richness of your experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than... another bespectacled man who hasn't lived that life.

Also, I'm probably a racist.

Dana Milbank:

Thank you, Sonia. This is why I assume you will be confirmed.

_______________________

Vermont Ave: Can I send you my emails with the Ombudsman where he tells me he has no say over Opinion columnists and I should direct my ire at the editors?

It was eye opening to say the least that he talked about you! Not his sandbox, or so he said.

Dana Milbank:

Well, I believe you now have a precedent. Hopefully the ombudsman honors the principle of stare decisis. Look out Robinson! He's coming after you, Krauthammer! Stop the assumptions before it's too late.

_______________________

Cox News: I've never heard of them. Are they just a bawdier version of Fox News?

Come to think of it, I've never heard of Mr. Alexander, either.

Dana Milbank: Excellent -- just when I feared we were getting too high-brow here in the Sketch chat. But no more Cox jokes please, or I will send you to a penal colony.

_______________________

Evanston, Ill.: In reading the Ombudsman critique I was reminded of a line from the greatest 20 minutes of the Bush 43 presidency. To quote Stephen Colbert, "But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!"

washingtonpost.com: Colbert Roasts President Bush - 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner

Dana Milbank:

I think you might be onto something there, Evanston. But, darn it! There I go, thinking again.

I'm going to take the rest of the week off and let my poor tired brain rest after a week of baseless assumptions.

Reminder: next week, the Cillizza/Milbank video extravaganza. I hope.

Thanks for chatting.

_______________________

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.


» This Story:Read +|Talk +| Comments
© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Discussion Archive

Viewpoint is a paid discussion. The Washington Post editorial staff was not involved in the moderation.

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity