THE SHORTHAND AND THE POWER: Dana Milbank jumps the shark!


Part 1—Planet of the scripts: In Sunday morning’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank jumped the shark. After that, he jumped the cage the shark is kept in!

In the process, he created a remarkable learning tool—a roadmap to the behavior of the folk we still describe as our “press corps.”

Milbank is one of the emptiest, and most disingenuous, members of that guild. We used to call him “Lord Dowdinpantz,” to give you a rough idea.

Milbank is genuine waste meat. Yesterday, the lad wrote one his silliest columns (click here)—but it's also highly instructive. You see, Milbank described the way the mainstream “press corps” covers our presidential campaigns—and he did so with considerable accuracy. In essence, he describes the way our presidential campaigns have been covered since the rise of the primary system forty years ago.

On-line, Milbank’s column carries this headline: “Mitt Romney’s Al Gore problem.” (In the hard-copy Post, it bore this sadly stupid banner: “Who does Romney remind me of? Sighhh!") You see, when Milbank gazes on Candidate Romney, he is reminded of Candidate Gore! Given the framework of yesterday’s column, this lets him recall the long, long list of press corps scripts which once sent George Bush to the White House.

All week long, we’ll examine the conduct Milbank describes in this piece—the conduct on the part of his guild, the mainstream so-called press corps. His shark-jumping column poses as a critical profile of Candidate Romney. But at its heart, it’s a profile of the modern “press,” the people who have made a joke of our White House campaigns for the past forty years.

Muskie wept—and Al Gore lied! These were just two of the many scams advanced by our modern “press corps.”

Quick overview:

Milbank rattles a list of the novelized schemes his colleagues have used as they've pretended to cover past White House campaigns. (Candidate Kerry wind-surfed! Gore wore three-button suits!) There’s a great deal to ponder in his piece. But his most instructive passage involves a key word: “Shorthand.”

“The media tend to assign each candidate a character flaw as a form of shorthand,” Milbank writes, describing a very peculiar process—a process which would get a real journalist fired. And uh-oh! Once that shorthand character flaw has been assigned, “reporters...are perpetually on the lookout for new examples” of these alleged flaws, Milbank correctly notes.

Milbank is too empty to see the depth of the problem with the conduct he describes. But this conduct has ruled our campaigns for four decades now—and it once sent George Bush to the White House.

All week long, we’ll examine Milbank’s scratchings, along with a few other columns and posts on the same general subject. (Example: Did Paul Krugman tell you the truth in this recent blog post? The whole truth, as he understands it? We find that hard to believe.) Because Milbank says he thinks of Candidate Gore when he gazes on Candidate Romney, his column comes at a propitious time for us:

Next Monday, we will be posting chapter 6 at our companion site, How He Got There. In this chapter, we describe the way the press corps’ most punishing “shorthand” about Candidate Gore finally locked into place. That “shorthand” was the punishing script which said that Candidate Gore was a LIAR.

Gore was a liar, just like Bill Clinton! The “press corps” struggled and schemed to churn “new examples” to fit that “shorthand,” even as they worked to advance other “shorthand” claims about Gore. At one point, Milbank seems to suggest that they had a similar “shorthand” for Candidate Bush. It’s a nice try, and “journalists” constantly make it. But it’s patently false.

Milbank describes a massive form of press corps misconduct—a type of misconduct the career liberal world has tolerated down through the years. When the “press corps” agrees, as a group, to advance “shorthand” themes about major candidates, it grants itself tremendous power—the power to define the basic parameters of our White House campaigns. In this manner, they've done tremendous harm in the past. But these empty, ridiculous children keep playing these same stupid games.

(Although no—Candidate Romney will not be pursued in the way they once pursued Gore.)

Milbank is one of the emptiest souls in the whole sorry guild. But his column does describe the way this guild has functioned, with “liberal” consent, over the course of the past forty years.

We will examine his column all week. Next Monday, chapter 6.

Tomorrow: Milbank “cringed”


  1. From the article-"But in temperament and style, Romney is closest to Gore, another politician’s son from Harvard with pedantic tendencies who, in public, never quite seems comfortable.

    The media tend to assign each candidate a character flaw as a form of shorthand (John McCain was volatile, George W. Bush was dopey, Obama is all talk). Ominously, Romney’s descriptions are the same applied to Gore 12 years ago: assuming “personas,” going through “makeovers,” attempting “regular-guy” traits, exhibiting “robotic” behavior and issuing new versions, such as “Romney 3.0.”

    The press corps will not touch class so they refuse to ask the real questions- are these two men alike? who do they serve? who do they answer to? what are the issues they care about?

    VP Gore was my Senator when I was in Tennessee and there was no question who he represented- the non-elite of TN- where were his signs? in the poor neighborhoods - white and black. whose cars had his bumper stickers? the beaters- none on the fancy cars on fraternity row-Gore did not go to fancy dress parties and say hello my base - he went and pushed the policies of that would benefit Joe AMerica and for that he will be punished forever because he was a consistent, democratic, liberal guy with a responsibility to the working, middle class

    1. Nicely said.

      I noticed the same thing in Mass. when Romney was threatening to unseat Teddy Kennedy. I happened to spend some time a couple weeks before the election driving around some of the less affluent rural areas of Mass., normally quite conservative, and saw Kennedy signs in just about every yard, bumper stickers on the aging pick-ups, and not a Romney sign to be seen. I knew then Kennedy was going to beat the stinker.

  2. Millbank says Romney's a phony because he wears Gap jeans. OTOH Lee Siegel in the New York Times says Romney's a racist because he wears immaculate white shirts.

    With pundits making up stuff like this, Romney can't win. And, the the New York Times and Washington Post are supposed to be two of the very best newspapers in the country.

    1. I think this is right. Bob says the media won't go after Romney they did after Gore -- and I agree: they'd be hard-pressed to be as over-the-top as they were against Al. But the shorthand for Romney IS cemented in place -- the Gap jeans is the same sorry tactic they used against Gore (earth tones, cowboy boots.)

      And many Dowd clones have taken to openly mocking Romney. Now, I wouldn't vote for Willard on a dare. But not --for the love of God -- because he wears Gap jeans and awkwardly said something about enjoying firing people.

  3. @David in Cal, please come out of your echo chamber. No one takes Dana Milbank seriously, and Lee Siegel was exposed as a nutcase for having signed up under a fake name ("Sprezzatura") to monitor and attack those who criticized his nutty opinions in the The New Republic. He's a disgraced joke.

    NY Times: New Republic Suspends an Editor for Attacks on Blog

    Boston Globe: 'We see you, Lee. We see you.': The self-destruction of Lee Siegel, late of The New Republic

    Pre-WaPo Ezra Klein: Coda on Siegel

    Romney is the candidate that numerous people in the "liberal" media, especially the dunderheads on TV, have been slobbering over for months now. They want the other GOP candidates out so that they can have a horse race between him and Obama. All the other Republicans, especially Ron Paul, are annoying to them because they want things to be as simple, especially in terms of ideas and policies (which they will completely bungle, as they did with Clinton, with Dole, with W. Bush, with Gore, with Kerry, etc., when they report them) as possible. They can then resort to the stenography and familiar scripts they're already engaging in.

    BTW, did anyone else hear the discussion of "Seamus" and Romney on NPR's On the Media? Yikes!

    1. David in Cal doesn't know the difference between an op-ed and "The Times." Or pretends he doesn't anyway because it's, as Bob would say, much more pleasing not to have to recognize the distinction.

  4. Another great post on Lee Siegel, aka "sprezzatura," a total nutcase:

    Obsidian Wings: "Sprezzatura"

    Lee Siegel -- the TNR editor who wrote that left bloggers are "hard fascism with a Microsoft face", wanted to guillotine people who wear baseball caps, said that conservatives are in power because the left supports pedophilia, and deeply regrets not having slept with Uma Thurman when she was sixteen -- has been sacked for using sock-puppets...

    He's in your camp, David in Cal....

  5. "But this conduct has ruled our campaigns for four decades now—and it once sent George Bush to the White House."


  6. Pharaon's obervation that "No one takes Dana Milbank seriously and Lee Siegel was exposed as a nutcase" indicates that the web community has higher standards than the New York Times and the Washington Post.

  7. I'm so glad Bob seized on this Milbank column. It is deeply revealing and deserves to be pounded hard. I hope Bob follows through and publishes a few more posts on it.