Given that Tom Daschle occupies the lofty position as the most
visible Democratic leader in Washington, you would think he would be one of
the most well-informed. Throughout the war on terrorism, he's been regularly
briefed by the administration and has breakfast regularly with the
president. So why does he have to stoop to launching hysterical tirades
based on sloppy reporting in the Washington Post?
Post reporter Dana Milbank, never one to miss throwing an elbow
at the president, put the word "Democrats" in front of Bush's quote that
some are "not interested in the security of the American people." Then
Daschle, wearing glasses to keep his eyeballs in his head, poured out hot
rhetoric like a volcano, actually accusing the president of impugning the
service of disabled veteran Democrats Daniel Inouye and Max Cleland.
Accuracy and documentation wasn't the point for the Democratic leader, or
So what did Bush actually say? The record is crystal clear, and
anyone can find the president's remarks, word for word, on the White House
Web site (www.whitehouse.gov). And you can see how the Post (and its biggest
fan, Daschle) was making a partisan hash of things. While Milbank's story
left the impression Bush was talking about Iraq, he was clearly talking
about the politicization of the homeland security bill. "The House
responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in
Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."
Milbank's editing was sleazy, designed for cheap outrage. Two sentences
later, Bush added, "And people are working hard in Washington ... both
Republicans and Democrats. See, this isn't a partisan issue. This is an
Milbank later left this out -- and for good reason. Had he put
it in, there would have been no controversy.
There was a reason Bush did not say "Democrats" are uninterested
in national security. Almost half the House Democratic caucus voted for a
homeland security bill he likes. He would like a fair amount of Senate
Democrats to support it, too. But Tom Daschle and Joe Lieberman are
squashing the House bill. Nowhere in his story did Milbank address the
president's point: Democratic leaders in the Senate appear more interested
in pandering to their union base -- giving the president no power to fire
incompetent morons and extending Davis-Bacon top-wage privileges through
more government agencies -- than making the country fast, flexible and
efficient in response to potential attacks.
When asked about his story on CNN, Milbank thought the whole
uproar was funny, making jokes about getting bonuses from the Post as Senate
Democrats brandished his newspaper on TV. But why was the story so sloppy?
Milbank justified tying Bush's remarks to Iraq because "whatever the context
is, the only thing any of us is discussing right now is Iraq. So it has to
have some reverberation."
So a news reporter's goal is ... reverberation?
Well, reverberate it did. The TV news brigade quickly followed,
capturing Tom Daschle's meltdown, but it was a case study for Americans in
which networks behave like (somewhat) neutral observers, and which ones are
hopeless hacks for the Daschle spin factory. ABC echoed Milbank's twisted
"reverberation" that Bush was speaking on Iraq. At CBS, Bob Schieffer milked
Daschle's hoary points about the patriotism of Senate Democrats, and how
Sen. Daniel Inouye "lost an arm to the Nazis."
Of the Big Three, only NBC looked like they did more than two
minutes of preparation, adding context and skepticism. Tom Brokaw noted that
Bush was speaking about homeland security, Lisa Myers explained the Senate
fights over union wishes, and Tim Russert added that Daschle might have been
responding to Al Gore's fierce pitch for the "peace wing" of the party. (On
cable, CNN and Fox also suggested the Daschle-Post attacks were a little
loose on the facts.)
Daschle's Senate floor meltdown was another strange variant on
the recent tendency of Democratic leaders to justify their attacks on
President Bush based on liberal news media attacks. In May, House leader
Dick Gephardt came under fire for suggesting President Bush needed to be
grilled about what he knew about September 11 and when he knew it -- as if
the al-Qaeda surprise attack was a Watergate scandal complete with exploding
airplanes. Gephardt aides later explained that their leader was only merely
mimicking the Bush-baiting rhetoric of. ... NBC "Today" host Katie Couric.
Clearly, there's something wrong when left-wing media attacks
become talking points for the leadership of the Democratic Party. What
Daschle did was reprehensible party politics. No less deplorable was the
action of the Washington Post in setting him up.