Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 28, 2009

THE CODA.... It's been a few days, and the political world has largely moved on, but the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney asking President Obama a question submitted by an Iranian continues to wrinkle some feathers. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has played a leading role in criticizing Nico -- Milbank's column on the subject included a series of errors of fact and judgment -- and sat alongside Nico on CNN this morning to discuss the matter.

It led to quite a lively chat.

It's not in the video, but as Howard Kurtz went on to introduce the next segment, Milbank whispered to Nico, "You're such a dick."

I guess he didn't think the discussion went well.

For the record, Milbank again suggested this morning that Nico "worked in collusion" with the White House, and argued that presidential aides encouraged Nico to ask a question "a certain way."

Milbank hasn't produced evidence to bolster his claims, probably because they're false. As Milbank should realize by now, the White House saw some value in answering a question from an Iranian, and knew Nico was in a position to offer one. Obama didn't know the question in advance, Nico didn't work in "collusion" with anyone, and not incidentally, Nico's question was a good one that the president seemed anxious to dodge. (Honestly, if the White House were really going to "collude" with a journalist and encourage said journalist to ask a question "a certain way," wouldn't aides make it a softball?)

It's a shame Milbank is still bothered by this, but his accusations, days later, remain unfounded. It's one thing to be annoyed; it's another to make up relevant details to fit a bogus conclusion in front of a national audience.

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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I suspect Milbank knows all about dickishness. If memory serves Milbank lost a tv gig because he was such a dick.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 28, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't see the segment, but I'm kind of suprised that Millbank didn't use the old trick of demanding that Pitney prove the White House didn't collude with him on the question.

Obviously you can't prove something like that.

Posted by: madstork123 on June 28, 2009 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I'm shocked that Milbank would use the word "dick" in front of that good Christian Amanda Carpenter.

...because Carpenter doesn't belong on a program about journalism.

Posted by: Hary Matherine Kam on June 28, 2009 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Any word on when Milbank will get promoted for this?

Posted by: Kryptik on June 28, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Even Milbank knows the WaPo is doomed as a news organ. He got cut out of a $600/night (is that what they pay?) gig with the KO (who did some lightweight on lightweight action) and he went off without thinking after the presser.
The White House press corps has been a sick joke for 15 years, why wouldn't Dana go ape? Rat on sinking ship with nowhere to go. Yeah, I can see his point, poor baby.

Posted by: TJM on June 28, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, this is a 'grown' man? Name-calling. Labeling.
put-downs. lies.

Please. That is what passes for journalism? Time to pick up your toys and go home Milbank.

Posted by: me262 on June 28, 2009 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I wish Debbie Howell was still at the Post. Once, when she claimed that Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats and only a slew of nasty messages pushed her to correct the record, she basically claimed that only unkempt bloggers used cuss words.
I would love to know what she thinks of one of her star reporters knowing a word like "dick".

Posted by: flounder on June 28, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, one wonders why "traditional" journalism is in trouble. They're a bunch of petty clueless hacks comes to mind.

Maybe the WH can invite more real reporters like Pitney from the new media to their pressers from now on.

Posted by: Glen on June 28, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Is it wrong to have the impression the Washington Post intentionally has a great many liars, just, you might say, to get the story out?

Posted by: alan on June 28, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "It's one thing to be annoyed; it's another to make up relevant details to fit a bogus conclusion in front of a national audience."

The difference is that "making up relevant details to fit a bogus conclusion in front of a national audience" is what corporate media propagandists like Dana Milbank are paid the big bucks to do.

Like the rest of the phony, vapid "pundits" and bought-and-paid-for, vacuous "on-air-personalities" of the corporate-owned media, Milbank's job is to undermine public support for and confidence in the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress, in support of the class warfare agenda of America's corporate aristocracy.

What you call "serious errors of fact and judgment" in Milbank's column are more succinctly and accurately characterized as lies.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 28, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

I'm all for Pitney's process in selecting a question, but I do think he got played just a little. (Milbank apparently played himself.)

By taking the toughest question from a friendly-but-tough corner, the Administration bought a free ride: a significantly reduced chance of HPost showing up on the Sunday shows & pasting them. The Administration gets to play up hipness (we're down with the New Media!) and confidence (we're so together we don't have to know the questions beforehand!).

MSM pundits & Left surrogates will go round & round on the question of appearances, but I suspect most watchers will score a win for Obama--no one seems willing to assert that the White House knew or directly influenced the question, only the topic.

Meanwhile...Who, if anyone, pays attention to the actual position of the Administration? On the central "Iran Question", the question of whether the U.S. Government will in fact be willing to recognize the Iranian election result under any circumstances, there remains no definitive statement.

Tactically, it's a political (& potentially a diplomatic) masterstroke--one which I hope will merit a footnote in someone's memoir. Strategically? At this point, we don't know.

Posted by: Rah on June 28, 2009 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

"He got cut out of a $600/night (is that what they pay?) gig with the KO (who did some lightweight on lightweight action) and he went off without thinking after the presser."

According to Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake, those people who appear don't get paid. Now it is possible that regulars like Richard Wolffe may, since he's an MSNBC employee, but according to Jane, the "guests" don't get paid to appear. And she should know, having been in "the biz" and also having appeared on various shows.

Posted by: msmolly on June 28, 2009 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

i like how dana was stripped naked on the teevee... and interesting how his head is so prick-shaped.

maybe, just maybe, he was proJecting onto the Nico dude...???

he acted exactly like a "i-am-not-a-crook" corporate lackey right in front of gods and ever'body -- and brought in some homework that spoze to show he aint a hack...

hup hup -- loser...

Posted by: neill on June 28, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing that Pitney, nor any other reputable journalist, isn't likely to exchange notes with the White House on the eve of future pressers. The whole stunt was obviously well-intentioned, but the execution was doomed to have a mixed reception. Too clever by half.

But f**k Milbank, who didn't say jack about Jeff Gannon. The reason we have rules about collusion between reporters and pols isn't "just because", but so that media can speak truth to power, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. The Washington Post rarely questions claims of power, and never if a Republican is making the claim. In fact, they just fired a guy (Dan Froomkin) for mainly doing just that (needless to say, Milbank's own terminally droll and bemused commentary isn't exactly an affliction to the powerful).

Posted by: kth on June 28, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Do you suppose the only reason Nico was on that show was because of the dustup with "traditional" reporters? Might help explain why for the most part, despite strong reporting (or often because of it) you mostly never see folks like Steve Clemons, Josh Marshall, Juan Cole, Glen Greenwald.

They're ("sniff") not real journalists you see. They take positions and occasionally they get angry and worst of all, they question us when we act like steonographers for the White House, give lots of space to folks quoted anonymously (in return for access) and sometimes totally ignore following up on a story if it happens to have put them in a bad light originally.

I thought Froomkin's parting shot pointedly noting that after listing a series of folks he thought had done some great reporting (including Talking Points Memo) he then turned to emphasize that Bob Woodward and Tim Russert (still dead) had not been in that group, largely because of their penchant for serving as stenographers for the powerful,

Good on ya Dan....

And Dana....time to end the hissy fit. Nico is a competitor, he does good work and his platform is as valid as yours as long as what he writes is valid and true. Under such a measuring stick, I'd have to say the Post is increasingly looking pretty tattered around the edges. Why don't you get out there and REALLY report on what's going on behind the scenes in the run-up to the health care and energy bills. What's the "real deal" most likely to emerge from conference committees? What kind of pressure are congressfolks really getting from the grassroots?

You know...real journalism?

Posted by: dweb on June 28, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Milbank just got trumped, and boy, is he pi$$ed off! He doesn't think that Nico, being a newcomer, should have an opportunity to participate until he's attended X number of the briefings (the X to be decided by the cabal of beltway reporters). Too bad, Dana. Worse luck next time to ya!

Posted by: majii on June 28, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

I'm confused, do none of these "journalists" remember anything that's happened in the last 8 years?

Posted by: kswan on June 28, 2009 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Do I really need to hear Pitney's views dismissed on the grounds of where he once worked by a woman whose checks are signed by a crazy-ass motherfucker Asian cult leader?
Do I?
Jesus, these people.

Posted by: charles pierce on June 28, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Dana Milbank lost his credibility and doesn't even seem to be trying to earn it back. I won't read his articles again until he shows some integrity on a consistent basis. Or at least some humility. He is only interested on scoring points with people who can help his career and trying to backstab anyone he perceived as a threat. He amused me for a while but now that I see his game I want nothing to do with him. I wouldn't watch a show he was on. I do not care what he has to say.

Posted by: peninsulamatt on June 28, 2009 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Privileged Yalie. Check.

Skull and Crossbones Society member. Check.

Catty TNR alum. Check.

Error-prone Postie gossip columnist. Check.

Wearer-of-scarlet-smoking-jacket-in-onanistic-political-skits. Check.

Elitist beltway party boy who raids fellow scribes' undrwear drawers 'to be funny.' Check


Dana Milbank, jowly palace fool at Versailles, is no dick. He's an establishment eunuch.

Posted by: Milbunk on June 28, 2009 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

The whispered insult was nothing compared to the know it all overbearing lecture Dana gave to Nico. As I watched it I couldn't believe it. Next time Nico should protect his personal space and say to Lord Dana, who the fuck do you think you are?

The body language and tone from Dana are those of a stunningly clueless know it all lacking all self awareness. typical of the breed. At an unconscious level he knows his meal ticket is at stake and at a conscious level he is incapable of realizing he is full of shit. Dana's true grievance is that his Station in the World is being Usurped by a Commoner. His lecturing of Nico was incoherent and illogical. What an asshole. Things won't change for the better until this sort of "journalist" fool lose their control of civic rents. Don't hold your breath.

The more interesting part of the news conference where Lord Dana was offended that Versailles propaganda protocol were offended was the offensive by the self satisfied pretty boys of the major networks as they lectured Obama with pretend questions taken straight from bullshit republican talking points that have nothing to do with the merits. Real journalism. Yeah. Sure it is. We have come a long way since Dan Rather standing up to Dick himself was a huge social faux pas.

Posted by: razor on June 28, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

This is why I blog.

If I was in Pitney's position I would have gone totally apeshit on Millbank.

Posted by: inkadu on June 28, 2009 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

OkCupid collates its' data and discovers which states think consensual rape fantasies are just terrific,


It's worth pointing out that because there are only a handful of greenish states and yet roughly a dozen reddish ones on the other side of the mean, those few green ones came down very strongly in favor of rape role-playing compared to the rest of the country. It's also worth pointing out that cattle outnumber women 26:1 in Wyoming.

The most anti-consensual-rape-fantasy states are all in the north or northeast, while the same question asked in Europe is, literally, all over the map.

Posted by: alan on June 28, 2009 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Now that I think of it, isn't Wyoming the home planet of Dick Cheney?

Posted by: alan on June 28, 2009 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

As it should have gone down:

Milbank: "You're such a dick."

Pitney: "So you wanna suck me, you boneheaded hack?"

Posted by: amocz on June 28, 2009 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Spot on, but I think one ruffles feathers rather than wrinkling them.

Posted by: J on June 28, 2009 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Not a good performance by either gent, as htey started right in on the pissing match, but it was the worse for Dana Milbank. The collusion charge does not stick at all, and the vehemence only makes it appear more that this is a case of jealousy and sour grapes.

Posted by: Algernon on June 28, 2009 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

Dana Milbank is one of those people who's been inside the Beltway too long. Long accustomed to deference from those who reside outside the I-495 ring, and with multiple weekly TV appearances on Sunday gasbag reviews and cable network infochannels, he's now more of a celebrity journalist than working reporter.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on June 28, 2009 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK


The real coda:
I guess ugly sells...

Posted by: koreyel on June 28, 2009 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

Lives are needlessly destroyed and souls killed...

Time for some Beltway naval gazing!!

Posted by: grinning cat on June 28, 2009 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

As it should have gone down,

Milbank: "You're such a dick."

Pitney: "So you wanna suck me, you boneheaded hack?"
Posted by: amocz on June 28, 2009 at 7:45 PM |
Actually, the REAL way it should have gone down:

Milbank: "You're such a dick."

Pitney: So you obviously wanna suck me, you boneheaded corporate hack!!"

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on June 28, 2009 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: "What you call serious errors of fact and judgment' in Milbank's column are more succinctly and accurately characterized as ..."

... part of his job description?

Posted by: Donald from "Foreign & Exotic" Hawaii on June 28, 2009 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

I think I just discovered the most offensive response to this matter.


Swampland's Michael Scherer included this really, over the top statement:

"If you want to talk about issues important to Hispanics, call on the reporter for the Hispanic press."

'The' reporter for the Hispanic press? Are they allowed only one?

I guess that Michael is right in one sense: it is easy to find reporters who will ask pointless, yet predictable, questions. Unfortunately in the White House press room it is more like shooting fish in a barrel.

Obama skillfully avoided answering Nico's question, but he allow it to be asked. How do you define liberty other than the freedom to ask difficult questions? Obama is directly challenging the press corp to ask tough questions. That would not happen if he kept calling on journalists in their proper order, because the question is no longer important as a question. Instead, the question reflects the relationship between the Obama Administration and the journalistic organization. But what Obama wants, my guess, is for more liberal organizations to ask tough, substantial, questions. Once he allows and encourages them to ask tough questions, then the MSM and even conservative journalists will be forced to ask tough questions.

Hopefully everyone can agree that if the White House wanted to secretly coordinate with a reporter they could do it more discretely. This reminds me of the scene in "My Cousin Vinny" when Vinny called the sheriff back to the stand and asks him "what he found out". In other words: this isn't the normal protocol, but sometimes the normal protocol doesn't work.

Most interesting is that this break in protocol would have been impossible in a more formal setting, maybe that is why the event was moved to the the least formal setting.

Posted by: tomj on June 28, 2009 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

I think you can wrinkle your nose, and people get wrinkly skin. Generally it is "ruffle feathers" as they are hard to wrinkle.

Just saying.

Anyway, nice to see Milbank ruffled. Or was it wrinkled?

Posted by: notthere on June 29, 2009 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

Where has all this outrage been over the last eight freakin' years?

So, the White House gets wind that a reporter might have a question from actual Iranians about the situation in Iran and so they request the question. Isn't that what PR is all about? Isn't this on the same level as a press release being sent out in hopes that the media will pick up on a certain angle of a story?

And how is this different than the corporate owners of a news org pushing for a particular editorial slant in a political story? For example, every word that's uttered on FOX News.

So, the Obama White House wins one? What is the big freakin' deal?

Posted by: chrenson on June 29, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Let's see, a reporter actually has sources in Iran and the MSM doesn't and that's the crux of the matter. Instead of all the jealous outrage, it wouldn't occur to the MSM to actually do some REAL reporting and developing some REAL sources of their own. They would rather keep asking different versions of: "Why aren't you more outraged" (at the Iranian gov't response) and "What took you so long?" (i.e. various versions of "some people say" a.k.a. Repug talking points).

Posted by: Always Hopeful on July 1, 2009 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Fxeswaul on July 16, 2009 at 3:24 AM | PERMALINK



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