Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 16, 2010

ANOTHER ANGEL LOSES ITS WINGS.... Just three weeks ago, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank had a perfectly reasonable column on the Republican Party's shift to the hard-right. It was premised on Florida Gov. Charlie Crist "being drummed out" of the GOP, but it captured nicely the larger context of the party's increasingly radical transition.

But Milbank couldn't leave well enough alone. In a column devoted to highlighting Republican extremism, the Post writer just had to say, "Both parties have been undergoing ideological cleansing." The observation was both wrong and superfluous.

Today, Milbank has an even more compelling column, which is just devastating for the GOP. It laments the "crackup of the Republican Party," chronicling Bob Bennett's purge in Utah, and the truly ridiculous new platform adopted by the Maine Republican Party. He proceeded to make note of the larger trend, which also includes the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Alabama who's under fire for only being a partial Biblical literalist, and Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) literally laughable new anti-immigration campaign ad.

The Republican Party, Milbank observed, "is turning into this One-World-Government, Obama-worships-Satan, Jesus-opposes-climate-bill melange."

It's a really strong, persuasive, well-argued piece, raising an important point that many observers at major media outlets deliberately avoid.

But once again, Milbank just had to go there.

Democrats are having purity putsches, too, in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

[bangs head against desk]

First, Democratic primaries are not necessarily evidence of "purity putsches." We've been through this. Taking the Pennsylvania case, for example, we see Arlen Specter facing a Democratic challenger in large part because Specter was a Republican for the last three decades, and he endorsed Bush/Cheney and McCain/Palin. Subjecting him to a primary is hardly an example of the Democratic base imposing some kind of rigid ideological test, or moving too far to the hard-left.

Second, there's really no comparison between a handful of Senate primaries and a Republican Party that, by Milbank's own admission, appears to have gone stark raving mad.

And third, reporters at major outlets have to realize one of these days that there's nothing wrong with publishing a piece critical of the GOP -- and leaving it at that. I'm well aware of the unwritten rule -- all criticism of Republicans has to include related criticism of Democrats, whether it makes sense or not -- but it's wildly unnecessary, and at a certain level, misleads the public into thinking "both sides" are equally guilty of the same transgressions. They're not.

There's no need to put a pox on both houses, when only one deserves it.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Milbank is right. The Republican party is a serial killer - hacking co-eds and children to pieces and burying them in the backyard. B-b-but the Democrats are really bad too - they have an overdue library book.

Posted by: ckelly on May 16, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Um, you're worried about journalistic "integrity" from the Bitch Beer guy? Seriously?


Posted by: sherifffruitfly on May 16, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if it's just the "reporter" (a term to be loosely used in our day of journo-punditry).

The problem is probably that the editor will say the article needs "balance". And if somehow it slips through the editor and gets published, then the newspapers ombudsman will probably call them out on their lack of "balance".

Because if they don't, they'll hear it from all the conservatives who will write letter/emails about the media's "liberal bias".

And of course, all of them (writer, editor, obmudsman, publisher, etc.) will have to get an earful when they bump in to so-and-so GOP Senator or political operative at whatever event (likely hosted by their own paper), they all go to.

Posted by: Naveen on May 16, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

In fairness to Milbank, in that same sentence, he does compare the democratic primaries as "mild" compared to the GOP situation. I read it and thought it was a pretty good column.

Posted by: Swarty on May 16, 2010 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Milbanks' 'both sides do it' line was the merest tokenism, a pure nod to journo convention. Regular newspaper readers are expected to learn these conventions, the same way 'ruddy-faced' is code for drunk.

Posted by: al-Fubar on May 16, 2010 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Looking at the commenters at the WaPo, maybe a lot of reflexive Dem-bashing is just that, reflexive, after years of the right wing campaign to preempt criticism by yelling "Dang Librul Media!" at any criticism of the Right.
Stockholm Syndrome, and then some.
The enforced symmetry ("as the Republicans do x, so the Democrats...)of the Mainstream Media is just a way to address the ongoing campaign of the Conservative movement to control the debate, that plays neatly into their strategy.
Fair and balanced, ya know?

Posted by: MR Bill on May 16, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

By Milbank's reasoning, any primaries are a sign of political "cleansing" and are symbolic of political radicalism. By this logic, we are bound to be stuck with incumbents FOREVER if we are reasonable, thinking voters! What nonsense.

Milbank is intellectually challenged when he cannot recognize a distinction, as you have pointed out so well, between the types of challenges that are occurring. When our Blue Dogs fail us on every important issue--reforming the health care system, reinstalling consumer protections in the finance industry, objecting to civil rights legislation--and act like Rethugs, what choice do we have but to offer a reasonable alternative?

Posted by: canddieinnc on May 16, 2010 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Anything that makes it necessary for Dana to update his speed dial is world-eternal evil.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on May 16, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Milbank would do his readers a service to point out the difference between subjecting a sitting Congressperson to a primary challenge when that Congressperson has voted with his party's caucus 100% of the time versus when that Congressperson has voted WITH THE OPPOSITION to filibuster his own party's legislation.

Major difference.

Posted by: sceptic on May 16, 2010 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

But, seriously, folks; you haven't seen the secret Democrat(sic) party platform that Milbank found in a dumpster. The one to re-write the Constitution, turn rule over to the UN, and give forty acres and a mule to anybody that ain't white. . .

Posted by: DAY on May 16, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

The place where we see the most purity tests among Democrats are on liberal blogs. But that's a very different thing than having the party itself kick insufficiently "pure" veteran legislators to the curb.

Posted by: JD Rhoades on May 16, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

honest to god, you would think that at the barest minimum, milbank would have noticed that arlen specter was a republican until a year ago and would think that conceivably a lifelong democrat running against him in the primary is more than an ideological putsch.

Posted by: howard on May 16, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is probably that the editor will say the article needs "balance"

Those two sentences are short and to-the-point, and sound like a)Milbank said "OK, you want balance? [types one-sentence disclaimer] there's yer freakin' balance", or b)was just stuck in there by the editor himself.

Posted by: Meanie-meanie, tickle a person on May 16, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Come on Mr. Benen, you're being hyper-sensitive on this matter. Milbank produced a very good column that does cut to the political landscape quite well, and his mention of the Democratic "putsches" is nothing to get too upset with considering how he rightly excoriated the Republican brand!

The primary challenges in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Colorado do speak to a left-leaning dissatisfaction with the status quo centrist Democratic incumbents. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 16, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Weak tea but Milbank deserves it for past sins ;-)

Wish he would see the light, he is a powerful writer.

Posted by: RZ on May 16, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

I've said it before and I will again. The MSM can't exists without both the Repubs and the Demos. The 24 hr. news cycle would dry up if they published the obvious. Think how many pundits would be out of a job. Sunday news shows would be replaced by infomercials. Steve-you wouldn'd have written this article. BORING!

Posted by: fillphil on May 16, 2010 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

The media's compulsion to "balance" comments about Republicans with comments about Democrats is a real problem - and I understand why Steve wants to call it out. But in this case, I not only though Milbank's mention of democrats was pretty reasonable, I thought Steve's quoting of him was overly selective, and pretty close to the kind of media practices he's critizing. Here's the fuller Milbank quote:

"Democrats are having purity putsches, too, in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Colorado. But these are mild compared with the sort of uprising Republicans are experiencing in places such as Maine, tranquil land of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow."

Posted by: Alan on May 16, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

This would be more relevant and meaningful if your particular example of Milbank wasn't a total hack to start with.

Posted by: GP on May 16, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Alliteration may be hard to resist if you're a sophomore writing a term paper. But Milbank might well have tried to resist "purity putsch." Putsch, a secretly plotted, suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government, is just about the opposite of challenging an incumbent in your party's duly constituted nominating process.

Posted by: tamiasmin on May 16, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

People have such short memories. The left may be the lesser evil now, but they have more power and are focused on that. While Bush was in power, they were the crazy ones. When the right comes to power again some day, the left will one up the craziness we've been seeing with their own wingnuttery. Its been going on like this for a generation.

Posted by: Memory Loss? on May 16, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I really don't think we ever did enough to thank Milbank for the death, destruction and wrought by the Bush administration. By replacing actual journalism with facile cuteness, fact with fiction, character examination with stereotyping and reality with narrative, he did as much as any one person to destroy Al Gore's campaign.

Posted by: Sabo Pike on May 16, 2010 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Colorado's senate race is also a special case. The incumbent was never elected, was selected by the governor to replace Salazar when he became Secy of Interior. Was Bennet ever considered electable statewide?

Posted by: Hannah on May 16, 2010 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

memory loss, just for the record: bullshit. ok? just plain bullshit.

the idea that both parties are the same, that we have seen equivalent wingnuttery of the left and right is totally absurd and baseless, and people who make that kind of argument really should be embarassed for its lameness.

Posted by: howard on May 16, 2010 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

What is especially pernicious is that "a pox on both" journalism leads to political ignorance and apathy. Given global challenges and the prospect of absolutely necessary shared sacrifice in the future--not least in energy conservation--we need that spirit of optimism and patriotism that made the founding fathers believe that democracy is possible, service on a jury a welcome burden, and voting a sacred privilege.

Cheap cynicism will turn America into a third-rate power. Nothing is easier and less responsible than a sneer at our most important institutions. The most urgent duty of a free press is to bring about an informed electorate--and smart-ass reporters who ignore facts while cracking wise out of the corner of their mouths are like soldiers who desert their posts.

Posted by: Steve High on May 16, 2010 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK



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