17 September 1999
Our current howler: Bare-naked laddy
Synopsis: Dana Milbank is making a powerful bid to win a Silver Sewer.
All the news thats fit to print?
Helle Bering, The Washington Times, 9/15/99
Dana Milbank, The New Republic, 9/27/99
Field of Fewer Dreams
Dana Milbank, The New Republic, 9/6/99
Dana Milbank, The New Republic, 8/23/99
Up to Speed: Inside Gores Pants
Dana Milbank, The New Republic, 7/12/99
Helle Bering of the Washington Times spoke up on Maureen Dowd's
latest effort, in which Dowd ran through a list of White House
hopefuls, asking in print if she'd f*@& them (see THE DAILY
HOWLER, 9/15/99). Dowd explained why wrote the columnshe was
upset because an Esquire piece had "trivialized"
Mrs. Clinton. But Bering, tone deaf to Dowd's important insights,
trashed her for "stooping to [Esquire's] level."
Dowd, of course, hates trivialization. She tends to stick to
lofty remarks about the hopefuls' bald spots:
DOWD (4/21/99, imagining Gore thinking about Bradley): He has
a spot, too. You just can't see it, because he's such a beanpole.
Dowd discusses "spots" so often, she doesn't even
have to tell readers which kind! More recently, she imagined Mayor
Giuliani's inner flow:
DOWD (6/6/99): It's not enough that I have no neck, a bad comb-over,
and a scary smile. It will take a lot more than that to make people
feel sorry for me.
When bad comedians offer this type of fare, half-drunk patrons
ask for their check. But to the editorial crew at the New York
Times, that's good, solid, thought-provoking stuff.
But if Bering is upset with the vacuous Dowd, she should check
out the New Republic's Dana Milbank. In the current TNR,
Milbank continues his practice of overtly sexualizing all
the major hopefuls. His victim this week is George W. Bush, who
is the governor of Texaselected by 69% of the votersand the
GOP's leading White House contender. Before long, he may be president
of the United States. So who better to portray in this
MILBANK (9/27, first paragraph): This is, perhaps, the wrong
forum for the deeply personal revelation I am about to make...[H]ere
goes. For six months, I have been engaged in an intimate relationship
with George W. Bush. It is an inappropriate relationship. In fact,
it is wrong.
In paragraph two, the droll scribe assures us that he hasn't
had "sexual relations" with Bush. "But it must
be said that Mr. Bush has been touching me in an inappropriate
way." He goes on to tell us that Bush has "touched me
in a hotel room," and "has touched me in the most intimate
of places." "He makes me feel cheap," Milbank says.
(We find that part especially hard to believe.)
Milbank continues with an extended metaphor, which draws on
the humor of child sex abuseall the while constructing images
of Bush as a sex abuser:
MILBANK (9/27): Each time, I wait with dread as he approaches
me and reaches right for my (this is embarrassingdo you mind
if I say it with my eyes closed?) hand. Sure, some would call
this a handshake. But, to me, it is contact with the intent to
arouse my desire for an interviewonly so he can frustrate me
by saying no.
There's more, but we'll spare you the details.
You might be surprised to learn that TNR thinks child
sex abuse begs for humorous treatment, and thinks these images
are an appropriate way to picture an important public figure.
But Milbank's current, stomach-turning column is just his latest
frolic. Over the past few months, Milbank has authored a string
of pieces which picture hopefuls in intimate postures. The child
abuse gag is his greatest work yet, but it's hardly how Milbank
Milbank seems to have no clue at all about the oddness of his
conduct. Here he is on September 6, in a review of the Iowa straw
MILBANK (9/6): [Lamar] Alexander, who gambled everything on
Ames and lost, has taken a more dignified route; he quit. The
candidate was reportedly upset by my profile of him in TNR, which
depicted him partially nude.
Indeed, in a profile of Alexander on August 23, Milbank, in
his opening sentence, had shown us the hopeful "with his
shirt off and his pants unbuttoned, standing in full view of the
press corps (which, in this case, consists of me)." It was
just another attempt by Milbank to show us hopefuls-as-they-really-are.
So what does the naughty author do, informed that Alexander was
offended by the portrayal? What else? He helpfully describes the
incident again, this time stepping up his language to say Alexander
was "partially nude."
But it isn't only Alexander we're invited to picture in the
buff. In the same piece where he reported Alexander's displeasure,
Milbank slimed Liddy Dole too:
MILBANK (9/6): Dole continues to get no respect from the press.
Part of this, no doubt, is plain old sexism. One reporter, returning
from a one-on-one interview with Dole on her campaign bus, told
his colleagues, "She looks great naked." But there's
also a legitimate beef to make about her unwillingness to answer
Milbank, of course, only repeats the comment to show us something
about the press corps. He wants us to appreciate the horrors of
sexismso he invites us to picture Dole naked.
But by the rules of this year's campaign game, one nails the
vice president first. And sure enough, it was Gore to whom Milbank
first turned his peculiar attentions. Here's paragraph one of
a July 12 piece, which was subtitled "Inside Gore's pants:"
MILBANK (7/12): A few weeks ago, Tipper Gore hinted to reporters
that the vice president of the United States, the man who is a
heartbeat from the presidency, sleeps in the nude. Now, I'm no
Michael Isikoff, but I think I've got a scoop of my own concerning
the vice president's undergarments.
The fun was just getting started. Milbank says he asked a Gore
aide why the veep had been delivering his speeches more rapidly.
Presumably joking, the aide told Milbank, "We gave him really
tight underwear." The unwitting aide hadn't understood that
you can't say things like that to Milbank. Milbank, inflamed by
the underwear image, treated readers to this embellishment:
MILBANK (7/12): There are other possible explanations. Another
aide credited performance-enhancing substances: "He's highly
caffeinated." Yet another suggested the candidate was made
to drink large quantities of water before his appearance, forcing
him to finish quickly. It is not an altogether pleasant image
to picture the superhydrated, overcaffeinated candidate hurrying
cross-legged through his speech, bolting for the men's room, and
peeling off his constricting skivvies.
Which would leave himyou guessed it, folksnaked! It may not
be a "pleasant" imagebut it's an image that seems to
appear with great frequency to Milbank's peculiar mind.
The fact that Milbank has a strange turn of mind doesn't make
him a terrible person. It does, though, make him a type of writer
the New Republic should reign in fast. From obsessive peeping
into underwear drawers, Milbank now drolly portrays Bush as a
child sex abuser. The New Republic ought to know better.
Sadly, its editor doesn't.
Base, but weak on his basics: But then, you know what
we told you this whole past weekwhen scribes feel free to clown
around, they tend to fall down on their basics. And sure enough,
in the same article in which Milbank got "inside Gore's pants,"
he cranked out this load of pure horseshit:
MILBANK: Yes, there were a couple of lapses into the old ways
on [Gore's] announcement tour. In Iowa City, Gore, who shrewdly
avoiding reading a list of acknowledgments in Carthage, felt it
necessary to thank a local fellow from 4-H. "I was in the
4-H club and raised beef cattle," he began, creating a momentary
worry that we would hear another yarn about his youth as a farmer
on the fertile plains of Massachusetts Avenue.
Milbank borrows directly from the imagery of Michael Kelly's
noxious (and false) "Farmer Al." By the time this article
appeared in TNR, virtually everyone else in the Washington
press corps had abandoned the farm chores baloney. But Milbank,
in his reference to another "yarn," clearly implies
that Gore had dissembled about his youthful experiences (on Massachusetts
Avenue, of course). It's hard to understand why a major journal
would publish a scribe who is so uninformed. Maybe if Milbank
spent less time on his dirty jokes, he'd find time for some background
One last point: Milbank expresses annoyance at the thought
that Gore "felt it necessary" to be polite to a 4-H
member. In that sad remark, we get quite a look at the mentality
of some in the press corps.