WashPost's Milbank Hunts Down Batty Charges From Helen Thomas

When you're a White House correspondent so far out in left field even Dana "I'm not a hunter but I play one on TV" Milbank fires off a warning shot about your biases, you know you've lost all credibility.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank today reviewed Hearst columnist Helen Thomas's latest book and found it a "rather unpleasant rehashing of the liberal criticism of the press's performance before the Iraq war."

Far from a right wing armor-bearer -- as numerous NewsBuster posts can attest -- Milbank at least retains a measure of intellectual honesty in reminding Post readers that the Washington press corps was not uncritical of the Bush administration's defense of the war in the lead-up to the March 2003 invasion.

Milbank doesn't exactly employ a scorched earth tactic in his book review. His write-up echoes disappointment more than condemnation, complaining that Thomas's book is "unworthy" of a woman who "truly is a journalistic icon."

Nonetheless Milbank rebuffed Thomas's charge about "quiescent" White House correpondents at a "scripted" March 6, 2003 news conference.

"White House reporters became a laughingstock before the viewing public, who wondered about all the 'softballs' being pitched to the president at such a momentous time," Thomas griped in her book.

"Let's review some of the 'softballs' that were tossed that night," Milbank countered, listing the following:

"If all these nations . . . have access to the same intelligence information, why is it that they are reluctant to think that the threat is so real, so imminent that we need to move to the brink of war now?"

"I wonder why you think so many people around the world take a different view of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses than you and your allies?"

"How would you answer your critics who say that they think this is somehow personal? As Senator Kennedy put it . . . your fixation with Saddam Hussein is making the world a more dangerous place."

"What went wrong that so many governments and people around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?"

"There are a lot of people in this country . . . who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn't attacked us."

"Do you ever worry . . . that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?"

"What can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and the daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?

In other words the Washington press corps was skeptical of the lead-up to war and even peppered their queries to the President and his staff with loaded language, albeit not as loaded as the diatribes Thomas lobbed.

Thomas's line of questioning at White House briefings, Milbank complained, amounts "to argument more than query" and is "not the sort of questioning any generation of journalists practiced -- not even in the salad days" of Thomas's former employer UPI.

UPI journalists also never appeared on national TV in costume to belittle an elected official, but Milbank is right and to his credit his review reminds readers that Thomas is not now, if she ever was, the gold standard for objective White House reporting.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters