In her column today in the Sunday "Outlook" section, Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell expressed official dismay at Post reporter/columnist Dana Milbank's decision to wear hunter garb as a Dick Cheney gag on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." The Post's AME for National News, Liz Spayd, apparently handed out some discipline:
Spayd said she felt Milbank "crossed the line" on his TV appearance. "What he intended as a playful joke was viewed by many as mocking and unprofessional, and understandably so." Suffice it to say that he has been taken to The Post's version of the woodshed and told not to do that again.
Howell told everyone the public reaction was fast:
The mail was swift and sure. I got hundreds of e-mails, many prompted by conservative blogs. A number of readers asked the same question as Mark O'Brien of Mechanicsburg, Pa.: "Is Milbank an opinion columnist or a reporter?"
Spayd told Howell that Milbank's "Washington Sketch" column is not opinion, and "is not ideological. He doesn't take a stand on issues or pass judgment on policy. In that role, he has a little more freedom than a conventional staff writer might." Most conservative readers would disagree with the claim that Milbank's columns are not ideological (and neither are the friendly appearances with ultraliberal Olbermann). Howell noted some of his anti-Bush columns, even if they took more exception to Bush's blinks or Alito's nerdy attire than to policy. But she's also right that lefties did not like Milbank putting Cindy Sheehan and Ramsey Clark under his microscope.
In summation, Howell was blunt: "If Post editors insist he is not an opinion columnist, then Milbank ought to drop the funny hats and stay away from comedy shows." Even as she expressed a liking for some of his columns, Howell thought Milbank ought to be classified as an opinion writer.