David Broder, the so-called "dean" of D.C. journalism, has broken his usual reserve to call out his home newspaper, The Washington Post, and his colleague, political reporter Dana Milbank. Broder attacks The Washington Post's nearly hagiographic coverage of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. "In the space of 10 days," opens the coldly furious Washington Post column, "thanks in no small part to my own newspaper, the president of the United States has been portrayed as a weakling and a chronic screw-up who is wrecking his administration despite everything that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, can do to make things right." How did this start? Broder lays it at the feet of his "friend" Dana Milbank, who debuted "this remarkable fiction" in a February 21 column.
ON HOW IT HAPPENED
This remarkable fiction began unfolding on Feb. 21 in the Sunday column of my friend Dana Milbank, who wrote that "Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter," i.e., a one-term failure.
A week later, presumably the same anonymous sources persuaded Milbank to pronounce that Obama "too often plays the 98-pound weakling; he gets sand kicked in his face and responds with moot-court zingers."
And on Tuesday, The Post led the paper with a purported news story by Jason Horowitz saying that a president with Obama's "detached, professorial manner" needed "a political enforcer" like Emanuel to have a chance of succeeding...
ON THE POST COVERAGE
It sounded, for all the world, like the kind of orchestrated leaks that often precede a forced resignation in Washington. Except that the chief of staff doesn't usually force the president out.
ON WHY THE COVERAGE IS DAMAGING
None of this would rise above the level of petty Washington gossip except that some of Emanuel's friends are so eager to exonerate him that they are threatening to undermine the president. Milbank, presumably reflecting what he hears, calls Obama "airy and idealistic" and says he readily succumbs to "bullying" from Republicans and Democrats alike. I hope the mullahs in Iran don't believe this.
From too many years of covering politics, I have come to believe as Axiom One that the absolute worst advice politicians ever receive comes from journalists who fancy themselves great campaign strategists.